Inspired Report to the Community

Putting ART on a map

by Kevin Duncan

Daniel Belasco Rogers creates art out of electronic footprints. Since April 2003, Rogers has recorded every journey he makes using a GPS device, downloading artwork and animations of his movement to create a mnemonic travelogue of his life. Unlike real footprints that vanish without a trace, Rogers’s impressions exist as a kind of locative graffiti. The printed tracings of his wanderings have been exhibited in galleries in the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium.

As a peer advisor for the Banff New Media Institute’s Almost Perfect Co-production Residency, Rogers now includes Banff in his electronic cartography. He can relive the moment of take-off from the Berlin airport, the trackless void of flight and imprint of landing in Calgary, his ensuing journey to the Canadian Rockies, and his experiences in a new environment.

“This is the drawing of my life. Not the one I fantasize, but a very real, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting collection of everywhere I go. It’s kind of defining, kind of frightening, and also kind of liberating,” he says.

The Almost Perfect Co-production Residency is an annual experimental prototyping lab exploring the creation of locative and mobile media art — and encouraging artists to extend their practice out into the environment. Rogers’s multi-year GPS project provides an example of the possibilities inherent in the art form.

While in Banff, Rogers’s GPS signal bounced off mountain ranges, sometimes erroneously placing him in Alaska. “Most of the time, it is tracking me where I am, but when it doesn’t, it feels like this weird other world you’ve gone into,” Rogers says. “It all of a sudden puts you thousands of kilometres away… it’s a very disjointed feeling.”

The possibility that locative devices can create misinformation inspired residency participant Andrew Roth to created GiPS: Gremlin-infested Positioning System. GiPS enables viewers to explore a landscape with a handheld viewing device that supplies them with inaccurate and sometimes surreal data.

“It plays with the idea of what would happen if we were using technology as our tour guide and something went horribly wrong,” says Roth. In this case, gremlins infest the system, lead you astray, provide misinformation about your surroundings, offer scenes that may have happened in the past, and that could happen in the future. It will actually transform the environment.”

As part of the GiPS, users are led to a view of Mount Bourgeau from the Banff Centre campus, where a handheld video screen shows the mountain erupting as if it were volcanic. Afterwards, the device displays a dangerous route, “essentially predicting your demise,” Roth explains.

Projects like Roth’s expand the boundaries of art to explore the intersection of people, place, and technology. That’s exactly what Rogers and fellow peer advisors Kate Hartman, a New York artist and educator, and Theo Humphries, an interaction designer from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, expect from the annual Almost Perfect residency — art that engages with technology to pose new questions about what it means to be human.

The Almost Perfect residency builds on the ongoing research activity of the Banff New Media Institute ART Mobile Lab. Led by senior researchers with interdisciplinary backgrounds in new media, art and design, environmental studies, public education, and social sciences, the Mobile Lab is a small place for cultivating big ideas.

From left to right: Kenny Lozowski (Digital Film & Media), Andrew Roth (Almost Perfect artist), Amos Latterier (Almost Perfect artist), and Edwin Hasler (Digital Film & Media) take part in a trial operation of Roth’s locative media project, GiPS: Gremlin-infested Positioning System, on the balcony of the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building. Photo: Laura Vanags.