Locative Media Revisited

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Molly Dilworth, 547 West 27th Street (2009). From the series "Paintings for Satellites."

In the early 2000s, as location-aware devices first became commonplace, there was a lot of hype surrounding their potential creative use by artists. However, over time, this initial enthusiasm for "locative media"--projects that respond to data or communications technologies that refer to particular sites--leveled off, even dissipated. Regardless of this drought, geospatial technologies are widely used, and play an important and often unnoticed role in conditioning many aspects of our existence. Responding to this condition of ubiquity, artists have continued to use locative technologies critically, opening up closed systems, making their effects visible, and reconfiguring our relationship with such systems.  

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Artist Profile: Sascha Pohflepp

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The Supertask (Yesterday's Today), installed at LEAP, Berlin, January 2013

Your work displays an interest in the interplay between narrative and identity. How do those notions inform your practice? 

My interest there mainly originates in questions around myth and reality in regard to the development of new technologies, which all tend to have their proper narratives. Any such effort requires the expense of resources and as such has to be 'sold' to society in one way or the other. In the twentieth century this often happened for political ends whereas today arguably narratives of business are more dominant again. Technologies that originated in vast government projects have transitioned into something else. The Golden Institute from 2009 which is set in an alternate history 1980s America was the first project to have the question of the technological narrative at its center and also the first piece in which I worked with an actor. This was a conscious move that aimed to give this fictitious narrative an identity – in this case the strategist of a think-tank which develops and deploys fairly radical energy technologies. The character, Douglas Arnd, is loosely based on historical figures such as Herman Kahn, who was one of the first to point out the importance of narrative in regard to technology. In Forever Future from 2010 he was joined by another character, Robert Walker, who in a sense is the disillusioned customer of the dreams of the 1950s, yet refuses to let go of his dreams of life in space. As a reaction, he constructs a sort of earth-bound spaceship, helping those unfulfilled visions to survive while also hoping that this may be a cure for his own nostalgia for the futures that he never got to live. Both men's identities are probably fairly American, but ...

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Linear Development

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Installation view of Pohflepp's "Forever Future" at the Wind Tunnel Gallery in Pasedena

Artist Sascha Pohflepp's recent work "The Tsiolkovsky Trick," sourced from models of space rockets via Google's 3D Warehouse, visually embodies a particular understanding of techno-history. In his essay "Lagrangian Futures," Pohflepp explains that in 1903 Konstantin Tsiolkovsky "published a scientific article titled 'Investigation of outer space rocket appliances,' in which he proved that a propelled object could perform space flight if throughout the launch would shed parts of itself." Later in the essay, Pohflepp expounds:

Technology, although shrouded in notions of logic, reason and profit, is a largely narrative endeavor anyway. Futures have to be thought before they can be built or sold and their thinking as visions, myths and also plain lies provides what Norman M. Klein fittingly refers to as “fantastic infrastructure.” It is hardly surprising then that both Tsiolkovsky and [Jack] Parsons had a great interest in science fiction. Before he published in scientific journals, Tsiolkovsky had been writing fiction, only one year before his first influential theoretical article, he had published a novel about space colonization titled “Dreams of the Earth and Sky.”

The Tsiolkovsky Trick

Any attempt to construct a linear narrative of technological process faces countless hurdles. In embodying this narrative, Pohflepp's reveals its inadequacy through simple scrolling. Tsiolkosky's trick, of course, is narrative itself. Just as past serves as prologue, so too does the imagined future. Pohflepp's emphasis on the narrative impulse echoes an eternal critical obsession. While dreams and science fictions undoubtedly form a discursive basis for any potential future, the form of narrative itself may conceal as much as it displays. Paul Ricoeur reminds us that the stakes here may be higher than they appear: "Ultimately at stake in the case of ...

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