Distance Made Good by Canadian artist Jen Hamilton and British artist
Jen Southern focuses on two sites; the town Stratford Upon Avon
in England and the city of Stratford Ontario in Canada. Stratford
Ontario derives its name as one of many British colonies that formed
Canada. There are about seven sister Stratfords around the world.
The method of naming things twice, or more, is called 'anabaptist',
a practice that was popularly used by many settlers who named their
site of relocation by borrowing the name of their hometown .
Although the historical connection between the two Stratfords offers
a starting point for the installation, Hamilton and British focus
on the sites in their present form as 'social spaces'. The artists
track their own movements through the spaces of three distinct 'groups'
of people who inhabit both Stratfords; the actors on stage, the
townspeople moving between suburb and centre, and the tourists who
explore the town centre. Social spaces often occur simultaneously,
in a form detailed by Levebvre. They "interpenetrate one another
and/or superimpose themselves upon one another." In the installation,
the artists represent their movement in a series of embroidered
In order to track movement the artists employed a
technological device, the Global Positioning System (GPS) which
is a world-wide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation
of 24 satellites and ground stations. By accurately measuring the
distance from three satellites, any position on the earth can be
determined. Although, as with many technological innovations, GPS
was developed as an instrument of war, it is now incorporated into
many domestic devices such as car navigation systems and handsets.
The installation’s title, Distance Made Good, is taken from
GPS terminology meaning 'the distance from departure point, last
position to present position'. Hamilton and Southern link a series
of GPS positions to represent their movement. It is the relationship
between a series of positions and how these can be used to express
activity, or more specifically the relationship between notions
of location and place, that is the installation's central theme.
GPS is an objective device, determining co-ordinates
to denote a location. Co-ordinates present locations as if they
are uninhabited - their configuration eludes an individual’s
perception and recollection associated with locations. Such is the
distinction between location and place which is usefully illustrated
by the terms 'house' and 'home'. A house is mapped using co-ordinate
points or postal addresses and yet home, though alluding to house,
is a perception and recollection. The geographer Tuan believes "Location
is transformed into place as it acquires definition and meaning".
In linking co-ordinates together Hamilton and Southern
represent the movement of people’s lives as patterns of activity
carried out in relation to various locations over time. These are
‘memory maps’, an inversion of maps. They recollect
activity as opposed to inform navigation. Sociologists Donald Parkes
and Nigel Thrift carried out research which aimed to distinguish
between location and place by comparing maps drawn from measurements
with maps drawn by individuals from memory. Their investigation
resulted in the affirmation that "Location is determined outside
the individual. Place is constructed from inside the individual,
as mental maps and personalised images of time."
In the installation, destination is delineated by
a thread's end, the lacis works detail movement – between
A and B – rather than specifying A and B. The lines seemingly
meander and, in this way, correspond to the activities of a flâneur,
recognised as a wanderer rather than a traveller. The movements
paced out by the artists on-foot are then traced out by them by-hand
in the embroidered works. Hamilton and Southern's installation offers
an insight into the repertoire of movement or kinesthesis, which
means a sense of movement or of muscular effort. Their movement
follows static routes such as railways, roads, pavements and paths.
Whilst also, at times, disengaging from these pre-determined routes
on foot, all the movement is carried-out within an infrastructure.
The interweaving of transitory and grid is reflected in the artists'
choice of embroidery to represent their movements within both Stratfords.
Although sometimes detailing walking and therefore
muscular effort, Hamilton and Southern's choreographic works are
tainted by technology - only vehicles enable one to manoeuvre without
moving one’s limbs. This reinforces the important point that
although a negotiation of location is central to understanding place
such activity need not be physical - either muscular or bodily.
Continuing with a trend in contemporary fine art, Hamilton and Southern’s
working process became configured in the work itself. Necessitated
by the physical distance between each other, the artists constructed
a shared online studio – a non-physical place of expression
and collaboration with a location in the form of a URL (Universal
Resource Locator). Much current debate focuses on whether technology
disrupts a sense of place. For instance, Virilio claims technology
"leads to uncertainty about the place of effective action"
but only if one assumes that a sense of place can only be derived
through touch (haptics), action or movement. Although place is reliant
on notions of position, these need not be physical – hence
the URL or 'string' which makes reference to pieces of data that
make up the virtual studio. Indeed, technology can be seen to propagate
place because, as in the instance of the internet, it provides new
frameworks for negotiation.
Virilio echoes a popular futuristic fantasy that is
challenged in Distance Made Good. He claims, "From here on,
people can't be separated by physical obstacles or by temporal distances
[...] distinctions of here and there no longer mean anything".
Hamilton and Southern's work employs GPS to define rather than defy
locations. It is a technology designed to determine between here
and there because here and there will always mean something even
if they never mean place.
Emma Posey is an artist, writer and Director of Bloc,
a forum for creativity and technology. www.bloc.org.uk
1. Nilsson. J. and Ohrner. A.,
1995, Collaboration 1994. Index. No. 1
2. Henri Lefebvre, 1974, The Production of Space,
Blackwell Publishers Ltd, p. 87
3. Conrad Dixon and Geoff Hales, 2001, Using GPS,
Adlard Coles Nautical, p. 107
4. Yi-Fu Tuan, 1977. Space and Place, The Perspective
of Experience, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
5. Donald Parkes and Nigel Thrift, 1980, Times,
Spaces, and Places: A Chronogeographic Perspective, John Wiley
and Sons, p. 138
6. Paul Virilio, 1995, The Art of the Motor,
University of Minnesota Press, p.155
7. Paul Virilio, 1991, The Lost Dimension,