Site Specifics: Mobile Media Art and the Contexts of Place

The panel discusses categories of locative, site-specific media art and their impact on understanding the context of place. Mobile computing potentially enables various forms of social interaction and has to be considered in relation to concepts of embodiment, the creation of meaning, as well as individual autonomy and agency.
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Christiane Paul
Tanya Toft
Jack Toolin
Teri Rueb
C5, Analogous Landscape (installation shot)
C5/Jack Toolin, Perfect View (Kentucky)
Teri Rueb, Boots
Teri Rueb, Walking on the Beach

Chair: Prof. Christiane Paul

The proposed panel will identify different categories of locative, site-specific media art and explore their impact on understanding the context of place and on our awareness of the environment. Mobile computing potentially enables various forms of social interaction and has to be considered in relation to concepts of embodiment, the creation of meaning, as well as individual autonomy and agency. The latter aspects of mobile computing and locative media considerably affect our perception and awareness of environments. Mobile devices can function as technological extensions of embodiment, connecting us to location-based information and enhancing awareness of our environment or ‘social body.’

Locative new media art, which uses locations in public space as a ‘canvas’ for implementing art projects, has become one of the most active and fast-growing areas within the larger field of digital arts. Camera and video phones, smart phones, and mobile devices with embedded GPS have become new platforms for cultural production, providing an interface through which users can participate in networked public projects, as well as enabling the formation of ad-hoc communities.

The panel will discuss various categories of locative media art, for example projects that enhance context by allowing participants to ‘leave a mark’ on their surroundings, submit or retrieve site-specific information, or reconfigure the map; projects that create a systemic awareness of people’s moods or behaviors by reflecting the presence, movements, or actions and reactions, profile, tasks and goals, emotions and behavior of people in their environment. Also discussed will be mobile projects that address surveillance or environmental issues and place emphasis on increasing people’s awareness of the larger socio-political context of site, often encouraging or enabling their users to become proactive and engage in local politics. The panelists will represent these different artistic practices within the field of mobile media. A major goal of the panel is to differentiate between forms of context awareness and site-specificity that mobile media can produce.

Paper Abstracts

Towards Geospatial Cultural Planning: Strategies for Local Cultural Innovation through Locative New Media Art

by Tanya Toft

Globalization and developments in technologies and new mobile media have brought about a ‘spatial turn’ that has changed spatial conceptions and geographical imaginations. The current 'spatial turn' echoes the critical concepts of space developed by Lefebvre, de Certeau and Foucault in the 1970s with an emphasis on the production, practices, and politics of lived spatiality. These concepts became 'guides' to a critical analysis of the developments and potential of locative new media art in the age of mobile media.

Today's developments in mapping and GIS technologies allow for a new 'spatial thinking' about a socio-spatial dialectic: the relationship between the ways in which social processes and social action shape and explain geographies and vice versa. Locative media and pervasive computing have  reconfigured our understandings and experiences of space and culture—from the microcosm of the everyday to the macrocosm of spatial flows. The new geographical pursuits of locative new media art are site-specific explorations of a human geography.

This paper explores the potential of locative new media art as a strategic catalyst for urban revitalization and community development. Locative media allow for active community participation and expression; for urban and cultural narratives to be discovered and articulated in urban layers; and for augmentation of past or future realities and virtualities. Locative media can enhance civic engagement and intercultural citizenship, foster a sense of locality, and thus create a sustainable component for the local community and society at large. These ideas are unfolding in a field that merges or oscillates between locative media and mediated localities. They encourage local cultural innovation by fostering site-specific cultural understanding. This paper addresses questions such as, what kinds of social/spatial relations are made possible through locative new media art projects? And how can these projects be adopted in a cultural planning framework as catalysts for local urban and community development?

Landscape, Culture, and the Phenomenology of Technological Mediation

by Prof. Jack Toolin

Neither reflection upon our relationship to the space surrounding us nor technological mediation of this relationship are new. However, GPS-enabled technologies and their growing availability in the past decade have decidedly changed the ways we navigate, visualize, quantify, and ultimately comprehend the world we move through. This paper will reflect upon these changes through consideration of various philosophical perspectives, technological developments, and examples of artistic practice that utilize locative media, including my projects The C5 Landscape Initiative and Perceptions of the Commuting Ethnographer.

The gradual or sudden accumulation of all things technological, from hardware to software, has gone hand in hand with a shift in thinking about the human condition from a phenomenological awareness to an intersubjective consciousness. (That shift has also coincided with the growing urbanization of the world’s population: as of 2008, over half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities.) This intersubjectivity is increasingly mediated by the ever shrinking, transportable, and instantaneous media with which we have become entwined. Locative media have become increasingly location-aware and commerce-ready, positioning us in the geographical and cultural landscape. In other words, they are more and more aware of our physical and psychographic relationship to the world around us. The paper will explore the nature of our phenomenological relationship to this technology and the world that it mediates.

Kinesthetic Attunement: Walking, Talking, Listening, Knowing

by Prof. Teri Rueb

Each of my works require extensive interaction with sites through the simple act of walking. Both in production and reception, my work emerges through a process that I have come to think of as a form of "kinesthetic attunement." Walking is the ground from which my work evolves as a form of experiential knowledge. It is also the basis upon which I seek to challenge and critique abstract models of spatial representation and the theoretical foundations of technologies associated with locative media. Drawing upon the philosophy of embodiment as well as anthropological methods and ethnographic practices employed in current projects, I will discuss insights from my over fifteen years experience making site-specific sound and media installations using GPS and other location-sensing technologies.

Bios of the Participants

Christiane Paul

Christiane Paul is the Director of the Media Studies Graduate Programs and Associate Prof. of Media Studies at The New School, NY, and Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has written extensively on new media arts and lectured internationally on art and technology. Her recent books are Context Providers – Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts (Intellect, 2011), co-edited with Margot Lovejoy and Victoria Vesna; New Media in the White Cube and Beyond (UC Press, 2008); and Digital Art (Thames and Hudson 2003; expanded new edition 2008). At the Whitney Museum, she curated the shows “Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools” (May 2011), "Profiling" (2007), and “Data Dynamics” (2001); the net art selection for the 2002 Whitney Biennial; the online exhibition "CODeDOC" (2002) for artport, the Whitney Museum’s online portal to Internet art for which she is responsible; as well as "Follow Through" by Scott Paterson and Jennifer Crowe (2005). Other recent curatorial work includes "Eduardo Kac: Biotopes, Lagoglyphs and Transgenic Works" (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2010); Biennale Quadrilaterale (Rijeka, Croatia, 2009-10); "Feedforward - The Angel of History" (co-curated with Steve Dietz; Laboral Center for Art and Industrial Creation, Gijon, Asturias, Spain, 2009-2010) and INDAF Digital Art Festival (Incheon, Korea, Aug. 2009).

Tanya Toft

Tanya Toft recently received her double MA in Media Studies from The New School, NY, and in Modern Culture and Cultural Dissemination with profile in Urbanity and Aesthetics from Copenhagen University. Her research is focused on the interrelationship between new media art and the transformation of urban spaces and socio-spatial structures, which she explores in a combined framework of artistic and strategic development. In her master's thesis she develops a rethinking of urban cultural planning in the ’temporary’ cultural logics of the digital city and proposes the media-architectural event as a temporal, mediated catalyst for urban development and revitalization. She has presented her research at The Transformation of the 21st Century City 2010; MediaCity 2010; Critical Themes Graduate Student Conference 2011; The City: Culture, Society, Technology 2011; and EURA Conference: The City Without Limits 2011.

Teri Rueb

Teri Rueb works at the intersection of interactive media, sound, land, and environmental art. She pioneered the form of GPS-based interactive installation with her project “Trace,” which was developed at the Banff Centre for the arts from 1996-1999. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction in 2008 for her project “Core Sample” set on a landfill in the Boston Harbor. Her site-specific works have been presented in contexts as varied as the Wadden Sea, the Heathland and the Oldenburg Botanical Garden in Northern Germany, the Boston Common and Public Gardens, the Viru Keskus shopping mall in post-Soviet Tallinn, Estonia, the Berlin Tiergarten, and highway systems across the United States. She recently completed her doctorate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where her research focused on constructions of wilderness and subjectivity in mobile network society. Her work has been funded by the Banff Center for the Arts, Edith Russ Site, Klangpol, LEF Foundation,, and Artslink and many state arts councils. From 2004-2009 she served as founding faculty and was later appointed Department Head of the graduate Digital + Media Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. Rueb is currently Professor in the Media Study Department at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) where she is Founder and Director of Open Air Institute, a platform for connecting field-based learning and collaborative partnerships at the intersection of landscape, technology, media art and design.

Jack Toolin

Jack Toolin is an artist working in new media, digital imaging, and performance. His work considers contemporary life in light of the changing political, economic, and technological landscape, and has been presented nationally and internationally. Highlights include: the Whitney Museum of American Art (2002 Biennial); the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria; the San José Museum of Art, San José, California; Foxy Production, New York City. His work Perfect View was exhibited at the Chelsea Art Museum Project Room in 2010. He was a member of the new media collaborative C5 (1997 - 2007) which investigated culture's relationship to technology through data visualization, installation, and performance expedition. He is currently a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and an adjunct professor at the Polytechnic Institute at NYU. He has lectured widely, at institutions such as the Rhode Island School of Design; University of California at Berkeley; the San Francisco Art Institute; Emerson College, Boston; Kibla Multimedia Center, Maribor, Slovenia; the Museum of Contemporary Art Rijeka, Croatia; and the University of Split, Croatia. He holds a B.F.A. in photography from Ohio University, and an M.F.A. in interdisciplinary practice from San Jose State University.