Kazys Varnelis, PhD, History of Architecture and Urbanism, Cornell University, is the Director of the Network Architecture Lab in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. With Robert Sumrell, he runs the non-profit architectural collective AUDC.
This essay is a defense of locative media. It’s been criticized for its quick deference to commercial interests and its Cartesian representation. However, even if founded, these critiques bespeak another nostalgia, one for an autonomous art, unfettered from mass communication technologies.
“There’s something peculiar, even comical, in how the movement is, on the one hand ‘the Next Big Thing’ to some, a capitalist apocalypse to others.”
Ben Russell’s 1999 Headmap Manifesto, “the ur-text for locative media,” asserts:
“location aware, networked, mobile devices make possible invisible notes attached to spaces, places, people and things;” “Real space can be marked and demarcated invisibly;” “Geography gets interesting;” laypeople now have “the ability to shape and organize the real world and the real space” (as cited on 1).
Tuters and Varnelis add Situationism is widely agreed to be a precursor to the locative media movement. Indeed, Situationism was largely based on code, “a series of programmatic texts that advocated intervening in the city with only minor modifications.”
As an art practice, locative media appears to be bound to discourses of human subject-centered representation, foregrounding the human experience in space — tracing — and time — annotative. The former is a phenomenological tracing of an actor’s movements, and the former, a virtual tagging of the world. Both are situationist, but the annotative actions aim to alter the world by adding to it, a la detournement.