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MAPPING THE ZONE: THE LOCATIVE MEDIA WORKSHOP

Marc Tuters

At Longitude 21.00, Latitude 56.55, on July 16-26, 2003, the Locative Media Workshop, <locative.x-i.net> brought an international group of artists and researchers to the K@2 Culture and Information Centre in Karosta, (a partially abandoned military installation on the coast of the Baltic Sea resembling ‘the Zone' from Tarkovsky's ‘Stalker') to explore the idea of location in new media. The workshop focussed on real-time mapping and positioning technologies, and how they, in combination with wireless networking impact on notions of space time and social organization by potentially permitting people to produce and share their our own cartographic data, and map their physical environments --providing artists with a tool by which space becomes their canvas.

Participants of the workshop pondered techniques for the cultural appropriation of military technology (GPS) from within the decaying ruins of a former military empire, perched on the edge of integration into a new regime (NATO & EU). Originally constructed by order of the Russian Tzar Alexander III after the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Karosta became a military base housing some 25,000 and was closed to civilians by a fortress wall build all around the whole city. In 1994, following Latvian independence, the Soviet army evacuated Karosta leaving behind some 7000 people. Mostly Russian speaking, the stateless citizens of Karosta either carry Latvian issued so-called 'alien' passports, or old Soviet ones. William Gibson responded to the workshop in his blog jokingly saying: "I have a special fondness for descriptions of places like this. They trigger ghost-dialog: "Forget it, man, she's *Karostan*. Latvian 'alien' passport. It's not going to happen." <http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2003_08_01_archive.asp>

The workshop utilized mobile, location-aware networking devices/software (courtesy of and developed by the Waag Society/Esther Polak), to trace the movements of workshop participants in real-time as they mapped Karosta's so-called ‘elephant trails', a web of footpaths criss-crossing the installation's rigid military grid structure. With some tweaks by RIXC codes Janis Putrams, the application was also used visualize the mistakes of the GPS --a new app. was also written during the workshop by Pall Thayer.

To provide participants with a conceptual framework for conceiving of how to geo-annotate their physical environment Jo Walsh (UK) developed a semantic web model for creating ‘locative packets', a simple RDF/XML format for geoannotations.

"We set out to develop a data structure for 'locative media'. This is partly a holding-place; an open standard format that can be simply re-purposed and re-represented. RDF was chosen because it allows metadata freedom; rather than the prescribed structure of a table with fixed relations to other tables, the underlying model is a graph of connections. 'database' carries the wrong connotations; this is more of a data model, a world model.

From Wilfried Hou Je Bek's database cartography; 'Mapping the patchwork of the street grid as a pattern of connections enables the cartographer to organize them in relativistic space.'

In this locative world model, the atomic unit could be the 'Packet'. A Packet is a state of affairs in space and time. Each Packet can be found at a unique URL on the web. the Packet is tagged with properties; these can be concrete, like latitude and longitude and timestamp, the packet's creator; or they can be abstract, descriptions of moments, feelings, smells. The 'tags' come from shared vocabularies which are published on the web."

The locative packet was intended as to be shared 'protocol' for a RDF vocabularies, to be produced and consumed by various devices in order to create geoannotation <http://locative.net/etcon2004/packet.html>. Based on this model, users were able to sample local sights and sounds, and weave their artist-generated maps, what another group invited to the event have called "urban tapestries", which " allow ordinary citizens to embed social knowledge in the new wireless landscape of the city... accessed via handheld devices such as PDAs and mobile phones." <http://www.proboscis.org.uk/urbantapestries/>. This locative data packet became central as an aggregation service for connecting various grass roots locative web-applications especially at the subsequent Collaborative Mapping workshop that took place at O'Reilly's Emerging Technologies Conference in San Diego <http://conferences.oreillynet.com/pub/w/28/events.html>.

Thanks to a diversity of perspectives, due to the events' sponsor, RIXC, having invited participants from as far afield as Iceland to Pyramid Lake Indian reservation in Nevada USA, the workshop also cultivated a broader investigation on behalf of it's participants into the meaning of place: Mari Keski-Korsu (FI), Cheryl L'Hirondelle Waynohtew (CDN) created an interactive narrative map of the pedestrian walking paths, the so-called elephant paths, of Karosta <katastro.fi/~mkk/elephant_paths/>; Signe Pucena (LV) and Andrew Paterson (UK), did an ethnology of stories and songs from ther Karosta region to showed how maps can also be made to represent a sense of shared sense of memory <locative.x-i.net/mm/>; Esther Polak (NL) and Ieva Auzina (LV) used the GPS and mapping visualizations to create a diary in traces, depicting the movements of a milk collector through a rural region of Latvia; Kristin Bergaust (NW) also used a combination of a mapping, photography and video to contemplate Karosta <www.anart.no/~kristin/karosta.html>;

With not enough of the mapping devices to go around, participants also chose to explore some more esoteric ideas around the locative media: Ben Russell (UK) wove together local stories, recounted by K@2's founders Carl Biorsmark (SV) & Kristine Briede (LV), into a narrative structure and taxonomy of locative concepts <www.locative.net/drupal/?q=node/view/37>; Pete Gomes (UK) & Gabriel Lopez Shaw (US) worked on an experimental film with local youths shot in the gutted shells of Tzarist-era mansions; R a d i o q u a l i a (NZ) composed a short animation of satellite images of Karosta and conducted experiments in sending and receiving data to and from a Linux based application for the Sharp Zaurus PDA; your author (CDN) shot time-lapse video of himself spray-painting walls of derelict bunkers, intended as an ironic play on the notion of location-based annotation, or geograffiti <www.gpster.net/geograffiti.html>, and RIXC's resident philosopher Normunds Kozlovs wrote these beer-soaked words on my computer one morning:

"we've been drinkin whole night long, rock'n'rolling with my two local russian speaking pals. but now, after a sleepless night i feel a deep need to hide from everybody as i realize part of my identity as a soviet dinosaur, seeing these early morning military exercises i thank God for having escaped".