Beyond the Screen

Locative Narrative: Figuring Urban Space in the Network Society

16.30-17.20: Rita Raley (Los Angeles, USA)

Abstract: Locative media has brought about a convergence between the widespread use of functional location data (GPS, GIS) and site-specific, conceptual, and land art practices. So, too, the Situationists—particularly their theorizing of psychogeography and the dérive—have informed contemporary art practices that employ handheld, location-aware devices interfacing with the geospatial web. It follows, then, that a predominant trend within locative media is the production of alternative and collaborative maps, those that emphasize sociality, community, and the user, those that offer bottom-up rather than top-down imaginaries of urban space. In projects such as PDPal (2002-04) and [murmur] (2003-), users identify, annotate, and spatially tag particular locales, emphasizing in the process individual user experience on the one hand (“your city”) and communal record on the other. Such cartographic projects, whether they are positioned as exercises in psychogeography or cognitive mapping, endeavor to produce a database of histories rather than History, both recovering and archiving the micro-narratives of the everyday. My paper addresses two locative works that similarly invest in the collection of spatialized histories and respond to the economic geographies of the 21st century city, but do so through a specifically literary register: Jeremy Hight et al, 34N 118W (2002), the first locative narrative, and J.R. Carpenter, in absentia (2008). (34N 118W is situated in the post-industrial rail yards of downtown LA and in absentia engages the ongoing gentrification of the Mile End district in Montreal.) However compelling alternative mapping projects such as PDPal may be, my argument is that the somewhat rare practice of literary locative media offers a more powerful and productive reframing of what has been termed the “imperial infrastructure” of the Cartesian basemap.


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