Locative Lab

researching locative media

Dubious Views

Subversive Cartography: challenging the accuracy of the official map

The physical and psychological geography of cities has long been a source of inspiration for artists. Historically, cities are the muse, from Joyce’s Dublin to Van Gogh’s Paris to Stieglitz’s New York. With the proliferation and ubiquity of digital technology, documenting, categorizing and transmitting the visual “catalogue of forms” of the city is made much easier. Just as each brush put to canvas paints its own representation of the city, digital technology is allowing for ever-increasing angles, approaches, and points of view from which to study the city. Cell phone cameras, video phones, video surveillance cameras, wireless web cams, and the ever-shrinking digital camera capture multiple layers of city spaces-from the banal to the breathtaking. At the same time, the invisible signals of urban geography such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and wireless Internet hot spots are being made visible through location-specific art practices that alter their intended use and create alternate urban narratives. These practices are known as location-based media, and are works whose central focus is a specific location.

The emergence of these new technologies has facilitated a resurgence and expansion of the theory and practice of psychogeography. Psychogeographers have been experimenting with cities for over forty years, but only recently has this theory manifested in ways other than in texts. The new wave of psychogeographic artists and practitioners-following (literally) in the footsteps of psychogeography’s early enthusiasts, the Situationists-are interpreting its ideas in a tangible, inclusive way, and creating projects that are accessible and even fun, bringing psychogeography to a much wider and more popular audience.

This new generation of practice, which includes numerous websites, art collectives and conferences, is committed to the “mental mapping” of physical civic spaces-that is, mapping the versions of places as they exist in our minds and are represented by our emotions. These projects range from those using technological devices that leave geo-markers (precise coordinates of where something is located) to the graffiti tags left behind by unknown artists. Buildings poised for demolition or lonely bus stops-these sorts of things are worthy of attention from the psychogeographic gaze. This is a new kind of cartography, and it rebuilds and alters the way we represent various urban environments, blending new, often personal, elements into these maps that challenge the so-called “objective” institutional representations of cities.

Dubious Views


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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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