Drew Hemment

Drew Hemment

Director of Future Everything, Future Sonic and Imagination@Lancaster

Symposium Presentation 21st  September 2008 ZAIM, Yokohama, Japan

To introduce myself I do several things most of them are research and curating, sometimes I create artworks, other things beside that as well. But mainly research and curating. My interests are firstly locative media, which is why we are here, Dislocate is very much about locative media. Looking beyond computing in its current form towards the social and cultural possibilities opened by a new generation of networked location aware media.

And also social technologies. Through my talk I will explain how my interest has evolved from locative media towards social media. By social technologies I mean something a little broader than just a set of web 2.0 applications such as Flickr and Facebook. I mean a broader set of technologies which create possibilities for social interaction but then also in a broader sense you can look as technology as socially constructed.

Understood to refer to network technologies that create an extension of social space, and also to the social character and social construction of technology as such.

 

I have two bases. I am director of a major new research lab at Lancaster university (imagination@Lancaster) which is very exciting we have some wonderful colleagues there, it is a very new lab.

I am also founder of Future Everything, a creative non-profit organization. The two main projects I am going to talk about today is an artistic project Loca and Futuresonic which is a media art festival established in 1995, and has been the UK’s main media art festival for quite some time.

To give you a quick introduction about Futuresonic. It covers three main areas, art, music and ideas. So we have a lot of music gigs, we have exhibitions in galleries, dealing with technology,  and largely due to our interest in locative media  and  mobile technology we do a lot of work in the public sphere, so public spaces, outside of the conventional gallery spaces. We also have an interest in technology and social themes. In terms of technology Tenorion – toshio Iwai

Locative media

A convergence of geographical and data space that comes about as soon as computing becomes mobile or ambient, and connected to new ways of seeing, sensing and representing: radar, sonar, GPS, wiFi, Bluetooth, cellular, GIS etc.

The thing which interests me about locative media is its relationship to surveillance. Locative media you can describe as a knife edge It is between two things at once, this is what interests me about locative media first and foremost. I first started looking at it when I was interested in surveillance and mobile phones and I discovered a community of developers and artists very excited about the technology for the very same reason that the privacy advocates were terrified. The locative media community are really excited that look you can track me all the time, and that is exactly what the privacy advocates are concerned about. That contradiction is what got me very interested. The issue is that these services require to give up information to disclose their location and so an unintended secondary consequence of these platforms is that they create the potential for surveillance.

 

Locative media projects ask and/or require users to give up information for a perceived benefit, but do not address the (often unforeseen) consequences of these actions – and the principle unforeseen consequence of locative media’s demand for logging location and time is that it creates systems susceptible to various forms of surveillance. So we are all being mapped all of the time. The devices which we carry leave traces of our movements.

 

In terms of Futuresonic the interest was more curatorial and artistic. So the question is are there forms of expression that are intrinsic or unique to mobile and wireless media? So not how can we take existing art forms onto new media, but are there new art forms which can emerge in this space. This work lead to an exhibition in 2004 called mobile connections.

The first major exhibition on mobile, wireless and locative arts featuring an exhibition, conference and call for submissions. It followed pioneering work by RIXC and coincided with the development of ISEA 2004. RIXC in Latvia was responsible for some very pioneering work at that time.

Before there were a number of curatorial interests

l  Taking art out of the galleries and off the screen – geographical space as a canvas, city as medium

l  The potential of interfaces unfettered by wires and cables for performance or interaction

l  The kinds of communication and creative expression that emerge within networks with no fixed centre, but rather multiple, mobile nodes

l  Make visible disrupt or intervene in the operation of control technologies

l  Deconstructing the grid – ambiguity and play

So in mobile connections there was a big conference and in the exhibition there were various works including Interurban – which involved location aware media in this case a narrative one, you wonder around and experience an ambient narrative, mapping projects, performance projects, many things in public space. I was quite careful to have a quite broad definition of locative arts so I didn’t only select art works which involved positioning technologies for example This work from Japan Sonic Interface, one of my all time favourite works, doesn’t involve any positioning technologies, so for some people it would not count as locative media, but at this stage that was not my concern. I was much more interested in having an inclusive look at how technology is redefining our relationship to location and to the city.

Jonah Brooker Cohen Wifi log– wireless enables you to take over a wireless network and log everyone on there. Questioning issues of openness which get thrown around. As an outcome I work across the arts and research. I am very interested in the research side. So there were a number of outcomes from this event. One was a proposition. The proposition that, just as net art if the art of the internet, so locative art can be understood to be the art of mobile and wireless systems. That was intended to be a provocation so hopefully we can have some lively discussion around that.

Another outcome was a taxonomy of media art projects. A taxonomy of locative media arts, which distinguishes between mapping, ambulatory and geo-annotation projects that were primarily documentary and the figurative or social.

Taxonomy 

mapping

ambulation

Geo-annotation

Realist& documentation

realitime, open source map

heritage walks

city guides, museum guides

Figurative and expressive

GPS drawing, choreography

walk/inner urban

geografitti, innerurban, city poems

Collaborative and social

trace encounters/ loca

park bench tv

urban tapestries/yellow arrow

 

      

Locative media contains a strongly social moment and much early interest focused on the notion of social interfaces to places (Russell)

I started getting frustrated with the direction a lot of locative media practice within the arts and more widely were taking, taking a very narrow focus on digital mapping…and digital mapping….

A real issue for me there was a real absence of the social. A real abstraction of place and location. The rhetoric was about social interaction in the public sphere, it was about a re-engagement, re-discovery of location. But the actual experience was reducing location to a set of geographical coordinates. Locative media had or has a strongly social moment where locative media acted as social interfaces to places – Ben Russell influential thinker in the early days.

Some of the concepts in locative media

l  Social interfaces to places

l  People search engines

l  A machine readable world

l  City as a canvas or medium

l  Person as a cursor in the city

However much of the field of locative media workds with a very narrow, technologically deterministic understanding of location and with little or no engagement in lived spaces and social context.

Futuresonic was an early event to explore mobile and locative art and to take the digital arts out of the galleries and off the screen into the city. The legacy is a focus on social technologies, art and the city.

So in a sense this is a departure point. The legacy of this work, the legacy of this interest in locative media wasn’t an obsession with mobile phones and what I can do with gps, it got me thinking again about the city, about the politics of space about social interaction it got me having interesting conversations with architects and urban planners, I rediscovered sociology.

The outcome today is a focus in the festival on social and participator artworks which to reimagine, free and make strange lived city spaces. You can describe this as art and urban interface. A focus on creative practices which engage in network technologies in lived city spaces, and on how they suggest alternative possibilities or critical perspectives.

Working in unexpected city spaces – which are occupied, lived, sometimes branded, owned, not free; other times public with limited freedoms, that vary in different contexts (e.g. city squares, train stations etc)

Social networking unplugged – 2008

The artworks unplug the new social spaces in order to take them apart, see how they work and put them together in new ways. There were 20 art works 12 of which were new works or UK firsts from big productions to very small interventions. This is the first exhibition to my knowledge to have a comprehensive look at social networking in an art context.

Plan B

Some of the works in the exhibition very literally looked at online social spaces, in this case myspace. They looked at the interaction metaphors in these online spaces, unplugged them and created offline analogues. So in this case rather than a web page you have a box, an empty box, and a set of materials with which you can create your space. These spaces are then displayed in a shop window and they have a messaging system on the back of the box, so people were able to send messages to people’s boxes, and when you receive a message a little icon comes up on the box, so you know that you have got mail. As well as a wonderful art work, we had 120 make boxes, people queuing out of the door, people loving it, the quality was just phenomenal. Beautiful outlandish crazy stuff. We had some kids about 15 who hang out together on a bridge every weekend and make crazy videos and put them on myspace and they cam into the shop and recreated their myspace. And we had a band who brought their other mates from a band and they made a box again based on their myspace page. We found some interesting things out. One person said I don’t like my box anymore, I want to do another one, can you get rid of that one. The artists put that box behind the counter, but then they thought they wanted us to remove it, they wanted us to delete their data, what does it mean to delete data when it is a box, is it enough to put it behind the counter, that’s what myspace do, they don’t delete it its still there you just cant see it. But they decided that it wasn’t enough. So they took all of the materials off put them back in the trays and completely erased it. It was also interesting how much work it took to maintain the messaging system, online its completely painless and easy but here it took so much work.

A second project was by Aram Bartholl. Called friends. It is a real Facebook. You create your own photo, passport head and shoulders image by cutting out a stamp with a craft knife then you can stamp it with ink, and you have a little book and you have your details

If you want to make new friends, you can put your photo in a book in and people can choose whether to make you their friend or not. It takes a very literal interpretation of an online space.

Then we had others who made a dinner party in a public space which was based on gift exchange. Various projects facilitating social interaction in public spaces or playing with expectations in public space. So we also did some flash mob kind of things too.

We had projects which were quite architectural There was a space, an open gallery, a gallery with no walls, constructed from recycled materials so creating an architectural space. Projects looking at the city, going and interviewing people talking about peoples experience of the city. This was a project by Simon Yeoill exploring how free and open public spaces in the city are. And also looking at autonomous spaces, trying to create spaces either outside of government or commercial control.

A wide range of projects looking at unplugging social interaction looking at social interaction in the city and exploring the city as a social environment.

 

We yesterday had an interesting conversation about bureaucracy having to challenge bureaucracy and when doing work in the public sphere having to Engaging permissions or doing things illegally. This is what this project is all about. This was an exhibition for a shopping centre, it was the main shopping centre in Manchester, leading up to it we had a workshop which was called free and everywhere. We looked at three areas, locative arts,, net art and free media.

Urban media workshop

Participants Graham Harwood, Katherine Moriwaki, Mediashed, Drew Hemment

Locative media looks at how people connect with each other through technology in public places.

Net-art is about networks and the play of power an influence in online environments.

Free media is about finding inspiration and resources in our built and natural environment – it is open, unrestricted and outside proprietary controls, so you can freely change it, rewrite it or rebuild it to suit yourself

The Duelists

The Duellists by media shed combines free-running with free-media. Free running involves fluid uninterrupted movement adapting motion to obstacles in the environment. Like free-running, free-media makes use of and re-energises the infrastructure of the city. The Duellists was created for Futuresonic 2007 using only the in-house CCTV system in the Manchester Arndale and in the exhibition it was shown on the plasma screens usually used to carry advertising.

Free-media in a sense comes from a very different place from locative media but it does a very similar thing. Free media is about looking at the city, the built environment and its technological meditation. But rather than looking at emerging technologies the potential of GPS etc. it looks at the redundancy the excess of technology in the environment. So it starts off from the position not that we can take new devices in there and create new experiences but it starts from the position that the environment is already saturated with technology. And that there is an excess of technology and this is underutilized and we can take it, we have access to it, we can claim that technology for art practices or for provocation, for activism It is very interesting look at free-media in terms of locative-media, there is a real parallel there, but there isn’t enough dialogue there, it is still not as widely used it taps into a lot of the interest in using recycled technology.

So the Duellists is a film. We staged a performance in the shopping centre of free running. We had access to the shopping centre for three nights, we didn’t do it guerrilla style we negotiated the permissions which was a very long drawn out process. The performance was filmed only using the cctv network, when it was shown in the exhibition it was shown on the plasma screens in the shopping centre.

 

The need to negotiate with the people and agencies who run the city centre enabled the outlines of control to be made apparent, and like a Polaroid image, appearing it was possible to discover truths about the city that are not always seen.

 

It also caused us problems half way through the exhibition some of the directors of the management company of the shopping centre were walking though the shopping centre and saw this film, with the guys sliding down the escalators etc. They were outraged and demanded that the entire exhibition be shut down. This was half way through the futuresonic festival and I got this call…So we had to negotiate and get it reinstated and get it put back up again. And this process which happened at several stages, was not visible to the audience but was one of the most interesting points of the exhibition.

 

For example we discovered that more than 3 young kids are not allowed to walk through the shopping centre together, there was once a big IRA bomb which destroyed much of the city centre, amazingly no one was killed, and people at the time joked that if it had been a few metres to the left it would have destroyed the Arndale shopping centre, as no one liked it. It made possible the regeneration of the city strangely it is almost seen in a positive light. The funding for this came from the selling into private hands previously public spaces. It is very interesting to look at public spaces and what that means in different national and regional contexts. It can mean completely different things from Tokyo and Manchester.

In the UK it is a problem because people aren’t aware of what public means, they assume that is free, they can do what they want but its absolutely not it s private. So one of the consequences of that is that there was a space created in the city where historically it is a space where people would go to protest. If you had a grievance with the government or your neighbours etc. it was a space you could go to. And that is where they built brand new shiny Marks and Spencer. And Marks and Spencer didn’t want the protestors there, so the protestors were moved on and they replaced them with some street musicians so these small interventions which are so essential to the fabric of the city we didn’t know about but we got to find out about through the project.

 

I have not lost interest in Locative media. I am very interested when digital practice goes into lived spaces and has to rub up against the city. But some of it is a bit bland. For me what happens what locative media is about is our relationship to the environment the city to space. Its about our relationship to the external environment and its mediatization.

As we all know there is a big debate now in relation to the environment and that has to do with sustainability. My view is that we cant begin to take on that debate if we don’t first try to understand the  nature our contemporary relationship to the environment and to that you need to understand its mediatization. To look at locative media, pervasive media is essential in order to rethink and challenge the way relate to the environment. I think there is a really big shift there. In the industrial age the natural environment was seen as an inert resource in Heideggerian terms the standing reserve. It was seen as something to be exploited by mankind. Now we are entering an age where the environment is being digitized. We are not only able to exploit those resources but the worlds becoming navigable, searchable programmable. So there is this huge shift which is all about the environment. Another way to look at it is to examine what you get if an interest in locative media collides with an interest in ethics. You have to get to this space you cant ignore the introduction of new technologies. You can’t view the environment as static, that is outside of us.

 

Environment 2.0 is all about exploring the interface between our digital footprint and our environmental footprint.. Basically this is the theme for next years festival but has been developed over a period of time. So I will introduce some of the projects.

This project is very directly related to locative media. We are working with the MET office and the Hadley centre. This is the UK’s weather centre, but it is actually the oldest metrological centre in the world. Its part of the ministry of defence, it is very difficult to work with them, it is military basically. We’ve convinced them to open source, to consider user-generated approaches. How can we engage everyone in the country in monitoring climate change. We have funding to give out 50,000 packs which will involve people across the country monitoring the urban heat island phenomenon, where the cities become heat islands. Opening up the process of generating information and then opening up that huge information resource.

Green cloud by hehe, the art group are interested in clouds as projection surfaces, living in Paris they can see a factory with a big chimney and lots of smoke coming out of it.  They thought they could colour the cloud with dye, but then they thought all the dye would fall back to earth and create pollution so that wasn’t very good, so they decided to use a laser. The project which they did was in Helsiniki they used a thermal camera to monitor the shape of the vapour cloud and they use real time data about the amount of energy pollution going into the atmosphere to determine the size of the cloud, the size of the image. The image which is this ethereal thing floating over the city, visualizes in realtime the amount of pollution from the factory (power station). They could have done this guerrilla style but they got the permission of the factory, they also had to get the permission of the aviation authority to fire a laser into the sky. (actually it was the Helsinki city energy company for that local part of town, they tapped the data for the amount of energy that local area was  consuming and involved the community for one moment to decrease the energy consumption and everyone was able to see the change in the cloud. Direct relationship to the community.

They invited everyone to come and see the work, and asked that when they leave their homes to switich off from the grid, to turn all electricity off. So as they went out onto the streets to see the work there was a noticeable dip in demand. The involvement of the community, the involvement of the factory gave it that completeness.

 

We are now trying to negotiate making the city car-free to completely close the city to cars. This is based on a model in Columbia where they do it every Sunday. We are talking to the powers that be, the council, it will probably cost the city council half a million pounds just in terms of policing costs alone. Its quite an interesting time to do it because they are introducing a congestion charge, so it is all over the media on the front pages of the newspapers etc. Transport is one of those things which is amenable to local intervention, one of those things were individuals can make a  difference, this is a real key thing in the exhibition, how can art create precedents for social change, looking at design interventions which can maybe seed social change. So we are planning this huge art project, where we will close the city to traffic and invite every crazy person with a homemade bicycle to come, invite artists to turn a street into a theatre, having picnics etc.

 

Now I will talk about Loca. Which I participated in as an artist. Loca was a project on mobile media and surveillance. How do we disclose ourselves in mobile environments and pervasive environments.

I want to give some background to the project. As I mentioned before I came to locative media through an interest in surveillance. I had done some research in this area, we had looked at large scale data mining, dataveillance etc.

For one period I got really obsessed with this thing celldar. Celldar is like radar but uses the radiation from the cell phone radio posts all the radiation from cell phones creates extra radition in the environment and by monitoring this and looking for reflections, you can detect object in the same way you do with radar. Was is interesting about this is that it is a surveillance technology which uses the surplus or the redundancy in everyday electronic products. Intellectually, it might use everyday technology but its not it is not itself an everyday technology it is an exceptional, big, expensive technology. And I was really interested in everyday technology.

So I started thinking through some of the issues related with everyday media.

The starting point is that we are surrounded by electromagnetic radiation. And just before we get to locative media, the mobile phone routinely record location data, through cells, there is already a surveillance potential there. Once you can track a phone you can track a person. Also the phone itself but how can we use the phone to track things. Its not just the police doing this but it is entering culture of social applications, location based services, location based gaming, location-based artworks. I am interested in how the mobile phone more culturally becomes a homing device. It is changing the way we act in public spaces when we are going to meet someone at the cinema we no longer I will meet you at this corner at this time, you just say I will see you there, then you send texts throughout the day, saying what time you are going to get there, when you are on your way, when you are getting closer, are you there yet…you kind of home in on each other, without any positioning technology, but it becomes a homing device.

Loca throws up a lot of issues. In particular in relation to permissions. In this project we didn’t seek permissions, that leaves it open to critique. It is a project looking at disclosure, how do we disclose ourselves, through mobile devices without being aware of it. It used low cost everyday devices, we used Bluetooth to detect devices. The main presentation was at San Jose as part of ISEA and we placed some Bluetooth nodes around the city which would track people and over the 7 days we detected 2500 people, detected them half a million times, and we were able to send them messages via Bluetooth. These messages were based on inferences from where they had been. Some of the messages were very playful, others were based on inferences on where they had been, others began to verge on the sinister meet for a coffee later? Are you ignoring me?

The components were phone, network,  a program which we had written, battery pack We cast them in these big concrete blocks, the aesthetic was very important and it became quite a performative action to attach these blocks to various places in the city…just wearing a little orange bib everyone ignores you – you just look official. They blended into the city infrastructure.

We had an information point where people could find out about the project. People could scan their device and get an individual print out of everywhere they had been detected and some of these printouts were over 200 meters long. We were also giving the code away to make things transparent, and our argument in this surveillance technology is that we were just making visible what is already out there. We also wanted to take it off the device and make an analogue version, using stickers. Just using your phone you can scan for devices and then record the device that was present at a particular place at a particular time. A tangible and physical record of that detection. People could become Loca agents both in the sense of secret agent but also as software agent they could enact a small part of the Loca code and create trails of these stickers. An interesting thing happened, the same weekend that two Palestinian Americans were arrested in possession of 2000 mobile phones and charged with terrorism, they had middle eastern names, we didn’t. one of our devices was found by the hotel and called the police, the police confiscated it. We went to the hotel and explained that it was an art object and they gave us the document from the police and we had to go to the police station and reclaim it. It is interesting that we weren’t challenged about this, probably because we are European and not middle eastern, but also what was interesting is that the battery was still going, so we actually reordrd some data inside the police station.

 

The aim of this is about digital literacy, enable people to become more fluent, in the digital environments they populate. People aren’t aware of when they disclose where they are or their idenity so this was the aim of the project. It was also about surveillance and privacy.

 

When I presented this project in korea I was accused by someone as being a cultural imperialist for presenting a project on privacy in asia where I was informed the issue of privacy is not relevant at all. I know that privacy is a largely western concept and that there is a very different understanding of the self etc. in other parts of the world. The example that this person gave to me is that the last conference he went to in Korea, they all went to a communal bath, everyone got naked together, where is your privacy? But actually it is not that simple and some other people said that there had been a big case in the media where a government official had sold a huge amount of private data, and there was a real discussion about this. What is interesting to me is the cultural difference, whether working in public spaces, in the city or with issues of disclosure the cultural difference is the interesting thing. Is disclosure not an issue in Asia? How relevant is it? I suspect issues of disclosure are relevant in Asia but they are just different ones. For me it is about context. Location is one context. I talked of my interest in social space, this is another context and here we see there is also a cultural context.

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