Old and New
Forms Conference: New Forms Festival 2004.
This paper discusses the collaborative installation
works of Jen Hamilton (CA) and Jen Southern (UK). For this paper,
specific texts by Michel De Certeau are referenced and used to explore
the nature of GPS and walking as a process of discovery in its relationship
to lived environments.
keywords: GPS, Mediated Movement, Technology and Embodiment, Lived
Space, Urban streets, de Certeau.
This paper discusses our collaborative installations,
in particular an ongoing series of works called "Distance Made
Good." Here, specific texts are referenced as landmarks and
are used to explore the nature of GPS and walking as a process of
discovery in its relationship to lived environments. In this paper
we chart our understanding of GPS technology in applying it to physical
navigation of cultural space in cities. It features the GPS as a
technology and a device that raises more questions than it answers.
In 2002 we were commissioned to make a work that linked
the city of Stratford-upon-Avon with its sister city Stratford,
in Ontario, Canada. We travelled to Stratford, Ontario to explore
the place and to chart shared ground. We arrived at the beginning
of an intense blizzard where we quickly realized that walking around
a place with our heads down, eyes scrunched and hands deep in our
pockets wasn't letting us see where we were. A 'physical' hindrance
brought about by the weather limited our access to the experiencing
When we visited Stratford England a cultural blizzard
of sorts limited use. The heritage sites were preserved with such
an intensity so as to intellectually "white-out" our sense
of being in the place; it was difficult to tell the real from the
simulated, or to chart our own course through space according to
our own sensibilities without being distracted and influenced by
tourist industry fabrications.
After these two preliminary research trips it occurred
to us that the global positioning system might provide a means in
which to physically navigate between two locations. We saw that
it was a technology that offered to tell us where we were - at any
given point despite physical or cultural hindrances - and prevent
us from becoming lost. It was a way to make a physical tracing of
a place and towards making experience tangible.
1.Triangulation As A Third Dimension: The GPS Device
It is useful here to explain briefly how GPS technology works. The
GPS gives a singular representation of movement by receiving signals
from geo-stationary satellites. This is different from traditional
surveying instruments where the Earth's magnetism manipulates navigation
instruments at ground level. In GPS technology the horizontal and
planar relationship to the Earth is converted to a zenith - nadir
relation, or highest point in the sky, to the lowest. Space is hierarchically
reordered and one's position in navigating space isn't related exclusively
to the ground. It is now also related to the sky.
From point to point, as the walker moves through space,
the GPS device plots, making movement into a tracing or line drawing.
As with the symbolic order of a map - read as it is from above as
though looking down at the ground - the line drawings made with
the GPS are 'read' as evocations of a sequence in space traversed
through time, like a snail leaving a slime trail as it moves along,
only in this case the slime trail is made from received satellite
signals. Tracks become represented later after GPS coordinates are
downloaded and interpreted by GPS software and displayed on a monitor.
In our work the GPS lines form the basis from which
installations are made. Spatially investigated distant and twinned
locations are compared to each other through individual date and
location specific journeys. Local residents participate at this
stage through direct collaboration, sharing with us, the regular
routes they take on a daily basis. These shared experiences along
with the purposeful routes we take generate the GPS lines, from
which we make a third space later in installation.
With the GPS, space is interpreted according to drawn
trajectories. This results in an abstracted construction of space.
Space is thus mobilized and made into a ridged and Cartesian representation.
With the sensibility of a place is suppressed sets of coordinates
reduce the traversed space into an abstraction such that it seems
hardly possible that the lines were made through the messy, earth
bound dragging of one foot in front of another. Part of our investigation
is to ask how we might reveal the walking - as grubby and ambiguous
as it is - in the space traversed using such a uniform, and unambiguous
technology of the GPS.
The satellite bird's eye view symbolized in the GPS
line totalizes space taken from the actions of the walker. And so
unlike the map, the GPS generates a representation of traversed
space through actions taken at ground level. For us, this relationship
and disparity between the detail of the walk and the whole of it
in representation is important. The combined way in which the lines
are generated - from above and from below - is a perplexing quality
that is specific to GPS technology. The walk taken by a person through
space is what generates the lines and makes the represented GPS
lines seemingly more poignant and subjective than if they were simply
charted out on a map, as space is rendered in what seems to be a
far more direct and personal way. For us, an intriguing condition
of this representation is the meagerness of the drawn line.
What is particular about these lines is that they only partially
refer to the flavour and ambience of the experience of walking.
Thus translated the enchanted world is forgotten and misunderstood
despite the fact that to make a walk one really does move through
space. We half expect a representation of walks to tell us something
about where we've been, that in them they would carry the quality
or have memory of what we did there. Walking is physical after all,
kinesthetic and perhaps similar to the way dogs relate physically
to a space they are in by rubbing their whole bodies in the dirt.
The GPS device and lines exact an unambiguous, straight and narrow,
technological representation of space. On the GPS screen are lines
of routes taken, translated as liquid crystal strands. These linear
pronunciations made by the device very quickly reduce movement in
space into an abstraction. For us, our project then is to reinvest
the GPS traces (as a form of represented space) with a remembering
and an understanding, to bend the technology in order to capture
the movement in space as an "enunciation."
Michel de Certeau calls walking an "act of enunciation"
(de Certeau, 1989,97). "The walker's body follows the thicks
and thins of an urban text" and writes space without being
able to read it. The written text of the city for de Certeau is
the "grammar" of the sidewalks and curbs. Its "legible
order" found in signs posted in the streets is its infrastructure.
Yet walking in the city has its own set of practices regardless
of the rules or impositions put upon it by infrastructure. The walker
enunciates space by moving through it in self determined ways. With
this kind of reinterpretation of the urban planned code, the "desire
paths" made by the walker who individuates space by walking
where she wants to makes ambiguous the "legible" order
given to the cities by city planners. Walks are creative and represent
personal paths. The legible technology or order of the city becomes
interesting with the people moving through it in specific ways,
along their interconnected routes.
Even though the global positioning system's unambiguous
code reduces walked paths to a set of coordinates, we can take these
lined traces and begin to build a rigorous portrait of a place determined
as it is by people walking through it. And like the walker who traverses
through the city and enunciates space in a personal way, we interrogate
the GPS technological representation of space in order to make ambiguous
the 'legible' order of the technology.
The invisibility of the "city" - how it
is used, its spatial nature, captured in movement - suggests that
the GPS device can be used to reveal. But it only reveals in the
way it is used on the ground, by the people who move through space.
For de Certeau, the city is invisibly "enunciated" by
bodies walking, like thoughts in the mind unspoken, or the gapped
and fragmented space between "two lover's held in an embrace"
(de Certeau, 1989:93). When we attempt to illuminate the space of
a city, according to those that travel in and through it, we take
the GPS device to the street level and walk with it as an agent
that invisibly "writes" the city we cannot see. In the
installation we re-represent the drawn lines that are texts of the
city taken from the GPS of the space we travelled, and work to conjure
the 'ground' level, "enchanting world", and thus reconfigure
GPS representations. We envision a way in which to repair the 'gap'
between represented space and the physical reality of walked space,
to reconcile between the actual space walked and the meaning of
spatial practices, towards the depiction or uncovering of a narrative,
or a way in which to make the city visible.
2. The City Invisibly Enunciated
"Distance made good" is a navigation term meaning distance
from your last position to your present position. In making the
preliminary GPS line trajectories for "Distance Made Good"
the artworks, we walked along a planned route, on the same day,
in two separate cities sharing the same name. The way points along
each route were chosen in advance, according to how we thought each
city was represented through tourist landmarks. The mirrored way-pointed
sites served to "twin" the two separate locations (both
have a River Avon (including resident swans), a Shakespeare theatre;
a public gallery (coincidentally sharing the same name); a train
station and a foundational museum). The practice of naming a place
after a "home land" town, as Stratford Ontario is named
after Stratford-upon-Avon, suggests that the new place will in someway
reflect, or even be like the home, original town. But here, it becomes
confusing which place "in essence" is the original. This
confusion is particularly pronounced because Stratford-upon-Avon
relies economically on its 'birthplace' status through the re-creation
and simulation of specific sites. Tourism in Stratford Canada is
based in a much more straightforward way, on Shakespeare's plays,
and any simulation there, in terms of tourist value happens principally
through the act of naming. The waypoints we used in our route for
the installation and in its research, represent loose concepts of
what these two cities are for the tourist, and reveal a set of symbolic
values shared by both locations. Combining the paths taken in the
two cities together, the representation in a gallery creates a third
space as an "interstitial hybrid" and uses metaphors that
encompass the potential of "twinning," and the differentiation
of the "tourist" spectacles.
The GPS lines are put into installations using tactile
materials: rope, netting, cord, and sand bags. Our use of netting
and lace in the installations - both time intensive physical handiwork
in themselves - is important to the focus on the concepts surrounding
the physicality of being space. In bringing both sites together
at once, the installation shakes the viewer into a conscious identification
of their own bodies in space. The physical arrangement in the installation
reflects the main organizing principles from which the work is generated
- namely mapping and the sensibility of actually walking through
a space that has been realized using GPS to gather information.
By manifesting the events of "walking" in a decorative
format using "lace work," we re-familiarize the gallery
space for those who participate with it, in a tangible way, towards
the reinvention of the Stratford sites as more than their simulated
Distance Made Good: Field Study done in
2003 uses GPS to trace a link between two other namesake locations:
the municipality of Sherwood, Saskatchewan, Canada, and Sherwood
Forest, UK - a tourist destination and home of the legendary outlaw
'Robin Hood'. Each site has been reinvented for recreation and mapped
out for either a game of golf (as in, the Sherwood Forest Golf Course
in Saskatchewan) or orienteering (as in Sherwood Forest orienteering
course, in England). We again navigated these two "heterotopian"
spaces on the same day, each with GPS devices in hand. And the work
done in installation revealed the spectacle of myth making and flat
representations of space as found in mapping as being slim and deficient
3. Creating the Social through Movement
We could perhaps characterize contemporary life by an individuals
access to travel. There are diverse reasons for travel; for pleasure,
for work, or out of necessity. This travel may be localized to one
town, ranging across the country, or traversing the globe. The range
and ease of travel between and within locations can be linked to
social and cultural factors such as affluence, spare time, accessibility
of transport, familiarity with geography, nationality, language,
age and gender. This influences the way space is represented and
thought about and the way it is actually experienced and moved through
physically by the social, historical, and spatial constraints that
punctuate its negotiation.
The "Distance Made Good" projects we have
worked on have always used a GPS device in the research. We interrogate
the technological limitations of the GPS representation of locale
or 'place'. We enhance and manipulate its output through work done
in installation. The concept that movement through space creates
social realities is a main interest and thematic direction of "Distance
Made Good" and the orientation point from which we discuss
space, movement and technology. The concept that somehow movement
through space creates the social is investigated by fashioning an
active, living space in the installation. Travelled enunciations
that are represented in the space of the gallery are changed into
the third space where the interaction between two places happens.
The manifesting of walking in a format that uses lace for instance,
re-familiarizes the gallery space for those who participate with
it, in a tangible way. The work invests the sites as being places
more than their simulated identities.
De Certeau, M., 1989, The Practice of Everyday
Life , University of California Press, Berkley.
Virilio, P., 1991, The Lost Dimension, Semiotexte, New
Jen Hamilton is an artist based in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Her studio research investigates the connections and conflicts between
sets of relations and kinaesthetic experience to question borders
of knowledge and expand on the concept of the spatial imagination.
The work proposes how something might work or what something is
through a presentation of effects. Final pieces are dependent on
narrative, evocations, and metaphor. She has exhibited in Canada
and the UK. www.24elements.net
Jen Southern is an artist based in Huddersfield, UK.
Her process based collaborative practice investigates everyday journeys
between virtual and physical spaces, which are navigated through
socially embedded technologies such as video games and mobile phones.
She is a senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. Selected
Exhibitions: (UK) The Gallery, Stratford-upon-Avon; Yorkshire Sculpture
Park; The Photographers Gallery, London; (International) Kunstraum
Innsbruck, Austria; Arte Alameda, Mexico City; NPC, Bulgaria; DEAF,