New project: You are not here.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 11.36.01

This week I’m at a week-long workshop/thing that is a combination event between the TAG Lab (where I work) and ZU-UK (a theatre and digital arts company from London). I’ve joined a specific team of people who are at the event to work on a locative media project that they’ve been on for a while (currently called Global Urban Wilds), so yesterday (the first day) I was largely getting up to speed with what they’ve been working on. It’s a locative media app that is designed to be played in a part of Montréal called the Champs des Possibles, which is an “urban wild”. We visited yesterday and it’s pretty much a kind of field/area of grass, some trees, some water, some snow, in between some buildings, a street, and some train tracks. It’s just post-winter right now, so it was deserted and kind of muddy and unappealing (which I quite liked).

Anyway, because I am somewhat of a lonewolf-y type (as you know), I’ve decided to both work on their project (via feedback, conversation, suggestion, etc.) but also to try to make some kind of engagement with the Champs and the idea of locative media of my own. Seems like a chance to work hard on a project with some real constraints for a short period and see if anything interesting comes out of that.

So, the current outcome of this is an attempt at a vague anti-locative media locative media/game kind of a thing, called (for now) You are not here. Ha ha. At the moment, this is amounting to various bits of technical setup as I (stupidly?) try to make my own platform to work with. The core idea is that you play/experience the game by not going to the Champs des Possibles, but rather anywhere else – and then navigate your little marker on your screen (I’m sort of assuming this will be a phone thing) with the GPS data of you walking around your space. So you move in your physical space, and this moves a map marker inside a Google satellite map of the Champs (as in the above image). Navigating a space while not there. (I’m probably going to include some kind of desktop version where you can use cursor keys too, which is maybe even more hilarious as a locative act?)

That’s kind of the basic setup and I’m most of the way to that? (I mean, obviously it will be a disaster of technology, but for now it’s going okay.) In terms of what actually happens, the idea is to leverage some of the jQuery UI stuff I’ve been doing (for It is as if you were doing work) to have ‘events’ occur as you move around the space, which would be dialog boxes (and perhaps other stuff) that pop up with… something. The something is probably going to be generated text (using something like Tracery) and maybe low resolution imagery? Can you sense my uncertainty? In terms of what that ‘content’ would be about, I’m currently thinking of highly detailed moments in time that might be happening there and then in the Champs – like to the detail of an individual leaf moving on a trees, say, that you might notice if you were there (which you aren’t). The vague idea behind all this is, I guess, to lean on/play with tensions around natural (the champs)/unnatural (the mobile phone), the present (where you are physically vs. where you “are” digitally) and the absent (your current location vs. the champs), the analog and the digital, and … so on?

I mean, the point of making stuff like this is to work out what those tensions/points of interest are through the making, right? So if you don’t mind I’ll keep working and hopefully grow more intelligent.

Edit: Oh one other thing I like about this is that I think it engages with the ‘staring at your phone’ aspect of locative media (and perhaps life?). One weird issue with locative media pieces is that often you go to the place they’re set in, and then proceed to march around staring at a phone screen trying to ‘collect the content’ and not really paying all that much attention to your real surroundings. Irony etc. In the case of You are not here. I think you have this funny take on this where you are meant to be glued to your phone (because you’re reading dialog boxes, looking at images, watching your dot) but that’s all taking place in this represented space (notably a photographic satellite representation of the champs), so it’s like you’re really trying hard to “be there”, even as you ignore your present context.

P.S. and then there’s a bunch of stuff potentially about cross-over and overlaps between the digital/simulated version of the champs and the environment you choose to play the game in? Like, you play in forest which might be “more natural” than the champs which is kind of urban, or you play in the middle of a city, so that the champ seems more emphatically natural. AND SO ON. I’m so sorry this is so long.

4 April 2017
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