Beyond Locative: Media Arts after the Spatial Turn

William Gibson no longer writes about cyberspace in the future, but instead about locative art in the atemporal present. Having emerged in the mid-’00’s from media arts, locative media are now part of the consumer technology and popular culture. This panel discusses the value of this concept in relation to debates at the intersection of urbanism and media studies, and considers the (non)existence of a locative avant-garde.
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Marc Tuters
Tristan Thielmann
Mark Shepard
Michiel de Lange

Chair: Marc Tuters

In 2006 Varnelis and Tuters published "Beyond Locative Media", which discussed the emergence of locative media as "the next big thing". Five years on, with the ubiquity of iphones, locative media has become banal. Locative media had been much anticipated within the media art world, notably at the ISEA conferences in 2004 & 2006 after which it entered popular culture as a trope in William Gibson's last two novels. Yet while it may have faded from the avant-garde, there is a thriving locative discourse in academic journals, associated with the "spatial turn" in media studies. This panel considers the role of locative media in the arts and humanities discourse. The aforementioned text framed locative media in terms of neo-Situationist tactics which sought to actively imagine an alternate city. While locative practicioners did not share the oppositional politics of their net art precursors, one can not help but wonder if some greater potential for the medium has not perhaps been foreclosed by a participatory culture that suggests little more than reconfiguring ideas from past.

Paper Abstracts

The Locative Apparatus: From Situationism to Compositionism

by Marc Tuters

Locative media offers to deliver information contextually, typically conceived in terms of geographic space. Locative practice had sought to playfully re-image the city. As the locative apparatus has become widespread, the novelty of this mannerist Situationism has diminished, yet it remains a useful concept for digital artists and designers to consider the prospect of every object on the planet as addressable and nature as a potential site for their compositions. Key questions addressed in this paper and by the panel as a whole is what comes after locative media’s "spatial turn"? What might be the "next big thing" for networked practice?  How might we image the networked city beyond locative media?

The place is the map: because of locative media an a-social map

by Dr. Tristan Thielmann

Why has collaborative crisis mapping failed in Libya? Where is the Bernard-Henri Lévy of the locative arts movement? Perhaps he does not exist since locative media art stopped existing a long time ago? This could be one of the reasons...but the truth is much more trivial: locative media only is of use for those people, who already are aware of their location, who know where they came from, and where they are going. It is the gadget nobody needs, as it only grants more privileges to privileged places, causing forgotten places to be rendered even more obsolete. No wonder that the Arabic Revolution does not need any locative media at all!

Locative media is (was) only of importance in an affluent society, in a society where the locations are subject to an attention economy. Should we forget about locative media? No: even though locative media failed as a social media, disguised as a new, hip, mobile must-have, it leads us to realize that it is a highly hegemonic instrument of power like any other cartographic medium, shown impressively by For that reason, it is so interesting to media theories. Interesting because locative media functions as a map even without cartographic representation. This puts into question the definition of what we understood to be a map for centuries. Locative media leads us to realize: The place (not the territory) is the map.

Forget Locative Media

by Mark Shepard

With the introduction by Apple and Google of Location-Based Services (LBS) on smart phones worldwide, Locative Media has rapidly been mainlined to the masses. Formerly a term that referred to a loose collection of media art practices that experimented with location as a contextual filter for media  situated within or distributed across urban or rural environments, today Locative Media has come to connote any software application that filters content based on what is "nearby." While some would attempt to recuperate the term for discourse in the arts and humanities, looking for the "beyond", "after" or "post-" Locative in an attempt to theorize an historical period of media art practice in order to lay claim to "the next big thing", others might argue that it's time to simply FORGET Locative Media - that the creative, theoretical and aesthetic possibilities of location as contextual filter have been exhausted - and that in order to engage the broader and more subtle nuances of contemporary urban, exurban and rural environments, new approaches to context are necessary.

In Search of Locative Media

by Dr. Michiel de Lange

As our cities are becoming digital and physical hybrids, observers have sketched techno-dystopian scenarios in which urban technologies would induce 'frictionless' consumption, quasi-military control, and social capsularization of city life. Simultaneously, artistic interventions seek to reclaim the urban environment through visualizations, narratives and by spurring chance encounters, mediated through these same technologies. Still one cannot escape the sense that these different views and practices share an idealized mythology of urban life. How can thinkers and makers come up with affirmative perspectives on the potential of location-based urban technologies, instead of departing from an oppositional reflex that longs back to an urban paradise lost?

Bios of the Participants

Michiel de Lange

Michiel de Lange (1976) is a part-time Lecturer in New Media Studies, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University; co-founder of The Mobile City, a platform for the study of new media and urbanism; and advisor e-culture at Mediafonds. In 2010 Michiel finished his PhD at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam (Faculty of Philosophy), with a dissertation called Moving Circles mobile media and playful identities (2010).

Mark Shepard

Mark Shepard is an artist, architect and researcher whose post-disciplinary practice addresses new social spaces and signifying structures of contemporary network cultures. His current research investigates the implications of mobile and pervasive media, communication and information technologies for architecture and urbanism.

Marc Tuters

Marc Tuters is PhD candidate and lecturer in new media at the University of Amsterdam. He has two graduate degrees from Concordia (CDN) and University of Southern California (USA), and has worked as an artist and researcher in organizations including the Annenberg Centre, the Banff Centre, National University of Singapore, Waseda University.

Tristan Thielmann

Tristan Thielmann is an Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the Research Center "Media Upheavals", University of Siegen, Germany. His cross-disciplinary research and practice explores the aesthetics and history of geomedia with a focus on navigation systems, geobrowsers and geosurveillance technologies.