Locative Literacy

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  • Locative Literacy Editorial content | Magazine
  • M28: Summer/Autumn 2004 [July 2004] | | view pdf
  • Submitted by mute on Monday, 12 July, 2004 - 23:00


Saul Albert


The new media art world is in a lather about ‘locative media’. Writing in the run-up to this new genre’s big debut at Futuresonic in Manchester earlier this year, Saul Albert keeps his cool


‘Locative media’ is an unstable or ‘test’ category for artwork that utilises media which can express an index of spatial relationships. It is also a test-category for a group of people who have been assembled under the banner of http://locative.net.[1] The first large public trial of this test-category will be at the Futuresonic festival in Manchester April 27 – May 8, 2004 [1]. As usual, its consolidation will involve focusing attention and criticism on the early proponents of the term – the individual artists, technologists and critics who have been using it. At the same time there will be a struggle to wrest some kind of meaning from ‘locative media’ that is not so specifically linked to the group in order for a wider group to then use it to define their own practices, fitting into the category as it gathers institutional credibility and becomes the basis for grants and exhibitions.

The question of whether or not ‘locative media’ becomes an institutional category hangs in the balance. If the locative.net group can relinquish ownership of the term while bolstering its critical development, the bid might well succeed. If the process is too messy or the critical discourse too weak, it will go the way of ‘holographic art’. These criticisms are intended to catalyse this process, whichever way the term goes.


Much of the writing and talking about ‘locative media’ in art is redolent of early ’90s uncritical technology evangelism, and the technology-led art that sprang from it. In fact, this seems to be one of the areas where artists can still get away uncriticised for acting as poorly paid advertising executives for the R&D laboratories of technology companies (see any ‘locative media’ work by Blast Theory – http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/). But worse, a parallel development of this process has emerged from the technology market slump and the relative lack of venture capital available to technologists. Art-led technology development has seen artists and arts administrators writing funding proposals to art institutions in order to get technology developed. Needless to say the economies of free software production, artistic subjectivity and art-institutional imperatives do not mesh well. The danger is that these art-led technology developments damage themselves technologically by placing artists at the helm, and artistically by turning the artists into PR agents on the one hand, and reputation parasites on the other; sucking up fame value from the successful delivery of the project, and mediating the genuinely fascinating ideas of the technologists to the public and the arts institutions who then credit the artists for them. (This prognosis is based on an uncharitable and widely applicable observation of how Free Software has been used in art practice – my own included).


Algorithmic psychogeography, the term used by Socialfiction [2] to describe their rule-based dérives through the city, is not just a development, but actually a fundamental reversal of the critical use of this Situationist practice. Wandering the city, allowing its flows and vectors to push the walker along and through it reveals, in outline, the spatial imperatives of the urban planners. Imposing an arbitrary rule set on decisions to turn left or right removes the critical/analytical basis for this practice leaving behind a randomly predetermined tour. Not that this is a problem in itself; spaces of intensity and ambiguity are still accessible to ‘dot.walkers’,[2] whichever methodology they use to get there, and the sharp, deadpan humour of socialfiction’s discourse does re-introduce a kind of meta-critique of their practice, but always focused inwards to a critique of the software; the location becomes peripheral.

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