This month we welcomed both Tina Bastajian from Amsterdam and Prayas Abhinav from Bangalore as our guests.

Contoured Topologies: Street, Archive, Database

Tina Bastajian is a film/new media artist, researcher and archival dramaturge, currently a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam (Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis) working in praxis and theory to chart and interrogate subjective mapping tendencies in locative media practices that evoke and reconfigure themselves as potential geo-cinematic constellations.

As a media-artist, researcher and experimental documentarist, Tina Bastajian navigated through the processes and contingencies from the project Coffee Deposits:::Topologies of Chance in collaboration with visual artist Seda Manavoglu. This iteration of the work is contoured into a DVD-ROM, a hybrid between interactive documentary forms and the ludic.

By tracing the adventitious technical and contextual detours, what unfolds is a topology of complex spaces: unpredictable and rapidly shifting urban patterns and disparate stories and accounts by those who inhabit, walk, dwell, witness, work and protest in the city. While GPS traces, coffee deposits, and geo-caching tactics were originally to be used as tangential offshoots (narrative, illustrative, statistical), these later resurfaced through the editing and navigational design process in unexpected ways. These emergent tropes negotiated and speculated multiple viewpoints and disorientations, sometimes via ironic and non-linear traversals within street and screen interfaces. Tina also outlined some of the processes of what she calls ‘locative post-scripts’ (i.e. addendums or epilogues) which formed the augmented reality tour (via smart phone/AR browser, Layar), Pera pARkours, and extended the Topologies archive into public space, in the vicinity of Galata, Istanbul. For a more extensive and detailed description of the project please follow this link.

Being procedural

Prayas Abhinav is a media artist living in Bangalore, India. He is interested in simulating and tinkering with systems of information exchange and perception. Prayas was in Europe for Transmediale in Berlin, an annual festival concerning the role of digital technologies in contemporary society. There he presented work from his collaborative project: outResourcing, a notation language for chasing noise in the autobiographical. By approaching outsourcing as a kind of cultural production which can lead to two-way exchanges across different cultural and economical situations, outResourcing explores the pervasive phenomenon of labor outsourcing from a critical constructive point of view. For this project he developed ‘masking’, and within this ‘Insulation’, a set of objects which can be used for privileging and layering the access which others have to our lives online. These objects are meant to be gifted to people they wanted to create a priviliged access to an online resource for. Insulation therefore becomes a way for chasing noise in the autobiographical, allowing personal narratives online to become layered and aquire more depth.

At DAI Prayas conducted the seminar: Being procedural: don’t compose, define grammars where we attempted to understand how compositional rules and traditions work and how generative paradigms in designing can alter them drastically. His work with gaming has dealt with the use of language, pattern recognition and regression in meaning. As a part of the seminar, Prayas introduced nodebox and demonstrated ways to quickly start playing around the tool. Showing grammar as a backdrop he introduced us to the generative software spamghetto: and some nifty software for quick websites like HOTGLUE, a Content Manipulation System that allows to construct websites directly in a web-browser. In between the games Prayas showed us Media Burn by Art Farm. At the end we voted to work on Scratch, from MIT developers where he continued to talk about games and the key technical and conceptual factors behind them as we attempted to collaboratively make speed videos with the sound of meowing cats. We ended the day with a screening of Entracte by Hobbs/Neustetter as part of their residency and Afropixel festival at Kër Thiossane in 2010 in collaboration with students from the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Dakar, in preparation to our upcoming project with Kër Thiossane during our DAI trip in May 2012.

Last week we were joined by n.e.w.s. contributor Stephen Wright, a Paris-based art theorist, writer, and Editorial Director of the Biennale de Paris who teaches at the European School of the Image, (ÉESI) The Interactive Arts Masters program, University of Pointiers.

Thursday’s marathon seminar was entitled Shadowmapping, which encompassed spy art practices, artistic research as knowledge production, cognitive mapping and the ontology of art in regard to art’s specific use value: it does what no other things do. Once everything could be art… what was the everything? If everything is art, then nothing is and this ontological fate is unique. Art can be both what it is and a proposition of the same thing. What makes something art is the frame, or the specific visibility.

‘Nothing can remain in shadow if it can be mapped. Mapping is a form and technique of attention getting, and since there is little point drawing specific attention to that which is already basking in it, cartographers – like documentary filmmakers – tend to focus on the invisible or barely visible. Yet mapping rarely sees itself as antagonistic to what goes on in the shadows; it fancies itself as aiding the invisible in gaining the visibility it lacks but deserves – as if everything craved attention, and invisibility a deprivation! Does mapping aspire to a perfectly luminescent, shadow-free world? Perhaps — though there is certainly a ways to go in a world shrouded in covert data accumulation and concealed agendas, which is what makes the rise of cognitive-mapping practices over the past decade such a compelling critical by-product of contemporary political and artistic culture. However mapping’s white dream inevitably encounters its own blind spot: for, like all refracting and occluding devices, maps, too, cast shadows.’

‘This particular dialectic of enlightenment has considerable consequences for contemporary art. Indeed cognitive mapping may be seen as contemporary art’s ultimate attempt to save representation, to assert the political potential of mimesis. Increasingly, art practice appears to be moving away from representation toward a regime of redundancy, whereby art does not depict something but is actually at once that something, and a proposition of it: increasingly, art operates on a 1:1 scale. What sorts of mapping projects can be envisaged on this real-life scale? What kinds of contemporary practice are based on data aggregation and how can they themselves be mapped? A little-known text by Lewis Carroll, from 1893, provides an unexpected insight. In Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Carroll tells of a conversation between the narrator and an outlandish character called “Mein Herr” regarding the largest scale of map “that would be really useful”:

“We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile! (…) It has never been spread out, yet,… the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So now we use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

This prescient condensé of the ontological shift underway in contemporary art practice opens three parallel lines of enquiry: 1. How does one go about using the country itself as its own map — ie. what are the conditions of possibility and use of redundancy? 2. Were the farmers right — does such mapping actually shed more shadow than light? 3. What recourse to critical cartography can be envisaged after the end of the regime of representation — a recourse respectful of shadows?’

During the course of the day we viewed works by Wikileaks (Collateral Murder); Bouchra Khalili (Mapping Journey,1-8); Till Roeskens (Videocartographies: Aïda, Palestine); Bureau d’études; Francis Alÿs (Sometimes Something Poetic Can Be Political…);;; Lewis Carroll; Öyvind Fahlström, Jeff Perkins, (Taxi Permits:performative documentation)