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December 29, 2004

Questioning the Frame


Thoughts about maps and spatial logic

"...Terms such as "mapping," "borders," "hacking," "trans-nationalism," "identity as spatial," and so on have been popularized in recent years by new media theories’ celebration of "the networks"—a catch-all phrase for the modes of communication and exchange facilitated by the Internet.

We should proceed with caution in using this terminology because it accords strategic primacy to space and simultaneously downplays time—i.e., history. It also evades categories of embodied difference such as race, gender and class, and in doing so prevents us from understanding how the historical development of those differences has shaped our contemporary worldview.

..." Read full article Questioning the Frame: Thoughts about maps and spatial logic in the global present by Coco Fusco, In These Times, December 16, 2004. Responses to the article culled from Locative and nettime:

Responses to the article culled from locative and nettime:

Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 22:26:27 +0000
From: Pall Thayer
Subject: [Locative] Questioning the Frame
To: locative@x-i.net

hmmm.... I just wish she would mention some of the mapping projects she's talking about. She really seems to have a narrow understanding of what artists are doing with locative media. She seems to suggest that one of the problems is that the artists have too much control over the social picture that the maps portray. And other artforms don't? I'm going to have to read this through a couple of times to make sure I really understand what she's saying but after a couple of scans it really looks rediculous and I almost get the feeling that she regrets not being a "hacker".


Ewen Chardronnet wrote:

well, she always comes with interesting art critics and post-colonial discourses, but use same dialectics each time. I remember reading same dialectics in her critics on "art and science" hipe and "critical art ensemble trial" hipe. And now the "locative media" hipe... You can be sure there will be a critic on "pervasive arts" and "space arts" soon, etc. and of course better if those arts are done by white male artists


Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2004 17:08:14 +0100 (CET)
From: Brian HOLMES
Subject: [Locative] A Reply to Coco Fusco

As a critic it's important to read your peers, and try to assess the pertinence of your own work in the mirror of theirs. So I was curious to read Coco Fusco's recent article on mapping [www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/ questioning_the_frame]. However, I must say that her continuous assertions of cultural authority leave me feeling highly ambivalent. On the one hand, the threads of historical memory she brings up are extremely welcome. On the other, her unwillingness to engage with current conditions and projects tends to reduce the past to a complaint: Why isn't it the present anymore?

It's true that the raw fact of being older than the majority of the people in a given crowd can make you feel uncomfortably lucid. When I went to a conference on so-called "locative" or GPS-based media at the RIXC center in Latvia, I found most of the projects quite naive, developing a few stylistic traits of situationist psychogeography in the absence of any geopolitical critique of power relations, or any philosophical critique of instrumental rationality. In effect, a Cartesian worldview has been built into the computerized technology of graphic information systems, which are undergirded by megaprojects of military origin, or what I call "imperial infrastructure." But rather than just giving a disciplinary lecture with all the answers stated in general terms, I tried to show how changing conditions had made the once-subversive traditions of psychogeography quite superficial, to the point where the aesthetic forms the artists were using seemed to render the very infrastructure of their projects invisible. And when I recently published that paper out of context in Springerin, I took the time to name all the artists and projects in question, so as to establish the precise referents of the critique [springerin.at]. I wish Coco Fusco would make that kind of minimal effort, as it would bring her sharp observations into contact with actual projects, and open up a space of possible transformation.

More to the point: When I began my work on mapping, about four years ago now, as a direct result of involvement in demonstrations against the policies of the WTO and IMF, I too felt that the most important reference was the history of the Third World movements of national liberation, in their relations to the Western civil rights and new left movements of the 60s and 70s. In an early text that was finally published in the book Moneynations, I tried to show how the very concept of the Third World, and then above all, the reality of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, acted to open up new imaginary and real spaces within the dominant bi-polar map of the Cold War [http://2002.memefest.org/en/defaultnews.cfm?newsmem=15]. I asked the question whether the emergence of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre could be compared to the Bandung Conference in 1955. Obviously, the answer was that it could not: both because the current antisystemic movements do not (yet) have the strength that Bandung represented, and because the operative modes of opposition may well have changed fundamentally since 1955.

The global importance of the Third World movements lay in the new kinds of international solidarity that they helped provoke. But something important remains unstated in Fusco's references to these movements, and this is the fact that the major links that tied them to the First World do not exist anymore (nor, indeed, do the movements themselves, for we are talking about specifically national movements in the period of decolonization). One of these links was an aspiration to create a non-Stalinist form of communism, according to the examples given by the successful Cuban and Vietnamese guerrilla insurgencies, and also by Yugoslav self-management (one must remember that the non-aligned movement came officially into existence in Belgrade). Another powerful link was the notion of cultural authenticity, or inherent difference from the Western norm, as a liberating foundation upon which newly independent nations could be built. This Third World concept served as a basis for the struggles toward a multicultural society in the First World. Today, however, the egalitarian aspiration to a self-managed communism has no objective touchstone in reality, leaving those who feel its lack in a deep state of ideological disarray. At the same time, the notion of cultural authenticity has been largely usurped by nationalist or fundamentalist projects which, although they have fortunately not eradicated all work towards equal rights in a multicultural society, have nonetheless made it very difficult to raise the banner of cultural or ethnic difference as a rallying-point for international solidarity.

Instead of relying on the old internationalist slogans (Third Worldist or proletarian), the transnational movements of dissent that gathered strength throughout the 1990s tried to use the communicative power of the discourses of human rights that had gained currency in the 80s, largely through the resistance of people in the former Eastern bloc to totalitarianism, and in Latin America to dictatorship. It was subsequently necessary, in the late 90s, for the Western participants in these transnational movements to take the further step of putting their own bodies on the line, of taking direct action against the international economic institutions, in order to go beyond the abstract character of the human rights discourse. This was a way of responding, in the overdeveloped countries, to the sacrifices of the many "IMF riots" that had been held, often at great cost of life, in what was now being called the Global South. Anyone who believes this step was taken by middle-class white kids acting on internet fantasies, in the absence of direct input from social movements around the world, quite obviously didn't go to any of the demonstrations and paid no attention to the planning process or the reports.

The point, however, is not to suggest that a brief flare-up of worldwide protest has brought about any substantial change. It is rather to recall what a difficult and long-term effort is really needed, both to grasp the way that transnational state capitalism now functions, and to articulate large-scale resistance. When Josh On [www.theyrule.net] or Bureau d'Etudes [http://utangente.free.fr/index2.html] make their complex charts of contemporary power relations, one can be assured that the cold and abstract character of the results is very painful to them. I can testify, particularly in the second case, that they are acutely aware of what is missing from such documents: namely, some affective indication of resistance from below, who does it, how they work and why. What has been achieved in such cartography projects, however, is a contribution to the very large-scale effort to rebuild a critical grasp of the oppressive forces that create the dominant map of the world. This kind of power-mapping is a necessary prelude to any effective resistance or counter-proposition. The fact that the difference between such efforts and the current military maps used by the Pentagon does not appear clearly on American TV is hardly something you can blame the artists for! There is a difference between general culture critique and constructive critique directed toward people carrying out specific projects.

Somewhat like Coco Fusco, I often wonder why contemporary artists appear so broadly unable to infuse the dominant map with representations of - or even better, direct links to - the many and diverse dissenting groups and alternative philosophies that are now emerging in the world, or that have remained active over decades. Unlike Coco Fusco, however, I don't think it's useful or necessary to berate artists today for not having been born earlier. The great philosophical frameworks of national liberation and egalitarian self-management that were able to articulate far-flung resistance movements in the past are inoperative in our time. The urgency is for real individuals of all generations, on all continents, to put their heads and hearts together and create new articulations. The specific job of writers and organizers is then to give those articulations conceptual clarity and popular currency, so that they can effectively challenge the absurd world-views presented on American TV.

As to artists, for whom the naked power structures of the contemporary world must now be quite visible, I encourage them to delve more deeply into the diverse efforts that are being made to resist the imposition of a homogeneous control structure on the entire world. This requires looking outside the boundaries of class, ethnicity and nationality, as certain artists and intellectuals of previous generations effectively did. To live up to the great examples of the past then means imagining something quite different for the future. Need it be said that certain kinds of imagination can serve as the first steps towards a transformation of reality?

Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2004 04:13:32 +0000
From: Saul Albert
Subject: Re: [Locative] A Reply to Coco Fusco
To: Brian Holmes

Hi Brian,

I read both Coco Fusco's piece and your response with interest and a little bemusement. You addressed the lazy generality of CF's rant very well, and touched on a couple of things that provoked me to write back:

Firstly, can we please get away from technological determinism?

Yes, the use of military-industrial technology can be problematic, but that criticism in your text is as widely and as targetlessly applied as Coco Fusco's. Many people are using these technologies (GPS/mobile phones/internet/high-tech gizmos), the social movements that you use as your reference points as much as anyone. In fact, it's not like we really have the choice about using these technologies , being subjects in a technocracy... and it's only out of the appropriation and reuse of these technologies that critique can form and attempt to reconfigure the social and political relations that produced them in the first place. Even on a non-technical level, using these technologies and observing their effects and deployment has been instrumental in the development of a number of political discourses: information and affective labour, precarity, [cyber]feminism etc. The critique develops as much from practice as practice develops from critique.

example: London Free Map - http://uo.space.frot.org/?node=LondonFreeMap


Jo Walsh and Schulyer Erle have been working on the 'London Free Map' This project encourages participants to walk, drive, cycle or skate through city streets with GPS units and then use the 'traces' of points representing latitude and longitude that these devices generate to help create publicly licensed geodata. They are also working on adapting existing open source software to enable people to annotate and extend these maps in a very flexible way. The example linked to above shows straight lines representing GPS traces made wandering the streets of Limehouse, East London, an area undergoing a huge urban regeneration process in preparation for the proposed Olympic games in 2012. The labeled points are the locations and names of approved planning permission applications made to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the last five years, automatically retrieved from the council's website and plotted onto a scanned out-of- copyright historical map of the area from 1916. This is just one potential use of the London Free Map, a way of visualising physical and historical changes to a space undergoing a huge social and economic upheaval. The potential for further uses and the development of new, as yet unimagined maps from this project seems evident.

Secondly, I found the distinction between these technologically specific, less overtly political projects, and the 'power-mapping' practices of (the wonderful) Bureau D'Etudes and many many others to be a bit thin. I know you share their frustration at having to use the language of power to map power, but the problem is not just in the inability of this form to represent the fertile heterogeneity of the social movements. 'Power mapping' deals in the currency of power, and its representational structure can reinforce the dynamics of the relationships it represents. More worryingly, the unnerving coherence of these representations can also become ised easily - the currency of power made visual, or (worse) 'data visualisation' knits neatly into artistic and authorial currencies and relationships that can become as reactionary and totalising as the military-industrial technologies you were warning against earlier.

I know you know this, your descriptions of the playfulness of the Bureau's maps illustrates the path they choose out of this bind : 'solidarity with aliens'. But people using similar or derivative techniques seem to embrace the solemnity and darkness of their maps without having the escape pod provided by their humour.

What encourages me about initiatives like the London Free Map and many of the projects in the orbit of the 'locative media lab' is that they often work, on a very basic level, to avoid totalising representations. To some extent this is emerging as an informal agreement on technologies, open Semantic Web standards and other esoterica that I'm not really equipped to explain. Also, many of these projects are based on public workshops, working with people and groups on producing representations of themselves, spaces, movement and relationships. Of course none of this is inherantly interesting. Public workshops and 'open' technologies carry their own wealth of dead ends, vices and travesties, but they certainly are politicised - and politicising, in a very different and more subtle sense than that of 'power maps'. The contingency on input from the map-users is the most obvious distinction between these forms of mapping and the two examples of 'power mapping' you mentioned. Of course this aspect of 'participation' in the making of the map is just as worrying in terms of which currencies it evokes, auteurship and the 'framing' of 'public use' in the interests of pseudo-ehthographic artistic value creation etc. etc.. But the locative media lab's engagement with corporations, the way some of it is like cheap corporate R&D in exchange for getting to use fancy devices, the links with 'community groups' funded and instrumentised by arts bodies, and with governments for use of geodata is all messy, difficult, and suspect, but necessary if the technology, and the discourse are going to develop.

This probably warrants more examples, which I'm too tired to start with now.

I guess the problem is that criticising something is difficult because you have to explain why, whereas blithering pleasantries about things you like is not so demanding.

keep up the good work brian!



Date: Sun, 26 Dec 2004 23:48:54 -0800
From: John Hopkins
Subject: Re: [Locative] A Reply to Coco Fusco
To: locative@x-i.net

>>Firstly, can we please get away from technological determinism? Yes, the use of military-industrial technology can be problematic, but that criticism in your text is as widely and as targetlessly applied as Coco Fusco's. Many people are using these technologies (GPS/mobile phones/internet/high-tech gizmos), the social movements that you use as your reference points as much as anyone. In fact, it's not like we really have the choice about using these technologies , being subjects in a technocracy... and<<

Why no choice? If no choice, isn't that technological determinism to the extreme degree?

It is an incremental process -- each mile you drive onwards in your fossil-fuel burning device, or crank open the thermostat in the house, that drives the social system further onward in its dominance. (it propels the US military machine a bit further in its desparate mission to secure the true power/energy-base of the social structure that is is an integral part of). each time you don't do those things de-poweres that same system.

each time you watch one minute of centrally organized media you give that structure more power. each time you cross social-structural boundaries and engage an Other human directly, you depower those ordained structures.



Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 11:32:20 -0000
From: "Armin Medosch"
Subject: Re: [Locative] A Reply to Coco Fusco

Hi Saul, Hi Brian,

let me first make some sort of disclaimer: I am happy that Coco's article (which I have not read, but can roughly imagine what it contains) triggered this discussion about locative media which was long overdue. I think many people have felt uncomfortable with the unarticulated political 'content' or 'meaning' of locative work but have not spoken in public. One reason for that might be that they felt, as I did, that there is a lot of potential in that field and that the (mostly young) people involved did not deserve to be bashed for all their good intentions, even though those intentions sometimes gave relatively weak results. Finally the lid has been blown off and that is a good thing. I now do neither want to argue for or against Saul or Brian but just throw in my two-pence. I also have to say that writing something really meaningful about that whole area would take at least a day and I simply don't have that time right now. So please excuse the immaturity of my words which are quickly written in a sort of email improvisation which I guess was once the spirit of internet discussions which is now often sadly missed.

Saul said at the very beginning of his reply:

>> Firstly, can we please get away from technological determinism?

What does this statement mean? It is indeed important to 'get away from technological determinism'. But what this statement should not mean is that we should not consider or discuss technological determinism.

Saul continues:

>> Yes, the use of military-industrial technology can be problematic,

I would go further and say that 'can be problematic' is not strong enough. It _is_ problematic, always. The instrumental power that is contained in those technologies is a central issue of our time, and by 'our time' i do not only refer to the last couple of years or so but to the last 50 or even 100 years. Therefore I think such statements about technological determinism and military-industrial technology should not be used to quash any discussion about those issues. Those issues should exactly be the starting point of any discussion about 'locative' projects and indeed media art and net art projects. This is where the media art community has failed over the last 20 years which I was able to witness as a grown up person. It is one of the big failures of that community and possibly one of the reasons why it made so little real progress over that period of time. When I say 'real progress' I of course don't mean technological progress, of which we have seen plenty, but a progress in the social use of those technologies, in their accessability and applicability, in their ability to have an actual impact on the improvements of the situation of people.

I am arguing from a point of view of art that is based on a definition of art whose main reason to be is political. Such an art should be able to transcend the current power system. By 'transcending' i don't refer to metaphysics but to the actual socio-historic situation. In this situation and its projection of possible futures it should open up spaces, spaces for alternative ways of thinking, spaces that offer people different opportunities, for instance to realise alternative viewpoints outside the dominant system, or, more practically speaking, to be able to develop ways of resistance and at least limited ways of autonomy. Of course we cannot ask too much from art and the current level of oppression is so high, the ideology of technological determinism so deeply entrenched that it has become very hard to imagine anything that makes a real difference. But at least people should try. I am afraid I could not see that in most locative projects and in most of the discussions that have been had about the topic so far.

Most of the projects (I am aware that such generalisations without reference to particular projects are always lame but simply have not the time to go through bookmarks and list archives now) simply continue the master trope of the narration of hypermodernity, which is about expansion of technological mastery, coupled with economic growth, all under the banner of 'usefulness' for the people. This is how new communication technologies are being advertised. The mobile phone gives you freedom, it improves your social life, you can use it to form Rheingoldian Smart Mobs and if you put a little FOAF into it you can even realise alternative politicised virtual communities with it. Of course you can do all this stuff, it is even true. But by doing so, you are not leaving the established playing field, a field that has been established by the forces of techno-rationality in the service of capitalism.

I know it is a bit unfair to mention that here but the most significant 'locative' projects in that regard are Blast Theorie's mobile games. The critical content of those projects is nil. The whole thing blew up at futuresonica last year but most people could not read the signs on the wall. Of course their projects are resourceful, maybe well programmed, maybe even entertaining. But they are fundamentally affirmative of the world we live in and completely one-dimensional.

Now, to come back to the core question: it is simply wrong to ask if we are allowed to use military-industrial technologies. of course we should use them (and I do that by simply typing an email) but if we do it matters how we do that. do we contribute to the disguise of the political content of those technologies and thereby continue the positivistic narration of expansion and 'usefulness'? or do we use them to expose that which is always subconsciously present, that in this system, as Herbert Marcuse said 40 years ago, power is transferred into technological systems and that our dependency on those system makes us to their reified subjects? It is a general trait of this society that the powers that be try to cordon off the political. The positive side of things (technological things, gadgets, gps, pda's) gets highlighted but not what comes with it, not this hard to pin down element of power that has become nameless and faceless because
it has been inscribed in, is contained in the technological system.

Now, coming back to locative per se, I think Brian is right to say: "In effect, a Cartesian worldview has been built into the computerized technology of graphic information systems, which are undergirded by megaprojects of military origin, or what I call "imperial infrastructure."

Maybe he ment to say Geographical Information Systems (GIS). GIS combined with GPS and so forth truly signify the victory of Cartesian space over real space. Of course this victory is only a fake victory and never a final victory but it defines the current state of the arts in 'mapping'. Is it therefore forbidden for artists to use GIS? Of course not. The project by Jo Walsh and Schulyer Erle that Saul mentions, 'London Free Map' is a very good example. It is maybe not an art project but that does not matter. It tries to democratize GIS power, democratize in the sense of direct bottom up democracy and not fake vote rigging mind manipulating democracy (oh, that word, can someone suggest a better one?). It is experimental and utopian, it relies a lot on FLOSS and is probably difficult to use for people who are not tech-savvy, but that does not really matter at this point; it does not entertain in the way Blast-ed projects try to but that is effectively its strength. It involves fun, but of a different kind. We need more projects of this kind and we need a discourse that is better able to differentiate between projects that open up those other spaces and projects which simply fall into the technological deterministic trap.

I hope we can begin conversations that are critical and constructive and not about our personality disorders of which we all suffer to a certain degree, necessarily, because they are a function of that system we are subjected to. In this sense I agree that a lot of the 'psychogeography post-situationist' talk sounds naive. But at least it shows a desire to get away from Cartesian space and to reconceptualize the highly regulated spaces we live in. It makes a lot of sense to link FLOSS, art and the history and presence of liberation struggles, but that debate needs updates and rejigging too.

Hoping to be able to talk about those issues in a more elaborate way soon and also hoping to hear from other people now


Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 02:21:22 -0800
From: karlis
Subject: [Locative] Don't be shy
To: locative@x-i.net

...Executive Summary:

While studying locative media projects, a computer user realizes the value in talking to people.

Extended Commentary:

A romance of the aesthetic of the internet. Be somewhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter, "jack in" to the internet, and you're home, with your office and your contacts and connections. The presently inhabited city, be it Riga, Ljubljana, or Vancouver, is like wallpaper or decor in a restaurant. The principal interaction with the world is through the internet, and the information available there, the rest is somehow peripheral. So naturally when we approached the ability to make computing mobile and location aware, there seemed to be an answer of integration; finally the drift and nomadism would be informed and fulfulled with the power and potential of the network computer. All your revolutionary fantasies come true. Except the devices are retarded and complicated and expensive; they don't work properly, and they make you into a Steve Mann cyborg, someone more appopriately dressed for a mid 1990's DefCon hacker fair in Las Vegas than any part of life in public.

We tried to simplify the gear and determine what it was supposed to do, which was connect us to the network, make us contextually aware within that network, and informationally aware within that spatial context. The equipment had to be "naturally human", so that it is still possible to interact with the environment and the local culture without handicap.

No cyborg head displays or cybergloves, or star-trek tricorders. It also has to be inexpensive and uncomplicated and break-proof.

A beautiful natural language interface was developed (using selective evolutionary algorithms, no less). Billions of client terminals connected to a global information network have been deployed, planet-wide, that use this natural language interface.

They're called people.

Sitting behind my computer and obsessed with the internet for ten years, I totally missed the obvious connection that local people are connections to the whole network, the network of all information connections which includes the internet but also "old Joe Smith" with whatever he's got to offer. It's the same reason why I haven't needed a watch since I was 15 - someone around me always knows the time. The connection to the network is not limited to a GPS satellite signal reciever and a 2.4GHz wireless internet supercomputer laptop. Rather it's just a link to the next node with different information that what you can access on your own. The easiest, most locative way to access that network is by talking to people, and if these studies are urban, there's going to be people. Forget WiFi and GPS. Ask for directions. Ask the nearest person, or if you're aesthetically driven, ask the nearest good-looking one. If they don't have the answer, they might know someone who does, or can suggest an alternative. If they don't speak your language, they'll likely direct you to someone who does.

Maybe that's should be obvious. But as a bedroom caveman computer hack, to look around and find that this perfect system has already been implemented is amazing. It's multi-modal with multiple redundancies. Ubiquitous. Reliable. All-weather. Fuckable.

Maybe an internet legacy of the military paradigm has poisoned our preconceptions about the reliability and desirability of technology vs people. But if we are nice and friendly and not locally despised imperial soldiers, we don't have to bring all our knowledge in a computer. We can talk to the nearest person.

When I was in an busy new space I formerly looked around and saw great potential for overlaying great collections of information and data or media texture in location, if we could develop the system to realize it.

Now I see that this network is already in place, mobile info nodes are walking all around, ready to be engaged, connected to vast networks of people and information. Standard APIs. It's amazing. Sometimes you have to ask a bunch of times, even before you realize the right question to be asking. But if the information is there, someone has it, and you can find it.

The mention of technological determinism and political action, brought up in the context of locative media, seemed to make this "amazing" revelation relevant again. It has been called a serious political action to find ways beyond the gap between people in the very technically-focused and alienated population. Techno-fetish locative media projects made me realize how important and powerful it is just talking to people.



Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 14:15:32 -0800 (PST)
From: coco fusco
Subject: Questioning the Frame

In response to Geert's request, below is my commentary that was published in IN THESE TIMES recently. The comments were based on my lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in November, 2004. The series is entitled:


and the school's description of the series is:

"This lecture series examines the work of artists, artist-collaboratives, and film/video makers whose works address or proceed from shifts in articulations of global culture, politics of the border and dilemmas of transnational or diasporic identities--identity as a spatial concern. Special attention will be given to artists who use the gesture and organizational logic of mapping, cartographic sciences and the grid to locate identity as well as its displacements."

I found this description so baffling and overladen with jargon that it prompted my response.

I have not had a moment yet to respond to Holmes's post. I found it a bit surprising that he would locate a response to an article in a left-wing Chicago newspaper on a list-serve with a primarily European readership (of his allies, I would add). A decision to locate his response HERE as opposed to THERE seems more like a rallying cry to his nettime readership than an address the substance of my argument or to the public in Chicago, a city with a long and venerable history of community and labor organizing, activist media, and radical black politics.


Posted by jo at December 29, 2004 10:19 AM


Ongoing conversation:

Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 19:37:38 -0700
From: marc tuters
Subject: Re: [Locative] Re: Don't be shy (karlis) Locative Digest, Vol 19, Issue 10
To: locative@x-i.net

for the autonomists amongst us... i've found that a map and a compass works well for urban navigation...

but (somewhat) seriously i'm not sure that navigation is what's most interesting about locative media rather, using location-awareness to _index_ (the collective memory of the city, for example) is!

perhaps some other questions to throw into the melee then (along with question concerning the military logic at the base of our technologies) have to do with this need to archive everything (a topic that tapio makela spoke of with regards to locative media at the last rixc conference)

at the risk of getting boring, personally, my interest in "locative media" stems from a some sort of a cubist imagination... from a desire to perceive a place from as many points of view as possible...

i suppose, i could approximate a similar effect, by simply sitting quietly in the midst of a public square, and listening... but then it wouldn't be new media anymore... unless i had a microphone with me... in which case why not do as tony suggested:

>> Ask for directions and capture them on your video phone!
>> Then speech-to-text it all into a statical model ala Kevin Lynch

the super-equipped citizens of the new media elite are not far off from being able to tivo and google everything.

a project presented at vsmm 2005 called tokyo picturesque allows people with gps picture-phones to annotate maps.

mirjiam invoked "the tragedy of the commons" debate from urban studies, speaking to the need for a new kind of public space, something which
eric kluitenberg spoke of with regards to locative media also at the last rixc conference...

many of the locative projects that interest me most (the work or jo and schuyler comes to mind) are often first and foremost conceived of within the debates around "the commons" on which armin has written so much, to be used by "the public" as shared resources...

i can't really see how you can effectively develop a shared resource without having accepting first that we need library, and you can't "navigate" a library without an indexing system...

(for those of you who are more technically inclined, there is another list called "geowanking", where a lot of talk has taken place around what that commons language for "geo-indexing" might be, in the end...)

sometimes i'm truly amazed at how people slander locative media (or its favourite whipping boy, blast theory)...

at times it has seemed to me that the art and cultural critics are hell-bent with exposing locative media as the harbinger of apocalypse.

it is not news that our data shadows proliferating out of sight and out of mind when we surf, when we use our mobile phones and when we use credit cards; all naked to the roving eye of the contemporary equivalent of tolkien's sauroman known under as echelon total information awareness...

and while _clearly_ these issues are of paramount importance, i ask, is it really fair that the artist with an interest in exploring digital media in space always have to take on the entirety the entire so-called control societies debate?

in the CRUMB discussion on 'locative media' prior to futuresonic, this past spring, andreas broekmann himself wondered is locative media was
not "something of an avantgarde of the 'society of control'".

it should also be pointed out that in this very same text deleuze himself states "there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons".

as i stated in my response to drew's locative dystopia in the last rixc reader, "i consider it condescending for critics to treat locative
artist as some sort of hapless pawns of industry, unwittingly preparing the field for a military of perception simply because s/he chooses to build her practice directly within their circuits of power."

if you want good, effective weapons, you're going to have to work with military technologies...

to paraphrase ben russel, so what it it's black magic...


i too appreciate locative projects that foreground confront brain's so-called "imperial infrastructure"...

for me, exploring technologies and systems of control was an initial jumping off point for interest in the field.

is there no place for irony or humour in new media... and perhaps even, perish the though, a little frivolity? (i submit my idea for a locative game )

i've often been asked when someone will do a truly significant locative media project.

my interest (and investment) in locative media, and i think that of quite a few others, has been more in sheltering a community of interest, and not so much in developing great works...

perhaps locative media, at best, is a minour art form... too nostaligic, too modernist, too much based on a cartesian subject, perhaps even too commercial...

perhaps locative media is more of an engineering problem...

i've enjoyed this discussion, but perhaps geowanking makes the locative list redundant...


happy new year...

Posted by: Jo at January 1, 2005 11:05 AM

On Dec 31, 2004, at 12:28 PM, Aileen Derieg wrote [on nettime]:

Since Coco Fusco first posted her article "Questioning the Frame" to the faces list, I have been fascinated by the diversity of responses across various different mailing lists. Comparing the different responses from different lists, though, something is bothering me.

Whereas the post on faces led to some questions and further discussions that I found very helpful, some of which struck a strong chord, I find the tone of responses on other lists rather puzzling. In the compilation of responses that appears on "networked performance" (http://www.turbulence.org/blog/archives/000493.html#more), I am surprised by some of the "disqualifying" remarks (e.g. "she seems to have a narrow understanding of what artists are doing with locative media"; that she always uses the "same dialectics" in her criticism and it is "of course better if those arts are done by white male artists"; "the lazy generality of CF's rant") interspersed with energetic accounts of locative media projects that would not be thought deserving of Coco's criticism if they were properly understood and appreciated.

Since I clearly fall into the - probably large - category of people who don't properly understand and appreciate locative media projects (I'm not even sure I understand the term, even though I have read it so often), I can't comment on the content of the responses addressing the relevance and political implications of these kinds of projects. What I find somehow disturbing, though, is that all of these responses appear to be written by men.

Maybe I have missed something, since I am not subscribed to all the lists where Coco's article has been discussed, maybe there have been other responses from women aside from faces that I haven't seen. Maybe this is not a coincidence, though, and maybe all the well informed descriptions of locative media projects are actually missing the point of Coco's criticism.

In a way, I hesitate to bring up the question of the various respondents' gender: Haven't we gotten past that yet? Is it really *still* an issue that needs to be discussed? I wish that it were not, but that still doesn't seem to be the case. In her article, Coco brings up the "categories of embodied difference such as race, gender and class", but aside from some irritation expressed by a few (I'll take a wild guess: young? white?) men, I don't see the question of embodied difference being addressed. How can that be left out of art dealing with ideas of "place"? Or am I missing something else here?

In her most recent post to nettime, Coco explained the context in which she wrote her article, the "jargon" that she was responding to. Maybe it is not "jargon" to people immersed in this specific field, but for myself I can only say that I was happy to finally see someone questioning the oh-so-familiar terms in the school's description. I don't think that questioning Coco's qualifications for raising these questions is an appropriate response, and I don't think that more and more detailed descriptions of individual projects changes that.

In any case, I look forward to Coco's response to Brian Holmes' post - I hope to learn something yet.


Posted by: Jo at January 1, 2005 01:16 PM

From: kanarinka
Date: January 1, 2005 12:13:25 PM EST
To: Aileen Derieg
Cc: nettime-l@bbs.thing.net
Subject: Re: Questioning the Frame

I too have followed this post on different lists with much interest as I am currently writing a thesis and a journal article for Cartographic Perspectives on intersections between cartography/art. While I agree that Coco raises important questions about "categories of embodied difference", I find the lack of specific examples in her essay very disappointing. She discusses "new media mantras", "new media culture" and "new media theory" without giving us specific information on what these terms mean to her, who uses these terms and for what purpose. The essay accuses, but it isn't clear who, specifically, is implicated.

The definition of maps as purely spatial presentations of an inherently panoptic and omniscient point of view ignores a whole field of projects that are engaging with geographical location in a way that privileges duration, embodiment, and particularity over the panopticism of traditional "maps". As these projects are shifting the borders and boundaries of art, they are also participating in redefining what constitutes a map and what constitutes a "mapping practice". Many of them critique traditional mapmaking just as Coco does (e.g. what is left off of the map? is a truly important question that many projects _do_ address). These projects are becoming known as Critical Cartography. What is at stake in most of these projects is performance and difference, not representation and identity.

These projects use Deleuze's idea of a map as an abstract machine rather than the traditional panoptic, representational map - "What can we call such a new informal dimension? On one occasion, Foucault gives it its most precise name: it is a diagram, that is to say a -functioning, abstracted from any obstacle - or friction and which must be detached from any specific use. The diagram is no longer an auditory or visual archive but a map, a cartography that is coextensive with the whole social field. It is an abstract machine. It is a machine that is almost blind and mute, even though it makes others see and speak."

Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. : University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Here is an excellent set of critical cartography links:


And some other important examples:

Glowlab - www.glowlab.com
Alex Villar - www.de-tour.org
spurse - www.spurse.org
Sifting the Inner Belt - www.siftingtheinnerbelt.com
The Institute for Infinitely Small Things -
Following the Man of the Crowd - http://glowlab.blogs.com/following/
Lee Walton - www.leewalton.com
W.T.L.F.P.A.P.T.O.T.L. - www.bostonraft.com
Natalie Loveless - www.loveless.ca
Psy.Geo.Conflux - glowlab.blogs.com/psygeocon/
The Institute for Applied Autonomy - www.appliedautonomy.com
Bureau d'Etudes & the Tangential University - www.utangente.free.fr
Cheryl L. Hirondelle - www.ndnnrkey.net
The Interventionists@MassMOCA -
Valerie Tevere

I am currently working with Denis Wood to compile a catalog of these projects, so please email me more if you know of them.


Posted by: Jo at January 1, 2005 01:22 PM

Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2005 14:01:46 -0800 (PST)
From: drew hemment
Subject: [Locative] Re: A reply to Armin and Coco Fusco
To: locative@x-i.net

Hi Guys

Like Armin, I am pleased to see some important issues surfacing on this list. And I dont think any of this is as easy to shrug off as Tony implies, as if we can simply choose between 'functional' political art and autonomous 'interpretation'. This is a modernist fiction. Just as Rene Descartes gave us Cartesian space and the idea that the human self was sat behind a console hidden somewhere deep in the head, so it was Immanuel Kant who gave us the equally dumb idea that art, society and science are separate and independent spheres. There is no artistic interpretation that isnt social and political, just as there is no technology that isnt already social or political. Of course we can disguise this, and the easiest way to do this is to reproduce the norms that are accepted within a local or dominant culture so that they are not _seen_ to have any political content. But then the European and American tectonic plates rub up against each other on some mailing list and the fiction is exposed.

I find it odd that this isnt obvious to people. I first encountered the dark arts of locative media when I was organising illegal warehouse parties in the UK, when during 1989/1990 the police tracked us down by locating the megalithic mobile phone we were using (I cant prove this, but it was the only explanation we had for the way we were repeatedly located when carrying the phone). The mobile phone made possible a new kind of social organisation even back then, but it was also (maybe) its downfall... or, to be more precise, the downfall of cellphone-equipped party organisers!

In many ways locative media, free networks et al have displaced independent record labels and illegal warehouse parties as the most vital form of contemporary grass-roots culture, in the
overdeveloped West at least. This is why it is interesting to me to see what kind of politics will emerge. Music provides a good illustration of just how mixed up art and politics can get. In my own experience in the UK there were autonomous spaces that existed for years outside the law, riots, mass arrests, I even had a friend who served time in prison for "Dishonest Abstraction of Electricity"! And more generally you dont have to go to protest songs to find politics, it is there in the struggle between independent labels and the majors, or in the way in which in the US you cant talk about music without discussing race and sexuality (even if only to explain why straight white music is so boring). Will we find equivalents of Underground Resistance and DiY in locative media, or will we end up with Universal Music and American Idol? The likes of Underground Resistance and DiY offered a critique of popular music's conditions of emergence and means of production. Who is going to do the same for locative media?

The issues are if anything all the more urgent in locative media. There's this odd simultaneity between the interests of hackers and locatives on the one hand, and the interests of government who
want to reduce the unexpected through total information awareness) and corporations (who want to design smart products and marketing through real-time response mechanisms) on the other. In each case the aim is to make the world transparent and machine readable. What is more with the erosion of civil liberties worldwide
following September 11, and the application of anti-terrorism legislation against protesters, surveillance is no longer something remote, but something that can affect any one of us. And
after the victory of the Bible over the Blog in the last US election, the meaning and control of media has rarely been so hotly contested.

It gives me hope that the discourse surrounding locative media has shifted over the past year or two, something not acknowledged by either Armin or Coco. I cannot imagine when I first came across it people asking questions such as "Can locative media escape its own axiomatic system?" (from RIXC's Trans-Cultural Mapping cfp). I raised similar concerns on nettime last year, as did Andreas Broeckmann on CRUMB. And the forthcoming PLAN event in London will be headlined by arch-activist Duncan Campbell.

All too often though, there is a lack of political engagement. And where it does exist it seems guided by an assumption that locative media is liberating simply because it puts control technologies in the hands of the many not the few, that this is enough to evade or reverse the operations of power. No consideration is given to how the dominant mode of power is reproduced, or mechanisms of domination left intact, when military technologies are appropriated.

Tony talks about this discussion belonging on a privacy list. Well it already is, as one thing privacy campaigners talk about is lateral or synaptic surveillance, where power doesnt operate
through a centralised bureaucracy (eg. the government), but instead control mechanisms are distributed and dispersed. How is this different from locative media, which might be described as a grass-roots, distributed form of surveillance? Unless people ask difficult questions of themselves, how can they be sure they wont end up accelerating this process? As Karel Dudacek said in the discussion at Futuresonic that Armin mentioned, if you want to be a policeman then put on a uniform.

Armin offers a nice image of a cocktail shaker politics that derives "alternative politicised virtual communities" by mixing Rheingoldian Smart Mobs with "a little FOAF". Armin seems to be saying that creating politicised communities is possible here, but that this is not enough unless they also break from the "forces of techno-rationality in the service of capitalism". As always, the devil is in the detail, and where this is useful is in the questions it raises. Just what is required for us to 'leave the
established playing field'? At what stage do you get interruption or decentring rather than simply dissemination? At what point do "alternative politicised virtual communities" begin or cease to offer "resistance" or "autonomy"? Is it enough that they are accompanied by a discourse that situates them in relation to dominant modes of power, or is a direct and immediate intervention required in addition to this kind of critical distance? What kinds of countermeasures to social control can be envisaged, and how could locative media help to create and disseminate them? Should we be looking for something positive (that builds new worlds) or reactive (that intervenes in the world we have)?

I think that Coco also makes some fine points, while flailing around at what seem (from this side of the Atlantic at least) like straw dolls. Much of her argument is at best obvious, as if she has not taken the time to get to grips with the nuance which exists, even if to be fair this nuance can sometimes be hard to find. And yet who could argue against her conclusion that: "Socially conscious artists and activists, rather than embracing tactics that rely on dreams of omniscience, would do well to examine the history of globalism, networks, dissent and collective
actions in order to understand that they are rooted in the geopolitical and cultural margins"? Certainly not me.

Coco's initial premise is that this area of work "downplays time [and] evades categories of embodied difference such as race, gender and class." This rests in part on a simplistic (if
important in some contexts) distinction, by which spatial implies static and closed, temporal implies dynamic and open. From this point of view, while I cannot think of many locative projects that take time or embodied difference as their subject, you do not have to go far for this premise to unravel. Iain Mott's Sound Mapping, for example, shows how an engagement in place and location does not have to subordinate time, and how that engagement may be responsive to not just an abstract set of Cartesian coordinates but also to the physical embodiment of the user, their proximity to other users, different senses of personal space, culturally specific ways of performing the self, etc etc.

It is, however, notable that this is not a mapping project. And it is undeniable that the postcolonial argument cuts some ice. While the alignment between locative media practitioners and the peer-to-peer politics that spans free networks and indymedia offers one kind of decentring (as I am sure does Karlis's human-human interfacing!), there are other kinds of margins that have not yet been addressed, and, given the importance of mobile communications in the global South, the fact that so much work currently gravitates around the elite centres of Europe and North America is unsettling to say the least.

Where Coco invokes the postcolonial other, Armin highlights the absence within locative projects of an engagement in "this hard to pin down element of power that has become nameless and faceless because it has been inscribed in, is contained in the technological system." Both are important points. Like Armin, I am happy the lid has been blown off. If locative media is to prove to be as interesting and important as I believe it may be, then it needs to take these issues on. Otherwise it will become at worst complicit, at best glib, boring and dumb.


Posted by: Jo at January 4, 2005 09:18 AM