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Moving bodies and the map: relational and absolute conceptions of space in GPS based art

MacDonald, GE (2014) Moving bodies and the map: relational and absolute conceptions of space in GPS based art. Acoustic Space, 12. pp. 167-177. ISSN 1407-2858

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Abstract

Geographers and social scientists have argued that geospatial technologies are contributing to new understandings of space as relational and of cartography as processual and performative rather than representational. There is a fundamental tension in the fact that these new understandings of space and cartography are facilitated by a technology that epitomises an absolute conception of space. The GPS trace has been employed in new media art practices since the early 1990s, and is particularly evident in the locative media genre that emerged in the early 2000s. This article deals with the use of GPS by artists, and the role of art in producing these new understandings of space. The mapped trace of movement has been identified as an inadequate capture of spatial practices. This position –influentially articulated by Michel de Certeau – is associated with a tradition of thought that privileges time as the dimension of dynamism and denigrates space as the dimension of stasis and fixity. This denigrated space is the absolute space of cartography as it has been traditionally understood. This article uses GPS-based artworks to explore different relational understandings of space in which movement is primary, drawing on the work of Tim Ingold, Bruno Latour and Nigel Thrift. By looking at the ways in which media artists have addressed or exploited the tension between the absolute spatiality of cartography and the relational spatiality of movement in their work, it seeks to find a way past seeing these different conceptions of space in such starkly oppositional terms.

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