Surrounded by people enjoying their sweet-smelling, delicious food, Christian Nold, Marc Tuters and Jaanis Garancs provided some 'food for thought' during the Open_Brunch 'Sensing Location'.
This second Brunch session during DEAF dealt with technologically governed, activist interventions in the city. Roughly all these types of interventions rely on technologies capable of 'sensing location'. In his introduction of the speakers, Stephen Kovats pointed out that the people who are involved in developing locative media, as these technologies capable of sensing location are called, have to be thought of as a combination of activists and academics.
Christian Nold presented his project Biomapping in which spatial and biometric data are combined into the practice of 'personal cartography'. Simply by wandering through a city, the stress levels measured by the Galvanic Skin Response sensors are linked to the coordinates where the stress is being measured. These combined sets of data are being visualized on the map of the particular city. Let's see how this project testifies to Kovats' statement. One of the academic roots of Nold's work can be found in the work of French thinker Henri Lefebvre, who wrote the books The Production of Space and The Critique of Everyday Life. An important idea for the discourse of locative media in Lefebvre's theory is that of making the city 'readable'. Lefebvre influenced among others, members of the Situationist International (SI), a political and artistic movement in the late 1960's. Their ideas represent the activist roots of the project. Among others, the SI strived for new playful interactions with the city, constructing situations through theory or artistic practice.
Nold isn't really an activist himself but his technology potentially is; Biomapping is designed from a bottom-up point of view, thereby politically empowering individuals by letting them create their personal maps. This empowerment is political, precisely because this new mode of cartography enables individuals to represent space themselves, unlike the traditional, institutional top-down mode of representing space. Another strand of political activism is that Biomapping aims to subvert surveillance technologies that use biometric data into empowering technologies. This refers to the situationist idea of recuperation, i.e. the prevalence of successfully mass-produced commodities that have an internal logic capable of détourner capitalist everyday life.
This is perhaps clarified even better by Marc Tuters' explanation of the background of his own activities. Like Nold, Tuters draws on the legacy of situationism for designing his locative media projects. He characterized his activities as 'situationist practices taken into the machine', which result in the metaphors 'city as machine' and 'machine as city'.
Tuters emphasized developments in the spirit of the 'Information Awareness Office' (IAO), a project that prevents all types of information in general and free spatial data in particular from being used by non-governmental agents. The IAO is a project launched by DARPA, and counts as a political development toward the denial of free private access of the data through which global and urban space is conceived. Next to this, the development and realization of corporate visions of the world also have to be seen as a force that closes down free private access to spatial data. To illustrate this, Tuters showed a clip of HP's Cooltown project that pins down free information access by way of 'technology [that] transforms human experience from consumer lifestyles to business processes by enabling mobility'. It's for these kinds of projects that spatial data will be exploited commercially. To create public awareness of these kinds of developments, Tuters' work is oriented on stimulating civic engagement in the discourse on public space. Therefore it's interesting to keep track of developments in Public Participation Geography Information Systems (PPGIS) that are now mainly used by activists for practicing cartography collaboratively.
By that time, my dish was empty and my stomach was filled with nutritious, translocal dishes by food artist Inge Gregoire. Furthermore, the thoughts that I've been fed were also in the process of digestion and what you've just read is the humble result of thought consumption.
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