DMC Session 05: Locative Media and Fieldwork

Digital Media Culture / Digitaalinen mediakulttuuri (KDVCL01)

05: Torstai 11.12.2008 13:00 – 16:00

Locative Media and fieldwork

This page introduces many early and leading locative media art projects from 1999 onwards,
particularly focusing subjectively on those witnessed or within environment of the author (Andrew Paterson) from the Nordic-Baltic, UK and North American scene. Many can be considered with interpretation of 'fieldwork'.


From Wikipedia:
"Locative Media are media of communication bound to a location. They are digital media applied to real places and thus triggering real social interactions. While mobile technologies such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), laptop computers and mobile phones enable locative media, they are not the goal for the development of projects in this field."

Or rather:
"Locative media is many things: A new site for old discussions about the relationship of consciousness to place and other people. A framework within which to actively engage with, critique, and shape a rapid set of technological developments. A context within which to explore new and old models of communication, community and exchange. A name for the ambiguous shape of a rapidly deploying surveillance and control infrastructure." (Ben Russell, 2004)


My own (from LEA Gallery Curation statement):

“Locative media' denotes in artistic and cultural practice that which has become a nominator for site-specific, context-aware, and often participatory platforms exploring the possibilities of pervasive and ubiquitous computing technologies. Context is crucial in that locative media pertains to the point of spatio-temporal ‘capture’, 'dissemination', or some point in between”

With Suhjung Hur & Annie Wan..
“Embodying the concept of a grassroot ‘street version of the Internet’, locative media interventions have often followed an ocular-dominated technological perspective that moves the point of interaction from the desktop PC in a private environment into the physical realm of public space..

Further, continuing the trajectory of Happenings, Fluxus, and the Situationists from the 1950s onwards - whose interests in direct public participation were also pursued by early Internet art - locative media practices have aimed to engage the participation of individual, whether it is the artist, collaborator, targeted audience or anonymous public.”

A couple of approaches to the topic: Cartographic and ethnographic



Fieldwork is the collection of raw data, in situ
in contrast to that which is collected in the laboratory, or in an controlled-experiment environment.

'First-hand' recording and observing in the field, doing research, making work as a researcher.

Engaging the locative media project participant as a researcher?


Participant observation

A set of research strategies which aim to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals (such as a religious, occupational, or subcultural group, or a particular community) and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their natural environment, often though not always over an extended period of time.

Informal interviews
Direct observation
Participation in the life of the group
Collective discussions
Analysis of personal documents produced in the group

Similar to ethnography but often involves a shorter time in the field.
Mostly Qualitative, though it can also include quantitative research.


Observing Participation

The different phrasing is meant to highlight the way in which their partial or full membership in the community/subculture that they are researching both allows a different sort of access to the community and also shapes their perceptions in ways different from a full outsider.

Marek M. Kaminski:
“I define this particular research role, in contrast to participant observation, with two conditions:

(a) OP enters a community through a similar social process as its other members and is subject to similar rules;
(b) OP undertakes field research as if he or she was a researcher.”



“to use /my/ own personal experience as a valuable source of unique data rather than a starting point for reflection or existential speculation.” (Kaminski, p.15)

Kaminski, Marek M. (2004), Games Prisoners Play, Princeton University Press, New Haven


Early Locative Art Projects and Ideas

Stefan Schemat, A Roaming Novel, Hamburg, 1999


Teri Rueb: Trace, Banff, 1999

"Trace is a memorial environmental sound installation that is site-specific to the network of hiking trails near the Burgess Shale fossil beds in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. The installation transforms the trails into a landscape of sound recordings that commemorate personal loss. Walking through the installation is like wandering through a memorial sculpture garden where, instead of visible monuments, visitors weave their way through memorial poems, songs and stories that play in response to their movement through the landscape. The project explores loss and transformation in an historical moment when concepts of memory, presence and absence are undergoing significant shifts in cultural meaning. This drift in meaning is directly related to developments in the field of information technology. For this reason, I have chosen to use the computer as a culturally inscribed tool and medium that offers clues to our contemporary understanding of time, memory and mortality."


Mari Fabritius: Katumuisti, Medialab, Helsinki, 2000

"Tiesitkö, että Helsingin Stockmannilla oli 50-luvulla käytössä röntgenlaite, jolla mitattiin kenkien sopivuutta jalkaan? Entä oletko kuullut miehestä, joka vaimonsa kuoleman jälkeen päätti meloa Välimerelle, mutta jaksoi vain Saksaan asti? Ja mitä tapahtui hirvelle, joka putosi olympiaterminaalin edessä taivaalta auton eteen? Entäpä kuinka saat avio-onnesi jatkumaan 50 vuotta?

Katumuisti on helsinkiläisiin tositarinoihin muistolaattojen ja matkapuhelimen avulla syventyvä dokumentaarinen teos. Se sijoittui hajautetusti ympäri Helsingin katuja kesäkuusta syyskuuhun 2000.

Projekti keräsi syksystä -99 lähtien helsinkiläisten elämään liittyviä paikkasidonnaisia muistoja. Oman muistonsa saattoi lahjoittaa joko projektin puhelinvastaajan tai projektin www-sivujen kautta. Projektille lähetettiin noin 300 erilaista muistoa. Näistä 50 valittiin osaksi tuotantoa."


Ben Russell: Headmap Manifesto, London, 2001

"Location aware, networked, mobile devices make possible invisible notes attached to spaces, places, people and things. The headmap manifesto articulates the social implications of location aware devices..

Real space can be marked and demarcated invisibly. What was once the sole preserve of builders, architects and engineers falls into the hands of everyone: the ability to shape and organise the real world and the real space. Real borders, boundaries and space become plastic and maleable, statehood becomes fragmented and global. Geography gets interesting. Cell phones become internet enabled and location aware, everything in the real world gets tracked, tagged, barcoded and mapped. Overlaying everything is a whole new invisible layer of annotation. Textual, visual and audible information is available as you get close, as context dictates, or when you ask."

Headmap Manifesto:

[NicePaper 2] LOCATIVE CONCEPTS. Ben Russell (2004):


Jeff Knowlton, Naomi Spellman, Jeremy Hight: 34 North 118 West, Los Angeles, 2002

“34 North 118 West is a location-aware project which utilizes mobile technology and our custom software to deliver a unique media experience. Visitors to our site in downtown Los Angeles are met with everything necessary for the tour, including hardware and software.

34 North 118 West plays through a Tablet PC with Global Positioning System receiver and headphones. GPS tracks your location to determine how the story unfolds - in real time, in real space, as you traverse the sidewalks of Los Angeles.” (2002)

“The Interpretative Engine for Various Locations on Earth”


Proboscis: Urban and Social Tapestries, London, 2002-2004/2004-2007

Urban Tapestries

"Urban Tapestries is the name of a research project and experimental software platform for knowledge mapping and sharing – public authoring – conceived and developed by Proboscis in partnership with collaborators such as the London School of Economics, Birkbeck College, Orange, HP Research labs, France Telecom R&D UK, Ordnance Survey…"

"Urban Tapestries investigated how, by combining mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems, people could 'author' the environment around them; a kind of Mass Observation for the 21st Century. Like the founders of Mass Observation in the 1930s, we were interested creating opportunities for an "anthropology of ourselves" – adopting and adapting new and emerging technologies for creating and sharing everyday knowledge and experience; building up organic, collective memories that trace and embellish different kinds of relationships across places, time and communities.

The Urban Tapestries software platform enabled people to build relationships between places and to associate stories, information, pictures, sounds and videos with them. It provided the basis for a series of engagements with actual communities (in social housing, schools and with users of public spaces) to play with the emerging possibilities of public authoring in real world settings. The projects are documented in a variety of ways - from essays, project reports and academic papers to videos, installations and software (interfaces and code) - many of which are listed below."


Social Tapestries

"Social Tapestries is a research programme exploring the potential benefits and costs of local knowledge mapping and sharing, what we have termed the public authoring of social knowledge.

Proboscis is running a series of projects investigating the social and cultural benefits of public authoring (knowledge mapping and sharing). These playful and challenging experiments build upon the Urban Tapestries framework and software platform developed by Proboscis and its partners.

Through collaborations and partnerships with other civil society organisations we are addressing education & learning, people & environment and citizenship, neighbourhoods & public services to reveal the potential of public authoring to:

  • create and support relationships that transcend existing social and cultural boundaries;
  • enable the development of new social and creative practices based around place, identity and community;
  • reveal the potential costs as well as benefits to communities and individuals.



Aware: Spatio-temporal moblog, Helsinki, 2003

“The aware project proposes an experimental location-based medium for mediating fluid memory, ‘story-making’, and aims to facilitate the (playful or critical) re-imagination of the lived city of Helsinki.

It explores the positive potential of widespread use of networked, mobile media devices to raise awareness of communal relationships with place, and the real-time organisation/disorganisation of spatio-temporal meaning.”

“Important for contributing, be aware of your surroundings, notice the details, the specifics of different locations, what is important to you, without thinking about the mobile device. We encourage you to spend time observing, listening, learning about your location, the people in it, not remove yourself from it, immersed into the technology. Either go out and about, as normal, while you do other everyday things, or purposely explore parts of the city you don’t often go to.

There are different ways to ‘be aware’ – so-to-speak – in the project. By taking part, you will act different roles you can follow singularly or combine… How you act, remotely or in collaboration with others, is part of the biographical performance and ecology of the place, and city in general.

We describe the result of such activities as collective ‘story-making’, but also, it is an ecology of the present and the memorial. Among many weaves dreams and reality, the urban fabric of the cityscape.”

“audience (…who just experiences), contributor (…who captures), gatherer, depositor (…who moves and drops), connector (…who makes connections between contributions), listener (…who scans for what has been left)”

Reflection in January 2005:
"Aware began as a conceptual inquiry interested in the significance of pervasive mobile technologies, media capture, reception and syndication

• motivations for contribution
• roles of partipation
• narrative potentials
• augmentation of everyday experiences/mediated memory
• variable audiences and scales of reception"


Brian Holmes: Drifting Through The Grid, Riga, 2003

Brian Holmes notes the structures of power, which are mostly invisible.

“What happens, for example, when a private individual buys a GPS device, made by any of dozens of manufacturers? You're connecting to the results of a rocket-launch campaign which has put a constellation of 24 satellites into orbit, at least four of which are constantly in your line-of-sight, broadcasting the radio signals that will allow your device to calculate its position. The satellites themselves are fine-tuned by US Air Force monitor stations installed on islands across the earth, on either side of the equator. Since Clinton lifted the encryption of GPS signals in the year 2000, the infrastructure has functioned as a global public service: its extraordinary precision (down to the centimeter with various correction systems) is now open to any user, except in those cases where unencrypted access is selectively denied (as in Iraq during the last war). With fixed data from the World Geodetic System - initiated by the US Department of Defense in 1984 - you can locate your own nomadic trajectory on a three-dimensional Cartesian grid, anytime, anywhere. (Defense department dogma: "Modern maps, navigation systems and geodetic applications require a single accessible, global, 3-dimensional reference frame. It is important for global operations and interoperability that DoD systems implement and operate as much as possible on WGS 84.")

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this satellite infrastructure is that in order for one's location to be pinpointed, the clock in each personal receiver has to be exactly synchronized with the atomic clocks in orbit. So you have an integration into imperial time.”

Art + Communication Festival, Riga, 2003:


Esther Polak, WAAG Society: RealTime Riga, Riga/Amsterdam, 2003


Locative Media Workshop, Karosta-Liepaja, 2003

“The international workshop entitled "Locative media" focusing on GPS, mapping and positioning technologies took place from July 16 - 26, 2003 at the K@2 Culture and Information Centre on an abandoned military installation in Liepaja on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The workshop brought together an international group of artists and researchers interested in notions of mobile geography aiming to explore how wireless networking impacts upon notions of space time and social organization.”

“We set out to develop a data structure for 'locative media'”.
“shared protocol" for data recorded in situ

Jo Walsh and Andrew Paterson: Prototype Locative Media Packet


Signe Pucena, Andrew Paterson: Mapmyths, Karosta-Liepaja, 2003-2004

“The project is inspired by specific local acoustic and cultural environments, and documented with mobile media-capture devices: image, sound, GPS-trace, movie - from an actor-centred position of narrative and experience… Although the work does not claim to be ethnographic research, the project touches upon ethnographic fieldwork practice, exploring the potentials of emerging mobile and collaborative media practices therein.”

“[O]ur work has focused on stories and personal narratives encountered in the field. This thematic has some parallel to an ethnographic research practice, where biographical experience and social contexts reveal "deep local" information about a community through observation and interaction in people's daily lives.”

“The 'mapmyths' project documents significant personal interactions, both formal, real and imaginary within the text as well as extending the idea of 'recognizing the relational' beyond only interpersonal relations. Relations between social gathering places and persons who frequent them are a notable feature of the documentation. The narratives and fieldwork thus emerged from the personal relations to places as a subject of the research.”

“In the ethnographic practice, field-notes are mostly written individually as personal records and link to places, people and events. Although often sectioned separately, they may also record emotions and private experiences or thoughts. It is here that the 'researcher-self' narrates, acknowledging their presence and conscience.

Production of textual field-notes are not, however, a core activity within the fieldwork of the 'mapmyths' project. Instead media content, in the form of image, sound sample or short-movie - captured by mobile devices such as digital camera, media-phone, mini-disc or DAT sound recorder - take the role of written notes. Personal experience was mediated through these digital media devices, and given temporal or location-based context (or both) to guide, structure and assist memory recall. Like the traditional ethnographer's field-notes, private media was also gathered, which did not become part of the constructed representations of the field.

At the end of each fieldwork period, the media went through a process of subjective selection and analysis. While gathering media in field, the time-date context of each was the principle order, however, this eventually became less important than allowing cross-relations between different aspects of the work to re-organize into representational narratives [*]. In the end, the archive of 'media field-notes' acted as stimulus for memory in the writing of an accompanying text or narrative, and a link between autobiographical field experiences and the consequent text.”


Pete Gomes: Documentary about Locative Media Workshop, Iceland, 2004

“This is a short documentary filmed and directed by Pete Gomes during a 10 day workshop that took place in Iceland from June 30 till July 9, 2004.

The workshop was exploring the then emerging field of locative media.

This was one of a series of 6 workshops taking place in several countries throughout Europe as part of the Trans-Cultural Mapping project run by RIXC in Latvia.”


For more on Pete Gomes locative work 2001-2007:


Ester Polak, Ieva Auzina, RIXC :Milk Project, Riga/Amsterdam, 2003-2005

“MILK does not only tell a story about the lives of people. For a great part it is about representation. What changes for a person when he/she sees his/her own life in terms of a permanent cartography? What changes for a person when he/she realizes that his/her own cartography constantly is added and crossed by routes of other people?

Intrigued by the economical structure which is extracted from the pattern of the milk movements, the idea came up to follow the ways of the milk, from producer to consumer. The individual small farmer in Latgale, the milk truck driver Janis Čačka, someone, who works in the factory, the truck driver that brings the milk to the country of destination (The Netherlands, but also Germany, Denmark and Italy), the supermarket employee who puts the milk in the shelves and the final user who puts the powder milk into his coffee (or maybe consumes a totally different milk-related product, but that is what our research has to show).

We would like to make a personal map of each of those personages. The result will be a number of maps which touches each other or even partly overlap. The maps have different scales and these differences indicate the different lifelines. In order to comment those differences we combine the maps with the reactions of the people to their own maps and also attach pictures,stories of their daily lives on the traced routes.

In all of those fine or rude mazed lives, the milk plays his own role. One of the goals is to test the GPS-registration as an artistic, narrative tool. We hope that the story of milk-connections and milk-differences will lead to the imagination of a broad audience, just as it does to ours.”


“MILK is an artistic mapping project, which, by using GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technologies, maps out possibilities of time & space representation in individual routes of several small-scale Latvian milk farms and of milk transportation throughout Europe. It is a cooperation project between artist Esther Polak (NL) and researcher Ieva Auzina (LV) and was launched in July, 2003 in Latgale, Latvia in the framework of international workshop Locative media, organised by RIXC - Riga Centre for New Media Culture.

MILK is based on AmsterdamREALTIME. A diary in tracks, a project which was initiated by Esther Polak and developed in cooperation with the Waag Society and artist Jeroen Kee. This project was realized in the municipality archives of Amsterdam in October-November 2003.

Geography of MILK frames currently shifting EU terrain: from a destitute Latvian corner - Latgale, where the milk is produced as far as Netherlands and other EU countries, where the same milk is being consumed.

By turning collected GPS data into on-line atlas of maps, Ieva Auzina and Esther Polak in collaboration with software developer Markus The (NL) and RIXC would like to discover this peculiar milk net, its explicitly local stories and complex euro-global dimensions.”


Prix Ars Electronica 2005, Golden Nica Interactive Art


Christian Nold: Biomapping Project, London, 2004-

“In Western society, individuals are continuously monitored by technical systems, everything from CCTV cameras that follow our movements to the microscopic level of magnetic resonance scans that record our responses to a variety of stimuli.

These apparently unconnected technical systems are all part of an attempt to interpret and manage the minute functions of human beings.

What effect does this kind of continuous ambient monitoring have on how we imagine ourselves and others around us?

In the shadow of this type of top down interrogation of the individual the Bio mapping project suggests a different type of body politic.

The central notion of Bio Mapping is that we can make better sense of our own body data than a disinterested observer.

By recording our own body's bio data along with our geographic location we can review the information and make meaningful decisions about our life.

Furthermore those close to us both physically and socially may have a certain interest in how we interpret our environment.”



Greenwich Emotion Map (2006)


Google: Google Maps, San Francisco, 2005-


Steve Coast: Open Street Maps, London, 2004


Minna Tarkka: “Labours of Location: acting in the pervasive media space”, 2005


Leonardo Overview of the Media Arts Research Scene, 2006

Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol 14: Issue 03-04: Locative Media Special


Angela Piccini: Guttersnipe: A Road Movie, Bristol, 2003-2004

“Guttersnipe is a 14-minute video/live-spoken-word performance, which I shot and initially scripted in November 2003. I have revisited the script over the past two years for different events, from archaeology conferences to locative media workshops to local arts and music festivals. My aim in the video project was to explore the potentialities and limitations of a photographic practice as archaeological practice, archaeology in the modern world.

Given the central role of camera-based technologies in archaeology and the generative tensions between the live archaeological ‘event’ and its various recorded artefacts (Pearson and Shanks, 2001; Phelan, 1993; Reason, 2003; Rye, 2000; 2003), I wished to attempt a different way of thinking about the relationships between record and event….

What might video and live spoken word as media specifically contribute to archaeological practice that is qualitatively different from a textual account of place? How is this practice performative of place? How might this practice organize space – screen space, stage space, suburban space, family space, depth and surface, now and then – and place – the specificity of locale, city, neighborhood, street, gutter, housing, pavement, roadway - as they intertwine variously?

The video comprises a largely unedited tracking shot (there is a fade in from black at the beginning and fade to black at the end) along one unbroken stretch of gutter in Brislington, Bristol. The camera focuses in on the 90° angle where the street meets the kerb. I shot the screenwork in one take with a domestic miniDV video recorder, lashed onto a pushchair. In performance I have not used the synchronous recorded sound, but rather a soundtrack composed by Jem Noble, which layers the original synchronous sound with multiple sound recordings of the script. I then read the script in performance.”


WalkSqwak Project, Detroit/KwaZulu-Natal, 2003-2006

“The Walking Project is a performance, mapping and cultural exchange project collaboratively developed with US and South Africa-based artists during a series of residencies in Detroit and KwaZulu-Natal from 2003 through 2006.

The project explores ‘desire lines’ or paths made by people who walk across fields in South Africa and across vacant lots in Detroit – and what connects them.

By examining how changing patterns of movement can alter attitudes and perceptions; how people make their own paths; and the influences of culture, geography, language, economics and love, The Walking Project asks how and why people’s paths cross and how taking a different path might alter a life.”


Jesper Dyrehauge, Marie Markman, Nis Rømer: Planteundersøgelser (Plant Investigations), Copenhagen, 2005

“The website is a growing collection of information on plant life within the city, with focus on a part of inner city Copenhagen called Christianshavn. We made a series of walks with biologists and laymen to investigate and document the plantlife of the area…

About the consequences of urban renewal and the limited choices of plants that are used in cities and about all that which spreads by itself. As a part of the investigation soil samples of this part of the city is grown and can be followed online..

The main installation was a public kitchen garden by the harbour front, read more about this:

The project is made in relation to the exhibition: City Rumble with new relational and interventionist public art.”


Mark Shepard: Tactical Sound Garden, New York/Zurich/Sao Paola, 2006-

“The Tactical Sound Garden [TSG] Toolkit is an open source software platform for cultivating public "sound gardens" within contemporary cities. It draws on the culture of urban community gardening to posit a participatory environment where new spatial practices for social interaction within technologically mediated environments can be explored and evaluated. Addressing the impact of mobile audio devices like the iPod, the project examines gradations of privacy and publicity within contemporary public space.

The Toolkit enables anyone living within dense 802.11 wireless (WiFi) "hot zones" to install a "sound garden" for public use. Using a WiFi enabled mobile device (PDA, laptop, mobile phone), participants "plant" sounds within a positional audio environment. These plantings are mapped onto the coordinates of a physical location by a 3D audio engine common to gaming environments - overlaying a publicly constructed soundscape onto a specific urban space. Wearing headphones connected to a WiFi enabled device, participants drift though virtual sound gardens as they move throughout the city.”


John Evans, Theo Humphries, Mika Raento, Drew Hemment: Loca: Set to Discoverable, Bristol/Manchester/Helsinki, 2006



Jang-Won Lee: SunTracer, Seoul, 2003-2005

“sunTracer is a long-term, ongoing project spanning more than a decade. To be installed across the continents and the oceans, sunTracer chases and captures the movement of Sun 24 hours, and to be more accurate, it chases the altitude and azimuth of sun movement calculated through GPS coordinates of a given location.

The realtime images of different sites are transmitted via network to show human symbol of longevity and power - sun - but also to depict historical, cultural, seasonal, and even artificial landscape of the location.

A multi-channeled view centered around the icon of Nature tellingly conveys the diversities as well as the poetic porosity in human activities. This networked landscape, which is the combined ‘capture’ of different but simultaneously the same scenes of the earth, is a portrait of eternity and transience of a temporal and spatial existence.”


Teri Rueb: Core Sample, Boston, 2007

"Core Sample is a GPS-based interactive sound walk and corresponding sound sculpture that evokes the material and cultural histories contained in and suggested by the landscape of Spectacle Island. The piece engages the extended landscape of Boston Harbor as bound by the new Boston Institute of Contemporary Art building on the downtown waterfront, and Spectacle Island, a former dump and reclaimed landfill park visible just off the coast. The two sites function dialogically, questioning what is seen versus what is not seen, what is preserved and recorded versus what is suppressed and denied."


Blast Theory: Rider Spoke, Brighton/London/Budapest, 2007-

“Rider Spoke is a work for cyclists combining theatre with game play and state of the art technology. The project continues Blast Theory’s enquiry into performance in the age of personal communication. Developing from works such as Uncle Roy All Around You (2003) the piece invites the audience to cycle through the streets of the city, equipped with a handheld computer. They search for a hiding place and record a short message there. And then they search for the hiding places of others.

The piece continues Blast Theory’s fascination with how games and new communication technologies are creating new hybrid social spaces in which the private and the public are intertwined. It poses further questions about where theatre may be sited and what form it may take. It invites the public to be co-authors of the piece and a visible manifestation of it as they cycle through the city. It is precisely dependent on its local context and invites the audience to explore that context for its emotional and intellectual resonances.

In keeping with much of the group's work Rider Spoke has a high threshold for the audience: you must be willing to cycle, alone at night, through the city. And this sets the stage for a very personal and intimate form of participation. Instead of "User Generated Content", the artists' have approached the project as inviting "Publicly Created Contributions".”



Tapio Mäkelä: Technologies of Location: Affect of Place in Artistic Uses of Mobile and Social Networks, ISEA2008, Singapore, 2008

Further Reading Materials

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