Article categories: Issue 59
January 26th, 2010

A 3-way discussion led by Maria N. Stukoff with Jen Southern and Drew Hemment, January 2005

Jen Southern, Flightplan, 2002

Maria N. Stukoff: When did the term LOCATIVE become known to you?

Jen Southern: I first came across ‘locative’ at RIXC (electronic art and media centre in Riga, Latvia) in 2003. I think Ben Russell or Marc Tutors came up with it.

Drew Hemment: I believe the term was coined by Karlis Kalnins in 2003. My first locative event was Next5Minutes 2003; the title of my contribution was Antimapping at this time.

MS: Locative registered with me mid 2004…whilst working for a videogame & mobile phone education project.

DH: The Locative Media Workshop at Karosta in July 2003 was a seminal event organised by the Latvian media art group RIXC. It helped to popularise the term, and it was here that a more-or-less coherent discourse around locative media started to emerge.

MS: How did you respond to this new term?

DH: It was interesting to discover locative media, as previously I had been looking at all this from the context of surveillance, and all of a sudden I found a bunch of people excited by the creative and social potential.

JS: I started looking at GPS at the end of 2001, as a way of recording routes around real space and looking at public space as a series of events and journeys. I use it as a spatial recording device, coming from a sculptural background I found video and audio never adequately recorded spatial relations, but a GPS device is made to do that.

MS: I was keen to get my interactive installation work into the public and off the computer – building ideas around public art and game play. So the LOCATIVE debate provided a new focus for my work.

JS: I see ‘locative media’ as a moniker to bring together developments in this area, from shared public mapping technologies to socially engaged art works.

MS: Is ‘locative media’ though something new, or is it the act of using digital tools to continue exploring socially aware, site specific and mapping practises?

DH: What ‘locative media’ does is to present a frame through which a particular set of understandings and practices become possible, even if many of the reference points (eg. location) are in no way new.

JS: The locative media debates have allowed for some faster developments through the networks sharing ideas. My practice just happens to fit into the ‘locative media’ area at this time. But I think as a way of working its going to be around for a long time as media devices become smaller, and more embedded in materials and objects.

MS: Locative struck me at first to relate to a specific work place – something not necessarily media related! I am thinking the Situationists concepts of ‘derive’ – the city becoming a new place for leisure activities (such as mobile gaming…) References certainly have been made on mailing lists to the ‘old psychogeography’.

JS: …although if you look strictly at the ‘derive’, most of what people are doing with locative actually isn’t what psychogeography is about. But it’s a useful historical reference, as it gives a political and social keystone to those practices.

DH: I agree. A lot of people were referencing psychogeography at one point, but people have now realised they need to be a bit more nuanced in how they do this.

MS: Right – I am a bit worried that ‘locative’ may pigeon hole a variety of projects that don’t use GPS or tagging… but I am still trying to define how location, place, locative and pervasive computing map onto each other!

JS: Yes I agree! My practice is very much about place and location, so I’m happy with the term, but often it is used as an umbrella term for work that is more about physical computing.

DH: As you say, a lot of the terms overlap: locative, pervasive, ubiquitous. Often they talk about the same things in different ways, and at times it just depends upon which discipline or community you are working in. But there are still valid distinctions, just as ‘mobile’ and ‘wireless’ are often equivalent and yet are not the same. The relationship between locative and location is a rich one for theory nerds like me.

MS How important is the issue of locative media used for surveillance and military purposes?

JS: This issue often comes up on mailing lists, such as ‘locative’, ‘crumb’ and ‘empyre’. There are many different issues to explore concerning these technologies – one of those is that GPS can be used for surveillance. Recently I’ve been working on developing a device in which we’re being very careful to make sure that no one could use it to stalk another user.

DH: For me this is a central concern. I have been having discussions with an engineer about building ‘uselessness’ into anything we might develop, in the same way ‘redundancy’ is built into commercial projects.

JS: The military question is difficult. A whole raft of technologies that artists use have military backgrounds, and there’s that great Donna Haraway quote about offspring rebelling against their parents. Personally I’m increasingly interested in exploring the military connection with GPS.

DH: Me too. People assume that ‘appropriating’ military technology is automatically radical, without considering whether locative media can “escape its own axiomatic system” to quote RIXC.

JS: GPS drawings allow you to see your route as a map, but also to see the actual way that you used a space, perhaps your experience of a space. There’s a great essay by Michel de Certeau called Walking in the City in which he talks about this difference between aerial views and the experience of being on the streets. I heard about ‘embedded journalists’ with soldiers in Iraq, and how narrow a view they get being on the street with the soldiers, not even being able to see what is going on in the next street, but getting the detailed view in contrast to journalists on the tops of buildings in Baghdad, the over view, but not the detail, and that the truth is somewhere in between.  That GPS is used for aiming bombs at targets has a harsh reality to this difference between map and street experience.

MS: How accessible is locative media art to the public?

DH: Locative media offers the chance to take media art ‘out of the gallery and off the screen’, to use a phrase I coined for Futuresonic04, but equally you can end up squinting at a PDA screen.

JS: The great thing about locative media is that it is very often using public spaces, and engaging directly with an audience outside of a gallery, through a specific local place. Projects like 34 North 118 West by Naomi Spellman and Jeff Knowlton have been very successful and accessible, with groups happily interacting with the work together. Also the S.A.L.T project by Simon Levin and Laurie Long, Australia, where they used GPS to give a community a different perspective on their environment.

MS: Are there places in the city where technology should never be used?

JS: I think there’s a real danger in the technology being too ‘cyber’ and scaring off anyone who isn’t already familiar with it. Devices need to become much more user friendly.

MS: The ‘user friendly’ issue could be another very interesting debate in terms of social use.

JS: It could be argued that technology should never be used in a city when it gets in the way. I hate it when I realise I’ve spent half an hour just looking at my GPS and not at where I am. But I agree to some extent, that there are still many people who would be really turned off by wearing a headset and walking around the city with a PDA held in front of them!

DH: One of the nice projects at Futuresonic04 was Telenono by Rupert Griffiths, a space where no telecommunications functioned. In general I find the desire to locate all things at all times sinister, and not always conducive to difference or creativity. I am about to launch a campaign to defend the Fundamental Human Right To Be Lost.

MS: Yes we still have a long and exciting road to travel. Thanks all for your insight.

Maria N Stukoff
Maria N Stukoff is a PhD candidate at the Manchester Metropolitan University and Director of the Game Alliance, a network of videogame developers in the NW of England

Jen Southern
Jen Southern is an artist and lecturer based in Huddersfield, UK.

Drew Hemment
Drew Hemment is a Research Fellow in Creative Technologies at the University of Salford, and founder and Director of the Futuresonic International Festival of Electronic Music and Media Arts, UK.

Read More

34 North 118 West by Naomi Spellman and Jeff Knowlton

S.A.L.T project by Simon Levin and Laurie Long

RIXC (Latvia)

Mobile Bristol


PLAN (Pervasive Locative Arts Network)

Futuresonic: Mobile Connections

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