Memory Maps
Emma Posey

Distance Made Good

The installation 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 'lacis' works.

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.


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, p.136

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, Autonomedia, p.12


Beside Ourselves, Sometimes by Kris Cohen

Walk by Annie Gerin

Satellites by Derek Hales

Distance Made Good by Annabel Longbourne

Memory Maps by Emma Posey

Distance Made Good: Installations using GPS to chart local topographies by Hamilton & Southern

Unfeasible Symmetry by Hamilton & Southern

Copyright Hamilton, Southern & St Amand 2008.
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