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Locating Locative Media
Observations from the Mobile Outskirts Workshop, Lofoten Island, Norway June 15-25, 2004
Joni Taylor + Ryan Griffis

Workshop Participants: Timo Arnall, Kristin Bergaust, Sarawut Chutiwongpeti, Trine Eidsmo, Amy Franceschini, Ryan Griffis, Jason Harlan, Sue Mark (Marksearch), Nis RØmer, Laura Beloff, Denis Saraginovski, Slobodanka Stevceska, Stijn Schiffeleers, Joni Taylor

"Mobile Outskirts" was the second in a series of 6 workshops focusing on "locative media and transcultural mapping" initiated by RIXC and Facilitated by the Nordland Kunst 0g Filmskole, Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre (TEKS) and the Kunstakademiet i Trondheim. A group of 14 artists, from as far as North America, Thailand and Macedonia, (plus a brilliant cook and fearless bus driver) were chosen to "map" and create a collaborative cartography of the Norwegian island of Lofoten, situated within the arctic circle.
The landscape itself was breathtaking, the arctic environment and the constant daylight impossible to ignore, all of which affected everyone in unique ways. We were in a new and remote place; most of us had never heard of Lofoten before.
The themes were explored through images, digital fotos, videos, sound and text, as well as creating maps with GPS tools. Some also chose to create "real life" actions. While the technicalities and possible exhibition of locative media were explored by some, the focus of most of the group was trans-cultural mapping, which was not just about geographical mapping but investigating the key areas unique to Lofoten, such as the environment, culture, history, tourism and the economy. While some felt it was "colonial" to attempt to "map" this foreign place, in the end all the work did reflect the environment and people. The final results are still to be seen, with further research into the actual technical programming of the meta-data collected ongoing.

J: Just before I went to Norway my friend and I walked across the Polish Border, without a map or a word of polish. We experienced what I like to call a "cultural remix", (Polish-Chinese food, Polish-Irish pubs and Polish-Kolonie houses) all by accident, our derivé. My friend was also wearing a very short skirt at the time, so she tried to avoid what we sensed were the "dodgy" areas. It was only after our adventure that I realized that these ideas of futuristic locative media tools would have been of tremendous help. Of having some Kool techno phone that could take a picture of the street, zoom it through a satellite to some databank somewhere, which through scanning could have told us where we were, and even, where to go.
This idea led me on to thinking of the information I as a person would like to know, such as the history of a place. Living in Berlin, I am constantly asking myself about the stories of the buildings around me, what they served as under different regimes, who owned them, who wants to buy them now, and this kind of information would be advantageous and very interesting to me. So I went to Lofoten with this in mind, with an idea to trace the history of urban structures, but also map according to my own feelings, in the psycho geographic way. I thought the workshop would be somewhere between creating a time machine and a heavy metal disco! (My previous knowledge of Norway was embarrassingly limited to its atheistic black metal scene.)

R: I'm drawn to your short-skirt-in-Poland anecdote, and the potential for locative media to assist your desire to avoid "'dodgy' areas." The successfulness of the technology in assisting you depends on the "matching up" of both your desires and those of the technology's creators - your definitions of "dodgy" would have to match. Locative media may be nothing more than ever-present street signage pointing you to sanctioned vistas and commercial venues. Or it could be a counter archive that's open to manipulation by those on both sides of the binoculars. But I would be hesitant to accept any utopian statement that the technology tends toward the inclusive by nature.

J: Exactly, and who are or will these creators be? Corporations getting hold of locative devices in supermarkets and advertising certain brands. Telling you where to go. "Location-based services." Scary.
At times I find all this excitement a bit techno fetishistic, about "huge databanks in the sky" that still don't have a sense of place or personal experience at all. Can locating ourselves through these methods of surveillance be turned around? Ideas of surveillance critique is nothing new, (especially in new media art, eg Surveillance Camera Players, Blast Theory, and PVI or the ideas of self-panopticonism.
Ricardo Dominguez had an interesting project in Australia a few years back working with Aboriginal people using surveillance cameras to monitor their land against uranium mining, like Jabiluka.
The "E911-capable" phone can still be traced by anyone - there are no particular security levels.
(Hackers are now working with GPS jamming techniques, and fair enough).

R: The (non)image of a "big data bank in the sky" is, i think, representative of both sides of the surveillance utopia/dystopia you mention. In US and European popular culture (and yes, i think this whole endeavor is Eurocentric and in need of more complexity), surveillance is always perceived as coming from above (the indy-Hollywood film "The End of Violence" comes to mind), almost in layers - first the cameras, then the towers, and finally the satellites. And of course, critical responses can't help but acknowledge this perspective (the Surv. Camera Players as you mentioned, as well as the IAA's "iSee" for example) But i don't know if this is necessarily based on new technologies. Maps and diagrams are all ways of picturing a situation from the omniscient perspective of God. All of this mapping, of geography and the body (the Visible Human Project) has been argued by many, as a repositioning of visual "truth" from illusionistic pictures to forms of representation not seen as dependent on the eye, like graphs, charts and UV processes. i tend to associate the trend in GPS and meta-data with these tendencies.

J: Ok, so moving away from the visual, where personal aesthetics gets in the way, and relying on something more scientific, mathematical. But there must also be the potential for social networking via these tools, alternative "utopian" uses, such as the use of mobile phones in organizing demos on a private network, for one example, or organizing homeless people as Nis mentioned with his communal garden project. The free network movement is one, and making mobile phone technology open source. Is it possible to take control of one satellite? Pirate satellites, very utopian. I did read some interesting statistics about mobile phone use in developing and war torn countries like Afghanistan, much larger than cable based phones.

R: Of course, there's also the commercial aspect we need to be critical of, as you suggest. Ricardo Dominguez has talked about the influence of the IT industry on cultural production, whether it's overt manipulation or utopian desire.

J: Where do borders fit in within all these ideas of mapping and location? One of the most "unnerving" things for me (as an Australian too), to find in the dreamlike environment of Lofoten, were the refugees from Angola waiting on that particular "outskirt" for political asylum. This "prison" island, and it was an island, was only accessible by boat or by paying for the ferry, both options which were denied to them. I think interesting cartography examples could be formed, or new ways of mapping that are not based on borders. (They Rule being one)

R: For me, the most interesting aspect of the Mobile Outskirts workshop was its relationship to tourism as an active practice. i think it is a very US-Eurocentric belief that travel is done either for tourism or business, or some merger of the two (as the workshop was). i think you're totally right to bring up the refugees from Angola as "unnerving." When we talk of cultural mapping and site specificity, there's this dominant tendency to attach terms like "native" and "outsider." But where do refugees fit into this schema? They're not there to experience "otherness" as tourists, and remain "others" to both locals and visitors. Where are they placed into the 2D terrain created by our GPS devices or 3D psychogeographic maps?

J: Did we create a "collective cartography"?
That was one of the aims, and in the end I think everyone did create some kind of personal map, just through their own ideas and creative drives and desire to reflect the place. Kristin's love of flowers came out in her cataloguing and mapping of exotic "foreign" plant species in Lofoten. Your fear and focus on foreign species (the evil King Crab) and genetics came out in your Emergency Tourist Kit. Nis', Amy's and Stejn's love of playing and reclaiming public space came out in "Lofoten: Game of the Future", Sue Mark's interest in old stories and superstitions had her interviewing fishermen out on boats, Sarawut made video documentary of the incredible and fantastic local youth population, Dana and Dennis found a secret to tell through their mock-umentaries, Lara followed the whaling process and Jason and Timo captured and data-mapped their daily experiences. I found horses and ruins. And heavy metal! .And I'll quote Marx here, because I just read it somewhere..."Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive. "

R: All of this brings me back to the title of the workshop series, and something the US critic Lucy Lippard once wrote: "I prefer cross-cultural to transcultural, although they mean the same thing, because "trans" to me implies "beyond," as in "transcend," and the last thing we need is another "universalist" concept that refuses once again to come to grips with difference."
I'm not sure that the title "Trans-cultural" is really a problem, but the ideas expressed by Lippard then still seem crucial to consider in such projects, and your question about our "collective cartography" is right on. I think everyone's concern in the workshop was to create a "collective" that kept differences in tact and didn't flatten out multiple agendas into one. Hopefully that remains true for how the Lofoten Islands will be reflected in all our projects as well.

Your Cellphone is a Homing Device
By Brendan I. Koerner
Lippard, Lucy, "Mapping" in Mixed Blessings 1990
MacCannell, Dean, Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, 1992

Joni + Ryan would like to thank all the workshop participants, especially Kristin Bergaust and Trine Eidsmo for organizing Mobile Outskirts, Kjell Tomter (our fearless bus driver), Martin Musto (our culinary companion), Lena Hamnes, Brødrene Arntzen and Trygve Steen for discussing the politics, culture and economy of Lofoten with us, and Liv Brita Malnes for the use of the art school facilities