The attempt to ‘find oneself’ is a modern development. The 19th century ‘flâneur’ (a lounger, or stroller,) mapped the changing Paris cityscape as his way of navigating the world. Artists and writers used what remained of urban and nature walks as fodder for their creative practice. In the 1920s, the Surrealists used automatism as a tool for their art, enabling them to trace their conscious moves with their (seeming) subconscious associations. In this way they formed imagery that wove together layers of awareness. From the late 1950s to the early 1970s the Situationist International (SI) picked up the practice and created elaborate evidence of what they termed dérives (drifts). This was their way of placing themselves in a changing urban environment. Guy Debord, a founding member of the SI, described the process as “a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” This was called psychogeography. Joseph Hart described it as “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” The results are a layering-together of the body, mind and changing space. Over the past ten years, contemporary artists have moved between the physical and virtual spaces using new forms of mobility as a path towards increased freedom in public space.
Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl’s current show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris is part of a multi-year project entitled Dead Drop (www.deaddrops.com). This community based installation began in 2010 and involves the embedding of USB drives into walls, which can be used as access points for file sharing. Bartholl’s instructions for engaging in the work are as follows:
How to get your art in the Palais de Tokyo
BRING YOUR ART ON A LAPTOP TO THE GRAND OPENING.
UPLOAD IT TO ONE OF THE 5 DEAD DROPS IN PALAIS DE TOKYO.
TELL EVERYONE YOU HAVE ART IN THE PALAIS DE TOKYO.
These installations pry open new spaces by providing public entrances to exhibition venues (along with their bragging rights) and so circumvent the exhibition process of the modern art world which has become as enclosed as the Academies so well known to the flâneur They also invite participation by asking viewers to upload materials and to install additional dead drops around the world. The artist gives detailed instructions on the process to the public participants:
How to install a Dead Drop
– Read the Dead Drops manifesto!
– Get a USB flash drive of any size.
– Dismantle the plastic cover. (It has been proven that the stick stays more stable if you leave it on, feel free to experiment!)
– Wrap it in plumber’s tape to seal it off.
– Download the readme.txt and manifesto here (eng, french, esp, port, russ, dutch, ger, ita, chin, czech) , edit authorship/credits/date)and load it on the drive. [more translations are welcome!]
-Use fast-setting concrete to cement the stick in a crack or hole.
– Make sure to make the wall look nice afterwards, eventually you’ll need some color for touch up.
– Make sure to place it in a way that it can be accessed directly with a laptop. (Not everybody has an extension cable)
– USB ports locations on laptops are different from model to model. The ‘front side’ (2 holes of the plug) points up! Is the left side port and right side port on a laptop accessible?
– Optional you could use epoxy putty to glue the flash drive to other objects.
– Take 3 good pictures! - Overview of the street/place, how does your city look? - Approximate location of your Dead Drop, medium distance. - Close-up! We want to see your Dead Drop!
The Dead Drop database creates a map of the expanding project. As a project, Dead Drop offers public access by opening up architecture to be used by virtual exhibition spaces, your laptop or phone. These small access points which may well be on existing galleries, broadens the ways in which artists engage with each other’s works and communicate with the public.
Taiwanese artist Shu Lea Cheang engages in social interference through her individual work and collaborative projects with Paper Tiger Television(PTT). PTT, based in New York, started utilizing public access television in 1981 – creating content for video art at its inception. Media activist Dee Dee Halleck, one of the founders of the organization, recognized “It is one thing to critique the mass media and rail against their abuses. It is quite another to create viable alternatives.”
Cheang’s recent CrisisRus (www.crisisrus.laptopsrus.me) project is channeled through LaptopsRus (http://laptopsrus.me), which facilitates live meetings/ reunions/ performances. The invitation looks for:
women, including housewives, workers, bakers, artists, writers, performers, filmmakers and all walks of life, to express their own concerns about CRISIS and crisis – the economical CRISIS that’s affecting everyone and the personal crisis that zooms large in the current political and social environ.
By signing on to make postings, you agree your banner messages and network AV streams could be shared, exhibited, performed and distributed in non-commercial creative commons licensing manner. (Shu Lea Cheang)
The project, which was designed with artists Maite Cajaraville (Madrid) and Lucía Egaña Rojas (Chile/ Barcelona) has had performances in France, Norway, England and Germany. Mapping, just as with SI, is also key component to their projects.
“At CrisisRus we use a map to locate all participants and their works. The map has been a strong advert for us; we show it at each performance so that the audience knows the location of the videos, images or sounds. They also see the amplitude of the project.”
The project maps are heavily promoted through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
CrisisRus creates spaces for personal and public experiences to be exchanged. According to Cheang “the public participation is built in element/ devices in many of my performance and installation works. Through public engagement the work is triggered into activity mode.” Video, image and sound streaming from around the world are played before audiences in which performers and viewers form a circle and act out various forms of engagement. Their physical space is a mirror of the seating arrangement in the United Nation – a circle of engagement. “These cross-circuited / open interfaces make public participation accessible while allowing open hacking.” (Shu Lea Cheang) The physical and the virtual spaces mix effortlessly. “We do believe both mediums have to be connected and physical meetings have to be done. Both spaces feed back to each other . . . Our experience is that the physical meetings strengthen the virtual connection (the map database.)” (Maite Cajaraville)
American artist, Ron Hutt’s ongoing Axis Mundi/ Open Portals project (www.ronhutt.info) flowed from his own nomadic lifestyle. Axis Mundi is the Latin term for “the world center, or the connection between Heaven and Earth. As the celestial pole and geographic pole, it expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet.” The project is marked with a sign for the four directions consisting of intersecting vertical and horizontal bands.
While travelling Hutt established a system of marking his place when he stopped for brief or extended periods of time. The location’s city or landscape is documented virtually and physically through photographs and digital drawings.
The Axis Mundi / Open Portals project utilizes horizontal and vertical panoramic photographs captured while crisscrossing the United States and Europe. I look for places that I can make a stand, find meaning and discover my connection to a unique set of physical and psychological features. Those features function as the provisional center of my personal world — the Axis Mundi. The art works for this project emerge from the creation of a personal cyber geography and a mythopoetic consciousness derived from the process of digital painting and photography. (Ron Hutt)
The artist then processes that documentation and creates open portals accessible through Quick Response (QR) codes installed at the travel sites. These QR Codes activate work on smart phones. Using a private and highly portable form of technology, to engage in a public act – viewing art in a museum – allows the individual to feel individual while being in a public experience. It also enables the exhibition to have lingering effects – as the work continues to be accessible outside of the walls of museums, galleries or public spaces. Hutt understands that these
QR codes are the Open Portals to an offering. When viewers use their mobile phone apps to activate the QR codes they will be able to access an image that they can download and printed for their own enjoyment. These images are offerings/gifts from the artist to the viewers. The downloaded piece also has a QR code that can access another gift. The chain of offerings is endless. (Ron Hutt)
Hutt’s offering serves as a memory of the places that were seen and visited in his travels and in the exhibition. Hutt explains “I intend for the image to move from the virtual to the physical world. The process creates a network of viewers who receive the offerings and then pass them on to others. Viewers will also be able to email comments, questions or their own images directly to me. I conceive of this act of giving, receiving and offering as a very participatory and democratic process.” They are also ways that the artist gives back to the place and people that inspired the work.
By receiving the gift, which is currently accessible through Open Portals at the Pink Art Fair in Seoul, Korea and the St. Mary’s Museum of Art in California, the viewer accepts the responsibility of choosing to keep it or give it away to another person. This forms a pseudo-chain, which spreads out from Hutt’s initial nomadic impulse to the society as a whole. As an artistic gesture this is both Utopian and Arcadian as it simultaneously looks to the future and to the ancient past where gifts were the most basic of human exchanges. Viewers are finding their place on a map and a timeline. The ancient past and the future Utopia are grounded in a belief in the ultimate ‘good’ in technological which leads eventually to a greater understanding of oneself.
The meta goal of my artistic process is to sort out and confront questions that arise from the clash of human necessity and new technology as well as the role of art and artists in the creation of compassionate new systems of meaning. Physical space in which art objects exist is engulfed by globally connected digital space and they are both equally real and creative spaces for artistic exploration. (Ron Hutt)
This wave of mapping in its differing forms is at once public and private, collective and individual, physical and virtual. These maps act like liquids easily establishing an understanding between contemporary life and art. Here art and life blend into a mapping of the individual’s location in time and space. With ancestral roots in flânerie, automatism and the dérive, new forms of ‘cybergeography’ enhance our experience of public space and indeed what it manes to be ‘public’. They are a contemporary outgrowth of what writer Victor Fournel called a “moving and passionate photograph (undaguerréotype mobile et passioné)” of the urban experience. Importantly these types of installations bypass the gap between artists, audience and institutions.
Anna Novakov is a Serbian-American art historian, critic, educator, and curator based at Saint Mary’s College of California. As a writer her practice focuses on the dérive, gender and technogeography
Volume 30 number 3 January / February 2016 pp 31-34