Ideology, Obsolescence and Preservation in Digital Mapping and Locative Art

TitleIdeology, Obsolescence and Preservation in Digital Mapping and Locative Art
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Jethani, S., and D. Leorke
Affiliation (1st Author)The University of Melbourne, Australia
Section or WGAudience Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeAUDW3a
Slot Code (Keyword)AUDW3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleAudience Activities in the Age of Mediated Urbanism
Submission ID5599

[Submitted as part of the Panel: "Audience Activities in the Age of Mediated Urbanism"] During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the commercialization and widespread availability of GPS technology, mobile devices and digital mapping gave rise to new methods for exploring the relationship between the urban condition and human agency. These manifested in a disparate collective of projects and movements that sought to repurpose these technologies and channel them into a new and radical spatial politics through interactive artworks and tactical interventions within the urban environment. This paper engages with two related forms of urban mediation that arose during the late 20th century as a result of the proliferation of digital networks and mobile media in urban space: locative media art and digital mapping. These practices have been celebrated for their transformative possibilities as sites of spatial mediation and critique. Many scholarly accounts of digital mapping and location-aware technologies – and particularly the artistic and commercial projects that repurpose them – focus on their potential to transform our experience of urban space and ‘reinvigorate’ the social and cultural life of cities.   In this paper we argue, however, that the celebratory accounts of these projects often overlook how they are shaped by institutional, as well as counter-hegemonic, forces. While many of these projects have been praised for creating new ways of visualizing, mapping, enacting, and experiencing the heterogeneity of urban space, they are less often examined in light of the institutional and infrastructural forces that bring them into existence. Likewise, they are often not studied critically beyond the initial period at which they may be deemed novel or experimental. In particular, the documentation, preservation and transmission of these projects through various media ‘after the fact’ is often overlooked in critical accounts of these projects and discussions of their ongoing relevance and critical ‘intervention’ into the urban realm.   We seek to build on existing accounts of locative art and digital mapping by focusing on how technological obsolescence and the storage and documentation of these projects shapes, to a large extent, how their critique of urban space is harnessed beyond their initial performance or enactment. We explore these issues through case studies of two projects that make use of location-aware devices and digital mapping tools respectively. The first, San Francisco <-> Baghdad (2004), highlights the extent to which locative art becomes mobilized as a critique of urban space, only to be confined within its own ideological imperatives and processes of documentation. The second case study, Bangalore: Subjective Cartographies (2009), employs subjective mapping tools to spatially represent ongoing historical and colonial tensions within the city of Bangalore, whilst simultaneously highlighting the constraints imposed on the project by them. In order to evaluate the impact of these projects on their users’ and participants’ experience of agency within the situated urban environment, we examine how their political and artistic objectives are shaped through the ways by which they are documented and recorded after their ‘lived’, situated performance.

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