Tag Archives: derive

Tuters, M. and Varnelis, K. (2006). Beyond locative media: Giving shape to the Internet of things. _Leonardo_, 39(4):357-363.

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.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Media Arts, Minor Field, Public Space, Research Fields

Tuters, M. (2004). The locative commons: situating location-based media in urban public space. Paper presented at the Futuresonico4.

“The Locative Media Network seeks to marry the interests of the psychogeographer (whom we may frame as a ‘city hacker,’ after Social Fiction) with those of the online community networking enthusiast” (3).

The influence of Situationist International’s dérive, the psychogeographic walk, is unmistakable in location-based media. It shows us “the connection between the so-called internal (‘psychic’) and external (‘geography’) worlds. In practice, psychogeography brings the art installation and its public (although the distinction often begins to blur here) from the contained space of the gallery into the body of the city” (1).

Tuters explains, we’re living in the middle of a transformation of the notion of the “city.” Mobile technologies are proliferating and connecting virtual communities with reified urban space. Mobile telephony does manage somewhat to bridge the digital divide, but remember these systems are still tied to corporate interests, so a divide will likely persist given that rich technologies will always be costlier. If we do it right and establish public access through telecommunications infrastructure, “the 21st Century will be recognized for making available the digital domains to the public at large in the tradition of furthering our concept and implementation of democracy” (5).

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McCullough, M. (2006). On the Urbanism of Locative Media [Media and the City]. _Places_, 18(2).

Malcolm McCullough, M.Arch from UCLA, is Associate Professor, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. He researches digital media for the built environment. His best-known book is Abstracting Craft (1996), a philosophical inquiry into work practices.

In this article, McCullough praises locative media: “Would be flâneurs are now streaming their dérives. The urban media experience is now interactive; comprising not just the broadcast push but walker’s own messages, maps, tags. Locative media is “the newer paradigm of ubiquitous computing [that] brings thing back to the messy multiplicity of street level” (26).

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Wark, M. K. (2011). _The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International_. New York: Verso.

Ken Wark, PhD in Communication, Murdoch University, is Professor, Culture and Media at the Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts. His research interests include: media theory, new media, critical theory, cinema, music, and visual art. Other books include A Hacker Manifesto (2004), Dispositions (2002), and Speed Factory (2000).

Per this review, Wark’s book is a call to consider the Situationist International’s inventory of forms of praxis: dérive, détournement, the gift, and potlatch. Together these uphold individuation and collective belonging in opposition to the synchronizing, flattening spectacle.

Wark pithily bemoans high theory’s inwardly vertiginous obsession with the few “famous fathers” of yore and select “new demigods” (1). High theory, he claims, evolves as a response to disappointment; hence the productive time following May 1968. However, today “[we] are bored with this planet” (1). Boredom invites an altogether divergent low theory, one “dedicated to the practice that is critique and the critique that is practice” (3). The SI, Wark avers, explored such a critical practice, only too much has been made of the Situationists’ perceived dysfunctions and far too much emphasis placed on select “great men” (3). Were we to conceive of the SI as an experiment in social form and acknowledge Debord’s scrupulous decision to dissolve the collective before it was crushed “beneath the weight of its own incoherence” (121), we might more readily recognize the enduring value in the Situationists’ inventory of forms of praxis: dérive, détournement, the gift, and potlatch.

Wark’s book is best apprehended in terms of stages, chronological and conceptual, that catalog the contributors to Situationism – be they from within, the periphery, or even exile. The first portion details the SI’s forebear collective, the Letterist International, the misfit tribe of bohemian Saint-Germain, who together devised the critical praxis of negative action, making visible that which is impossible “within the limits of actually existing capitalism” (30). Then and there George Bataille, Michèle Bernstein, Ivan Chtcheglov, Guy Debord, Gil Wolman, and others conceived the dérive, psychogeography, and détournement with an ambition no less than to invent a wholly new civilization, leaving the 20th century behind them in distant memory.

Wark begins the middle of the book with the formation of the SI from other collectives in 1957, and this section pertains to formative theories within the Situationists’ active years. The portions on Asger Jorn’s and Henri Lefebvre’s respective provisions, as well as the chapter, “A Provisional Micro-Society,” are the section’s and book’s most successful, underscoring the SI’s emphasis on play, romance, even the collective’s own contradictions. Painter and theorist Jorn, a heavily modified and eventual ex-Marxist, proffers artistic materialism, noting art is not embedded in Marx’s superstructure but within our infrastructure; it is playful, social. As an alternative to Althusserian Marxism, Jorn proposes games and an “ontology of nature as flux, difference, and cooperation” (53).

Lefebvre never was a Situationist, but he and Debord shared an impassioned, if brief, intellectual encounter, during which they explored five concepts of interest, constituted by and constitutive of the Situationist project: “the everyday, totality, moment, spectacle, and the total semantic field” (96). For Lefebvre, the total semantic field’s three registers – signals, signs, and symbols – communicate deeply a notion rooted in romantic theory and reified in bohemia. Here and with these tools we can reverse fates and alienate the spectacle within society, itself “the concrete manufacture of alienation” (Debord, 1983, 32). Wark asserts a primary stratagem of the SI was taking up a romantic investigation of the total semantic field to a point, then reversing and establishing a new classicism in the wreckage. Such is just one lesson of the SI’s peculiar provisional micro-society: contradictions can prove creatively generative. It could and did not last, but Debord defended his paradoxical doctrine of no doctrine. Never doctrine, but “‘perspectives…a solidarity around these perspectives’” (as cited on 65). Founded on such ambiguity and fueled by a gift economy of donation for reputation, Wark recognizes the SI could not sustain. Games are not meant to endure.

However, Wark assures us this game has valuable lessons, thus the final portion of the book is a deliberate nod to the feasibility of Situationist practice as enacted by Alexander Trocchi and Constant Nieuwenhuys in the years subsequent to the SI. Trocchi’s project sigma attempts to bypass the cultural industry and arguably traces the beginnings of blogging. Constant’s New Babylon is noteworthy because his intent is that the transformation of the built form will, in fact, emerge from a transformation in social relations.

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Purcell, R. (2011). Community development and everyday life. _Community Development Journal_, 47(2):266-281.

Rod Purcell is Senior Lecturer and Director of Community Engagement at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include: visual sociology with emphasis on globalization and cultural shifts; urban social theory; psychogeography; community development and education methodologies; community development evaluation methodologies; and photography as a tool for personal and community development.

United Kingdom Occupational Standards for Community Development say: “Community development is a long-term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality, and inclusion” (as cited on 266). This process encourages individuals to collaborate and (1) identify their demands and hopes, (2) act to influence policies affecting them, (3) enhance their own lives, communities, and societies as a whole.

However, there are problems. For one, community development is locally based and yet part of national programming. For another, while community development worker’s rhetoric includes the topics of social change, power relation reconfiguration, social cohesion, and attenuation of exclusionary forces, a 2003 survey demonstrated these workers lacked the theoretical training that might encourage these anti-establishment, pro-radical practices. As such, says Purcell, community development is a “depoliticized activity of the state” (267).

Current theoretical perspectives espouse Antonio Gramsci’s and Paolo Freire’s respective contributions. The latter argues for the development of critical consciousness, and the abandonment of traditional “banking” teaching that separates the knowledge of the teacher and the learner. Gramsci’s view holds hegemony as an explanation for working class interest in both revolution and fascism. Class struggles are ideological as much as they are economic, and true changes come through human social activity. Like Freire, he believed in praxis and that all people had the capacity to be intellectuals: “true education is something that people do for themselves with the help of others, not something that is done to them by experts” (269). Unlike Freire, Gramsci is embedded in a Marxian Europe and cultural conflict. Freire’s post-structural developing world drives his interest in popular culture.

But, harking back to Lefebvre (1991), space matters for all of this. Writers about everyday life include Michel de Certeau (1984), Guy Debord (1983), Henri Lefebvre (1991, 2003, 2008), and Raoul Vaneigem (2006). Certeau’s everyday response to hegemonic power structures, “strategies” and “tactics,” aim to upend authority structures. They are spontaneous and often performative, even transgressive. And such activities include tagging, drug use…all tricky for community development workers.

What kinds of transgressions should community development workers support? Purcell likes the dérive, documenting the SI’s revision of Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s flâneur, wherein participants take purposeless/purposive walks through the urban landscape.

The dérive is good for “producing literature…art, photography, video, street performance, sociological study, social history” (276) and is so a valuable tool in the community development worker’s and citizen’s kit.

The community development worker can ask a series of place- and power-based questions, much like the basic questions taught in media literacy courses. However, adapting these findings from dérives into policies and practices is a thornier task. Purcell says Freire is helpful here in that discussion with locals about the dérives‘ findings might result in strategic discourse that envisions a better life, perhaps methods towards it.

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Debord, G. (1983). _Society of the Spectacle_. Detroit: Black and Red.

Co-founder of the Letterist International and later the Situationist International (SI), which played a considerable part in the Paris Uprising of 1968, Marxist philosopher and artist Debord articulates a bleak and totalizing view of modernity in 221 theses.

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (#1).

The spectacle for Debord is the overwhelming and distracting power not of images, “but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (#4). Whether it is concentrated, as in the totalitarian regime revolving around a sole figure/state, or is the diffuse antipode, as in the market economy-embedded society where acts of liberty are performed through purchase power, “the spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable, inaccessible” (#12). Not only is the spectacle inaccessible, it is enduring. Since revolutionaries generally operate within the logics of the spectacle, efforts to overthrow it are doomed. Complicating matters further, Debord insists a successful revolution is “a unitary critique of society” (#121). This critique is manifest action, exemplified by the SI’s favored activities, the dérive (“drift”) and détournement.

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