Hundekopf (2005)

A location-based narrative is told through text-messaging on the trains of Berlin's Ringbahn.

Full Description

n Berlin, the S41 and S42 routes of the S-Bahn train are known as the "Ringbahn" because they encircle the central city. From an aerial view the Ringbahn has the shape of a dog's head, and so it is colloquially known as "Hundekopf", German for "dog's head". The Ringbahn is an integral component of the city's transportation network, and its restoration into a complete circle after the fall of the Berlin Wall has given it symbolic significance among Berliners. From the Ringbahn windows riders can gain an incomplete perspective of the city as a whole, and Berlin's TV tower (the city's most iconic landmark) is always within sight.

Knifeandfork uses the Ringbahn as a literal vehicle for moving through a text-message based narrative that investigates the nature of private experience in public space. The piece begins with flyers, distributed throughout Berlin, that contain the emblem of a resistance organization and instructions on how to join it. After text-messaging the name of a Ringbahn station to the phone number printed on the flyer, the participant receives a message with instructions to board a specific train which will be arriving in the next few minutes.

Hundekopf has a unique approach to location awareness. Individual trains are tracked via the station arrival times published in realtime on the the BVG (Berlin's transit authority) website. Once the participant is on a train, his or her location can therefore be determined without the use of advanced locative technology. Using a GSM modem, the Hundekopf system delivers a message to participants after each station they pass on their way around the Ringbahn. This message is place specific, and there is a certain cinematic quality to the piece as the ordinarily passive features of the landscape are put into a new context.

One of Hundekopf's primary goals was to build a narrative structure derived from the specific physical structure of the environment. What emerged was dubbed a 'hub narrative' because it is not tied together by a series of events; instead it is anchored by the central axis of the TV tower. There is no beginning and no end, so the messages remain coherent regardless of where the participant enters the narrative.

Additionally, the theme of resistance was central to the piece, a resistance against de facto modes of inhabiting public space. The messages sent to the participant outlined a Situationist-inspired manifesto, tactics for experiencing the environment within and without of the train in a novel and provocative light.

This theme was mirrored by the process of creating the piece. Knifeandfork incorporated as many publicly available resources as possible: for example, the entire piece was conceptualized and programmed in Berlin's cafes using public Wi-Fi. Furthermore, however, Hundekopf hacks the BVG website and the Berlin transit system itself--which are of course open to the public--and in doing so the piece acts in a way that is both performative and subversive.

With Hundekopf, Knifeandfork is interested in manipulating the narrative structures latent in architecture and the urban environment. The piece seeks to interject the poetic into the everyday, with the idea that creative experience should be integrated--not isolated--from the movements of everyday life.

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