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Locative Media, Interactive Maps, and Radio Transmissions

The session here at ISEA 2008 continues with Drew Hemment, who reflects on his experience running the Futuresonic locative media festival in the UK. Of particular interest here is the contradiction between the excitement of locative media practitioners and the concerns around privacy which such media forms also highlight. Our locative devices trace our movements.

What art forms are intrinsic or unique to locative media, then? This was explored through the 2004 Mobile Connections exhibition. Such locative art can be understood to be the art of mobile and wireless systems, and it is possible to develop a taxonomy of locative media art works (works which are realist, figurative, or social on the one hand, and/or engage in mapping, ambulation, or geoannotation on the other). Many locative media works continue to show little or no engagement with lived spaces and social contexts, however.

Futuresonic, then, shifted focus towards this social, city dimension. Such work sought to reimagine lived city spaces, working especially also in unexpected city spaces. This investigates how people connect with one another in city spaces, and connects with Net art and free media (media outside proprietary controls). This generated a new exhibition called Art for Shopping Centres, including a work called "The Duellists" involving a free-running (parkour) performance filmed through CCTV cameras. Staging the exhibition itself involved a great deal of negotiation with the owners of such privately owned public spaces.

A further exhibition was Social Networking Unplugged, which invited artists to 'unplug' new social media spaces to reveal their inner workings - translating them from the network into urban spaces (creating physical versions of messaging and social media systems, etc.). A current project, Environment 2.0, is for an exhibition next year, which adds in issues related to climate change and other environmental concerns.

Up next is Viktor Bedö, whose interest is in visual discovery and how it may apply to interactive real-time urban maps. Such maps build on locative (location-specific) information which requires space as context in order to be interpreted, technology which places such information on a geographical map (this includes sites such as Bliin, and interactive communications tools (commenting, etc.), and combine these into a hybrid, social, architectural, informational space.

There are similarities here with link networks in blogs, friend networks in social media sites, and so on. In other words, information is projected onto social space. (Viktor points to the 'augmented urbanism' of Dencity here.) Another example for this are the ubiquitous transport network maps which can be found in just about any major city.

Such maps be used in the first place for navigation itself, of course - in order to navigate to places, to navigate to people (coordinating participants' location at a set time rather than coordinating their time at a set location) - or to communicate about specific places or people on the map. Map signs used in the process identify that something exists on the map, but these also combine to create a further shared layer of structure (zones, areas, peaks and troughs on the map). Indeed, in using the map and feeding back such use into the map we also change the map - mapping is space-creation, using the city is changing the city, in that sense.

Locative information requires the urban context, Viktor suggests. Such information exhibits specific patterns over time, and these can be extracted and examined,but the examination must take place over time and cannot rely simply on one-off snapshots of locative maps.

Finally we're on to Zita Joyce, who shifts our focus to New Zealand. Her interest is broadly in radio technologies and their effect of locating users in specific spaces. Radio waves are affected by a variety of factors -the physical environment as well as by the commercial, social and political contexts which govern radio transmissions. Frequencies are allocated through a combination of property and licencing schemes, of course, an radio transmissions operate in this proprietorial context, therefore.

Zita has done some work to map the landscape of radio transmissions in Auckland, mapping the location and reach of transmitters, and providing information on transmitter ownership, frequencies, licencing arrangements, and other details, based on publicly available information (such information is not as freely available in other countries, incidentally). However, this does not take into account the effects of physical impediments to transmission, such as the physical and architectural geography of Auckland; similarly, publicly available frequencies (for low-power transmissions, etc.) are not mapped here.

This was taken up in further projects, especially also in one which explored the potential shape of an Auckland Chinatown and the role of local and international broadcasters in this context. The Friendly Road radio project used low-power broadcasting systems to organise a local Chinese community radio, and here immediately encountered the limitations of the physical environment and the competition of surrounding radio broadcasts.

Further, sound artists translate such questions of radio transmission into sound installations - picking up on the intended and incidental radio transmission environments around them and transforming them into audible sound. This creates a kind of variegated radio space and operates at multiple levels of frequencies, filling the air with a tangible sense of the radio waves - the 'electromagnetic soup' - which permeate the room. (One such artwork is the Electrosmog Detector, which indicates the density of radio waves in the enviroments in which it is installed.) Sound art of this type can act as a 'radio mediator', then.

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