Monday, December 28, 2009

Report from the Mapping Seminar

The 'Mapping Data: Performing Landscape' seminar was successful in bringing together diverse approaches to Geographical Information Systems (see last post for the outline). As map-makers we have a responsibility to consider our work with care and rigour. If we agree that maps represent the values and cultures that create them, then we are laying down paths of data to be excavated in the future, not just to understand the data, but our assumptions and attitudes to it. Using digital geographic systems creates varying senses of scale and representation, not just in terms of located-ness, but also in terms of seeing the world as a virtual space. Questions about what we include, what we leave out, and how we can be transparent all need to be discussed from multiple perspectives. To quote John Pickles "Where technology is not seem as a social relation, it is fetishised and aestheticised, the contingent nature of technical outcomes is over-looked, and the struggles over the choice and application of any particular technology are ignored."(Pickles, 1995,pX).

The presentations were streamed online, and the archive can soon be viewed at Unfortunately we had some sound problems with Jen Southern's streaming - but will hope to add subtitles in the New Year... Here's some information about each of the speakers, their presentations and my comments on the group discussion:

Jen Southern
is an artist and PhD student in Sociology at Lancaster University, where she is affiliated to the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) and mobilities lab. Her art practice is collaborative, process based and participatory, working with audiences to explore movement and sense of place through mobile technologies and locative media. She works across the disciplines of participatory art, sociology and mobile application design, and has contributed to international projects and workshops funded by NESTA, BBC, Arts Council England and Sagasnet. Jen’s research is currently exploring how the use of GPS changes perceptions of sense of place, particularly in relation to embodied practices of navigation and the GPS as a device for seeing from above. Her research takes place through socially engaged art practice and speculative mobile application design.

Per Sandström
works at the Remote Sensing section in the Department of Forest Resource Management at SLU, Umeå. He is a wildlife biologist currently working with reindeer herding communities developing reindeer husbandry plans. The development of these plans combines the collection of traditional ecological knowledge of the Sámi reindeer herders with modern techniques of GIS and GPS collars on reindeer. In his presentation he illustrated how the collected spatial information can be used to communicate the land use needs in reindeer husbandry with other land users in an attempt to reduce conflicts.

Fredrik Palm is a cultural information technology expert at HUMlab, working with methodology development in the digital humanities. A particular focus has been visualization and especially digital cartography and dynamic maps, 3D-archeology, time-spatial representation/ exploration. Fredrik also has experience in creating, planning and managing a European Digital Library project under IST-FP6. Fredrik’s presentation ‘Abstracting Query Building for Multi-entity Faceted Browsing’ gave an overview of the QVIZ-project to support faceted browsing, focusing on the handling of larger, more complex relational database structures, discrete and continuous data, hierarchies, temporal and spatial data. Faceted browsing allows the creation of unpredictable arrangements of search criteria by the user. Such dynamics require a generic and abstracted mechanism in order to be able to adapt to multidimensional exploration and user requirements. Faceted browsers function through the progressive narrowing of choices in selected dimensions. The system is fully functional and is now being used in several digital humanities and multidisciplinary projects with different database schemata.

Fredrik is planning to make a PHD-study based on the experience from HUMlab among researchers working with different digital infrastructures and forms of digital representation of data in the knowledge process.

Paul Arthur
is a Research Fellow at HUMlab, visiting Umeå from Curtin University, Western Australia, where he works in the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts. He has published widely on the history of technology and media, digital culture and identity, and on travel and cartography since the seventeenth century. He is author of the forthcoming books Virtual Voyages: Travel to the Antipodes 1605-1837 and History and New Media (London: Anthem Press). Paul brought the discussion back to the performance of social space through presenting a range of digital mapping projects in the USA and Australia which enable people to upload their own geographical and historical data to collectively built maps. He focused on his research into ‘Virtual Perth: Creating an online encyclopedia for the most isolated city in the world’.

Jen Southern, Per Sandström and Paul Arthur clearly demonstrated the social processes and implications of their data gathered and performed through the development of social networks. Harder to comprehend for non-programmers, and non-specialists was the back-end computational databases which enable us to map data at vast scales and over time. Fredrik Palm's presentation revealed the distinctions between database building and the ability to analyse and present this specialist data to a wider audience.

After the presentations the speakers were joined by Philip Buckland, Marita Nilson and Brita Taljedal for fika and an informal discussion about their work. In some ways the juxtaposition of presentations highlighted the need for interdisciplinary discourse in the field, utilizing different critical perspectives to understand the different aspects of the technical, analytical and cultural issues we are exploring.

Per asked the question - How to communicate spacial information? which is a challenge for everyone. There is usually a gap between the collection and analysis of data, and it’s subsequent visualisation. This is partly due to funding and time restrictions, but also due to the distinct skills needed for each task. The problem of bringing in artists at the ‘end stage’ to decorate visualisation means that they are left out of the development stages of the conceptual framework for how and why the data is collected. As Jen Southern demonstrated through her practice, artists’ enquiry can playfully explore socio-political values and multi-layered approaches to geographic space which reveal new ways of thinking about methodology as well as analysis.

Everyone seemed to find the seminar helpful as a way to think through their individual research projects within a wider framework. And to a certain extent, the limitations of one project could be resolved by the potential of another. The seminar created a starting point for further discussions about the benefits and complexities of collaborative research, and we agreed to keep in touch and host further events exploring relationships between data and landscape, mapping and performance.

Further Reading
Doreen Massey (2005) For Space. Sage Publications.
John Pickles, Ed, (1995) Ground Truth: The Social Implications of Geographic Information Systems. The Guilford Press. New York.
Pertti J. Pelto. (1973/1987) The Snow Mobile Revolution: Technology and Social Change in the Arctic. Waveland Press.
Helen Liggett & David C. Perry, Eds. (1995). Spatial Practices. Sage Publications.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Mapping Data: Performing Landscape

Mapping Data: Performing Landscape
16 December 2009, 1 – 5pm
HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden

Way back in the summertime Jen Southern (UK), Jen Hamilton and Chris St Amand (Canada) presented their Running Stitch artwork in the Open Source Embroidery exhibition at BildMuseet. Whilst the artists were in town we were all excited to meet Per Sandstrom at SLU who has been using GPS to track reindeer movement in Sweden. It seems that our relationship with landscape is being explored and challenged through GPS and GIS across the arts, humanities and sciences. Projects at HUMlab include QVIST led by Fredrik Palm, and Research Fellow Paul Arthur who has been working on the Virtual Perth project in Australia.

We all agreed that there must be points of synergy between researchers in different disciplines who are using this technology. Sharing our work may help to develop our understanding of our own practices, and to consider the cultural implications of our research. So at last we have organised a multidisciplinary seminar to take place in HUMlab on December 16th. 1-5pm. Everyone is welcome.

Paul Arthur, HUMlab Research Fellow. Virtual Perth, Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative.
Jen Southern, Artist, University of Lancaster, UK.
Per Sandström, SLU, Forest Resource Management.
Fredrik Palm, QVIZ, HUMlab, Umeå University.

The seminar will explore questions such as: How does GPS affect our understanding of landscape? What are the cultural implications of GPS and GIS for the audience and for the mapmaker? How do we annotate and story tell? How can geographical data be explored, compared, analysed and animated over time?

This seminar is supported by HUMlab in partnership with BildMuseet at Umeå University.Contact:

Friday, December 04, 2009

Public Craft

The next Open Source Embroidery project will be a book. Exactly what kind of book and how it will be published is still up for discussion. But it will be somewhere between a reader and source book of craft and code.

For newcomers to this blog - the Open Source Embroidery (OSE) project investigates how the open source software development model has been incorporated into the language of cultural participation. Tracing the history of craft and code from Ada Lovelace's notes on the Jaquard Loom and the Analytical Engine, to contemporary networked creativity using fabric and coded threads. ... However, there is still a gap between the 'theorists' and the 'practitioners' within the wider field. And I think there is a need for an accessible and rigorous publication bringing together key texts, new writing, and visual pages of art, craft and code.

A primary aim of the OSE project has been to make material the often invisible processes of digital networks and code. So it is important that the book exists as a coherent physical publication - as well as having some kind of open online publishing format. The urgent need for a critical enquiry might lead us to keep the texts as a permanent component, whilst enabling the visual pages to be selected.

I've just started to read Richard Sennett's The Craftsman where he describes Linux "a public craft"(Sennet, 2009, p24). His investigation into the relationship between technical and conceptual development in the process of making seems to make the OSE book a timely proposition. Unfortunately several of the books' reviews get bogged down in the argument as to whether Wikipedia is any good, and miss the point about the public ownership of craft skills, and the social networks which support both tradition and innovation. I can recommend Roger Scruton's review in The Times.

Watch this space for further info. We'll be sending out a call for contributions in early 2010.