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Polyrhythmia: How reindeer can help bring temporality to the analysis of locative media.

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper

Published

Publication date2010
Original languageEnglish

Conference

ConferenceLocal and Mobile
CountryUnited States
CityRaleigh
Period16/03/1218/03/12

Abstract

Recent discussion of locative media and the geoweb focus on the spatialization and localization of data. (Gordon & De Souza E Silva, 2011; Thielmann, 2010). This paper uses the GPS tracking of reindeer in Northern Sweden to ask how temporality and movement change the way we think about maps and movement in mobilities research and locative art practice. The paper builds on previous analysis of locative media through actor-network-theory (Galloway, 2010; Thielmann, 2010; Tuters, 2011) to discuss temporal actor networks. In this context Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis technique (Lefebvre, 2004) offers two important ways to think about GPS tracking and spatial data firstly by focusing on the multiple temporal rhythms that are co-present in environments and secondly in suggesting that it is necessary to combine being caught up in the rhythm of a place on the street with the distance of anaylsis.
The paper uses the case study of the GPS tracking of reindeer by Swedish Sami reindeer herders. I discuss how movement can be thought of as a mode of experience in which environments, people, animals and technologies are co-produced, and how this ontic-epistemic way of thinking about the world (Verran, 1998), or the ‘dwelling perspective’ (Ingold, 2000) might speak to the more formal and scientific language of western mapping in Geographical Informations Systems (GIS). It introduces the theoretical argument that landscape is co-created through movement and that in tracking movement GPS can be used to speak back to mapping traditions that have lost their temporal qualities and the process of their making. Using Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis I focus on the temporal and seasonal nature of reindeer herding, describing the landscape as co-produced by a series of different temporal rhythms that are left out of traditional maps. The partial and processual knowledge that is produced by the migratory tradition of reindeer herding is difficult to reconcile with the GIS maps of the forestry industry. In conflicts over land use the GPS track is being used as a boundary object (Griesemer & Leigh Star, 1989) to allow different traditions of understanding the land to speak to each other more effectively, one of planning and farming, the other of movement and migration. As GPS tracks become boundary objects they also connect qualitative and quantitative data, and translate between ways of knowing, to allow actions to speak back to plans (Suchman, 2007).
GPS is being used to draw together a temporal network of human and non-human actors to produce tracks that represent not just the movements of reindeer but of herders, foresters, government agencies, weather, GPS, helicopters, satellites, trees, lichen, trucks, trains and seasons.
In setting GPS into this theoretical frame it is clear that tracks of movement are created by multiple and temporal actor networks. What is at stake in such mappings is that the local understanding of these multiple temporalities are often lost when those tracks are made into maps.

In concluding I discuss the new locative sound work ‘Polyrhythmia’ created by the author at the Perasive Media Studio in Bristol, UK. This work sonifies live GPS data, for the walker who experiences a locative sound work on mobile phone, but also for a distant audience as the walkers GPS data controls an installation in which the rhythms of the city combine to create an orchestra of movement and rhythm, where changing temporalities combine in a constantly unfolding symphony of polyrhythms.


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Gordon, E., & De Souza E Silva, A. (2011). Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Vol. 0, p. 200). John Wiley and Sons.
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