Locative media and the situationists

Getting lost with GPS

During the last museumnight in Amsterdam the Amsterdam architecture institute Arcam decided to have an evening about the situationists. Apparently the Dutch situationist Constant had (co-)written a pamphlet fifty years earlier about his ideal city. The pamphet, it was revealed, could just as easily be interpreted as a joke instead of as an actual serious statement. Those silly situationists, always up to mischief.

The important thing to me was, however, that Arcam invited me to host an hour in which we talked about locative media art in relation to the situationists. Jeremy Wood was there for instance, to talk about his GPS drawings.

What struck me was that locative media practitioners often refer back to the situationists as some kind of ancestors, as if they’re working in the same vein. The situationist love for traipsing about town is shared by locative artists who similarly enjoy taking computing ‘outside’, into ‘everyday life’. Just like the situationists we must reclaim the street, and this time we’ll use computers to do it!

But that, to me, seems to be where the similarities end. As alive-and-kicking situationist muse Jacqueline de Jong pointed out during the evening, the situationists wanted one thing above all else: to destroy and disrupt our cushy society. They were sick of it, vowing never to work a day in their lives. They probably would have laughed if they had seen that their ideas had been cherry-picked for ripe concepts. The derive, the detournement. All simple concepts that they purposefully packaged in complex and artistc jargon. And we fell for it.

So, we have two options. Either we stop pretending the situationists are our forefathers, or we actually do see them as our forefathers, and start using computing to disrupt instead of streamline society.

And GPS would be so good at that. During the evening at Arcam there was a wonderful debate about TomTom GPS navigators. Do they negate our ability to get lost? Is dealing with being lost a part of “being human” that we are losing?

Well, in front of me I have a little article I tore from the corner of a newspaper. It tells about tourists from Norway whose GPS, trying to get them to the airport, led them into one of the most dangerous neighbourhouds in Rio de Janeiro. The driver promptly got shot in the shoulder, they barely made it out.

A ‘work’ like that would have to be a situationist’s wet dream.

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Tijmen Schep
Tijmen Schep (1981) is a Dutch theorist on new media and digital culture, focussing on wireless media and public space. This theorizing is brought to life in the NetNiet.org foundation which promotes wireless media art by organising wireless festivals and events. Boss at www.pineapplejazz.com Founding member of www.netniet.org Artistic director of www.setup.nl