the RIXC locative media workshop 2003, in Karosta, a unique space and
community in Latvia, researchers explored this idea talking to local
people, mapping the systems and networks that occupied the space, consulting
historians and local artists. Some of the results were maps and film
and images, others were stories that describe systems local to Karosta.
Systems of social exchange, of paths used by local people, of local
mythology (contemporary, mundane, ancient).
this exploration we have built up a collection of images, video, text
and abstract systemic models. As technology evolves and more locative
media researchers visit Karosta these can be processed into rich media
packets digitally located at relevant geographical point. The aim was
to begin to externalise a sense of how Karosta works and how the people
see their space. Understanding generators.
is a recently abandoned soviet military base on the Baltic coast, and
its population is made up of the people who decided to move in to the
empty apartment blocks, and the Russians who stayed behind after the
soviet withdrawl. Karosta has character, feeling, a homogenous community,
and its own culture, systems and protocols. But given the military architecture
(much of it in disrepair) and the unusual community it can be hard to
really see Karosta as much more than an abandoned military base.
is appropriately ironic that the organizers chose to locate a workshop
for artist weighed down with technology that has US military origins
in a place like Karosta (which literally means 'war harbour' and was
sealed and secret during the cold war). It seems that the pattern of
artists as the vanguard of new markets and the messengers of transition
from perceivable military control to less visible cultural and economic
control is well ingrained. Hardware manufacturers seem to be producing
devices that are as capable and open as possible, perhaps in the hope
that users can tell them what the devices are for. In this sense, they
seek grassroots and consumer level interpretation of what these devices
are as surely as they seek an answer from corporate users.
an artists perspective it is now possible to (relatively easily) location
stamp digital art work. The place where a work was made, or to which
it refers can be logged using GPS for example. Work can be explicitly
associated with a place digitally, and then 'found' according to spatial
criteria: 'show me all the work associated with this place'. In mobile
device terms, work can be accessed actually at a place predetermined
by the artist or by the search criteria of the accessor.
this is interpreted (conceptually and technologically) is up to artists,
tool makers, and users. Filmmakers for example can trace the spatial
movements of the camera. Authors can place the next chapter at a new
location. Musicians can spontaneously choose a location to perform and
generate the audience through a combination of mapping and communications.
Festivals, warehouse parties and rave variants have been working on
these ideas for many years now, transforming dislocated spaces into
gatherings though a disparate range of media.
through the workshop participants and locals were focused out towards
the surrounding area, trying to correlate all media generated with location
acquisition. Locals and artist going out would take a GPS and try and
log location while taking film or photos or writing notes. Using the
Waag society's realtime handheld tracking tools and the local GPRS network
artists outside the K@2 center could be tracked and there journey traces
visualised. Cheryl L'Hirondelle [CA] and Mari Keski-Korsu (FI) were
monitored at K@2 after their trace went static for several hours (as
they got more and more drunk on a beach with a couple of locals until
one of their wives turned up).
Polak (Waag Society NL) and Leva Auzina (RIXC, LV) went some way towards
rescuing landscape painting, following the driver of a milk truck through
rural Latvia, as he went through his daily routine of collecting small
amounts of milk from local people along a fixed route (in space and
roughly in time), and tracing the route using GPS units and software
from the Realtime Amsterdam (and Riga) project. In the end however the
technology GPS proved inadequate and they had to sit down with the driver
and trace out a usable map with paper and pencil.
maps were generated by the people. Both implicitly, and explicitly as
the man made sense of the journey he followed (six days a week) with
a pencil, and a paper map, and GPS trace fragments. This use of mapping
provided an contextual anchor for their narrative composed of photos
and sound recordings, more explicitly than one from literary or filmic
a follow-up, Esther and Ieva proposed to trace the milk the next step
of the way to the people who ended up drinking it (or consuming it processed
usually requires a conversation with people who know where they are
already. These conversations often serve to challenge the inhabitants
of a place as to what their place means. Pete Gomes [Parkbench TV, UK]
and Gabriel Lopez Shaw [US] found a group of local Russian kids to show
them around Karosta so that they could film. In the end the group made
the film together. The kids found the locations, acted and improvised.
Pete and Gabriel logged the locations and showed the kids filmmaking
and GPS (the russian kids had long term access to film making and editing
equipment through K@2 the Karosta based art project hosting the locative
media workshop). Karosta is a very strange place, a borderland between
cultures and times. The film explored Karosta in terms of dislocation
and location, and its quality as a portal in time and space.
of the results of the workshop was also a clearer understanding of the
practical extant to which location adds a new dimension to media in
social, artistic and technical terms.To this end there were numerous
theoretical discussions including one between Zita Joyce and Adam Willetts
[NL, NZ], radioqualia's Honor Harger and Adam Hyde [UK, NZ], Ben Russell
[Headmap, UK], and Marc Tuters [CDN] focused on 'spectrum geography'
which explored the potential of radio as space altering technology.
The Locative Media workshop drew on the experience of K@2 and local
people to try to discern and project some of the views of Karosta that
might not be immediately visible to outsiders. Although, admittedly,
the workshop managed to barely scratch the surface of local mythology,
both at street level and historically, the idea that was being explored
was that local stories and systems could be externalised and bound to
a place in digital form, supplementing the stories told by the buildings
and what people passing through are able to see.
like most places has its own ways of seeing the world and getting things
done. These forms are not immediately visible to an outsider in the
way that the dominating military architecture, the housing blocks (some
derelict some habitable), the orthodox cathedral and the kids on the
street are. It's a harsh, cold environment during the winter and warm
and open in the summer. The economic climate is even harsher than the
winters for the people who live there. It's housing blocks are divided
economically some with hot water and amenities, and some without. It's
a contradictory place in terms of social problems and how difficult
life is and how unique the place and the social structures that have
When K@2 first arrived on Karosta they printed up 4000 high quality
glossy postcards written in Latvian on one side and Russian on the other.
They distributed them throughout the Karosta area inviting local people
to come to courses in art and technology. They received only 5 responses
from 4000 cards. Later, they talked to friends and listened to rumours,
and established that the postcards had looked too expensive and commercial
and that the Karostan's had assumed that K@2 wanted money. In response,
they cheaply xeroxed another few thousand leaflets telling people to
just come along and explore K@2. The less commercial leaflets made the
point and people started wandering into K@2.
is a small and close community with it's own developed local communications
network. K@2 found that the best way to get people to come to an exhibition
or event was not to put up a poster, but to say quietly to a few people
that there would be an event, and not to tell anyone. This resulted
in a direct connection to the local communications network, with news
of the event spreading rapidly by word of mouth. Attendence would then
far exceed anything posters or leaflets could generate.
paths and military streets
The plan of Karosta is dominated by the grid of wide military roads.
The width of the streets is determined by the following calculation
made by military planners: width of road = ('height of building on one
side' + 'height of building on the other side' + 'the width of a military
vehicle'). This means that if buildings on both sides of the roads are
blown up and fall into the street, you can still drive a military vehicle
through the gap that remains. The people of Karosta have developed there
own system of chaotic paths and shortcuts that defy this imposing grid.
This network of local shortcuts are called the elephant paths. They
represent an alternative view on an imposing military architectural
Karosta is on the Baltic coast (the white sea). The huge and surreal
coastal fortifications seem dislocated from the local people lazing
on the beach in the summer. Karosta was sealed, a military base, and
local people were never allowed to cross the bridge. This prohibition
has left a psychogeographical barrier. Occupying soldiers and sailors
have come and gone, Russian, German and potentially now NATO. Borders
and allegiances shift and the people and the place make there lives
between these tides. Only recently have a larger number of local people
ventured across the bridge from Liepaja to walk and enjoy the beaches.
The psychological barrier was more than physical, the base had bad associations
stretching back to the second world war, with mass graves from genocide
and executions located close by. From Tsarist occupation, to a brief
period of independence, to German occupation, to Soviet occupation,
Karosta has seen its share of imperial ambition, much of it shrouded
in dark associations.
Karosta was developed as a military base by the late 19th century. The
Tsar invested one million golden roubels in Karosta. They built a cathedral
and a palace and railway on a spot that might have been anywhere in
the Russian imperial dominion. Karosta is near the narrowest point on
the Russian side of the Baltic. A naval base can be despatched quickly
to intercept a naval force coming from the West. Karosta is also a border
town. And there would be political as well as military arguments for
choosing to build a potent symbol of Russian Tsarist power and wealth
at a point where it can be seen by neighbours.
reasoning for building Karosta may range from the harsh rational, to
the esoteric. The Tsar (according to local stories) may have consulted
geomancers and esoteric scholars, before choosing to invest so much
on building Karosta. The focus point chosen by the geomancers was judged
to be The Two Admirals house, and consequently after all the preparation
of the area, it was one of the first buildings to go up in 1896, apparently
built to harness enough power to sustain the further outward development.
Six years later in 1903 the castle and the cathedral were completed,
and the rest of the development of the area radiated from these central
points. The cathedral in the center of Karosta is said to be aligned
with the setting sun (and maybe aligned with other natural forces, Orthodox
perspectives take account of alignment).
of the central buildings in Tsars development of Karosta appear to be
shaped like letters in the Russian alphabet and groups of the buildings
appear to spell out words. The buildings at Karosta also mirror similar
script like building configurations in St Petersburg.
the stories of geomancy have any truth to them or not, Karosta was and
is a powerful point strategically, with the potential to affect the
geopolitical balance in the region. After Russia pulled out of Karosta
in the nineties, many Russians chose to stay behind. At the some time
many Latvians entered the base eager to get hold of a house in blocks
the soviet army had recently abandoned. The Russians in Karosta can
only get hold of 'Russian alien' passports and this question over their
status makes a difficult life no less difficult.
cold war aesthetic is still very much in evidence, the Karostan for
yes is often 'no' (e.g. 'do you want a beer' is met with an instinctive
'no' which turns out to be a yes). Conditions in Latvia were often harsh
during the Soviet era and yet the feeling you get actually being there
often contradicts the evidence of your eyes. Karosta has an energy and
feeling that other Latvians acknowledge. There are still soldiers on
the base, a small number of Latvian sailors train in the palace grounds...
but despite associations, both visual and historical, stress levels
seem to drop when you cross the bridge. In Karosta the pace of life
Karosta kids are considered special, creative, crazy (and maybe a little
dangerous).The Karosta kids are living in the gap, and the freedom,
between Russian withdrawal and the arrival of NATO or property developers
or whatever comes next. There have been techno and drum and bass parties
on the beaches and in deserted military hangers for many years already.
Hopefully the kids living in Karosta will be able to influence how the
place they live changes. The harsh restrictions of the Soviet era have
been replaced at least temporarily by a more anarchic order. The integration
minister has said that if everyone was like Karosta kids there would
be no problem integrating Russians and Latvians. The housing divisions
in Karosta are more about amenities than ethnicity.
is a tough place but one with a real magical character that leaves a
strong impression on people who find their way their and get to see
that tough doesn't mean cold all the way through.