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Suicide Walks

Mon Nov 20, 2006 00:00 - Tue Nov 28, 2006

Confusing the Locative Medium
As with any emerging new media art form, countless definitions and delineations are conjured from individuals who deem themselves avid practitioners, and the art community engages itself in a civil war of research papers until a single idiom is accepted by a majority. There is a grave need for a new method, a new form of scientific representation of defining new media of this sort. Unfortunately, I do not possess the necessary method, so I, too, fall in line to wage war on deciphering the very nature of what is known as Locative Media.

The three major elements in locative media are the user, the user’s environment, and the user interface that binds them together. The word ‘media’ generally refers to the developed interface or the specific usage of a developed interface in an artwork. However, any locative work that fails to incorporate the user and that user’s location, in turn, fails to capture the essence of locative media. Julian Bleeker, in his essay concerning WiFi.Bedouin, highlights this point, stating that “simply providing access to the Internet via a WiFi node is not particularly innovative at this point in the evolution of access technology.” It is the context of the space providing the access, however, that can offer innovation, rendering it a work of locative media.

Contemporary technology has opened many new doors of possibility for artists in all fields. The most coveted technologies, for their accessibility and easy application, are those involved in Web 2.0, as described by Tim O’Reilly. It is in the use of these technologies that many artists strive to create locative works of new media. Yet, the simple usage of such applications does not infer any relationship to the space that the user occupies. That is the endeavor of locative media; to understand the spatial relationship between ourselves and the world around us.

Fellow practitioners, beware of art that claims locative roots while merely using elements of Web 2.0. While such applications can be stimulating and works of art in their own right, they lack the spatial insight that locative media requires. Think, calculate, design, program, but above all, explore the world around you.

The path to a concise and responsible definition of locative media contains within it the necessity to identify its antecedents. The simplest locative experiment requires taking any art practice, and allocating a location, or space, to it. For example, the ancient art of line drawing applied to a specific geographic location, transforms itself from a work of fine art to that of locative media art. In fact, with this simplistic outlook on the art form of locative media, all forms of art that are susceptible to a specific location or spatial relationship can be adapted to a locative art work.

Chasing Time
Popular psychology teaches us that art is the external expression of inward, indescribable emotions and needs. Every stroke of paint reveals the accumulation and expenditure of angst. As the wheels of time turn inevitably onward, new methods of art manifest from new historical events and traumas and the need to express the feelings that accompany them. Consequently, as the world becomes more complex, so must our expression. Here we stand, now, on the verge of new media practices, discussing one of its offspring.

Locative media was conceived to express an inward emotion that all other present art forms could not convey. Our human existence, albeit grand and beautiful, is doomed to play the victim of the fleeting nature of time. It is the omnipresent notion that haunts our daily lives. We will be born and grow, learn, love, hate, fight and forgive; but we will all eventually die. Yet, we spend a great portion of our lives fighting this truth using the best available ammunition; media.

We fight to preserve ourselves in family photos and films, hoping that we can go on to live in the memories and lives of those around us. We relinquish the fruits of our lifelong labors upon skyscrapers, museums and hospitals in order to engrave our names in stone and iron. We strive to achieve heights that are deemed historically worthy to earn a few lines of print in the book of men. We hope to give our lives a location.

Suicide Walks
My work operates within this framework and strives to create a new method for discussion in the field of audio walks. Audio walks typically consist of pre-recorded sound played back at a specified location using a personal sound player. The particular sound being played and the location of the user intertwine and create meaning. Experiments of this nature explore the art of context and reveal the complexities of human cognition. How far can the boundaries of context be pushed? I have decided to examine the deepest corners of context and the most sensitive of relationships of human beings.

After simple surveys and academic research, it quickly began apparent to me that the subject of suicide has remained to be one of the most difficult aspects of human life that we, as humans, are faced with. My audio walks confront this subject head on. I began to write on the subject of suicide and audio walks while publishing the works on the World Wide Web. It was not long before an individual came forward to request that I record his personal audio walk. However, it was not until the first recording began that I realized my false judgment of the situation. My client wished to record an audio walk, which consisted of some of the last few moments of his life. Being terminally ill, he requested one last chance to speak, to move and to leave his mark on a location.

This work has sparked distaste among religious circles. Again, I returned to academic research to resolve my own doubts and inquiries. The funeral service of today leaves much to be desired. While our lives have more than doubled in span over history, we will be gone much longer than we are here. Every human deserves the right to be remembered. Can brief speeches spawned from briefer interviews with loved ones of the deceased bring solace? Can ancient psalms and scriptures wash away the pain of grief? Or can we attempt to capture the very soul of an individual within his words and walk in their shoes upon the path of their lives? My audio walks will prove the latter. While audio walks have been used for memorial purposes, the accounts have always been second-hand, at best. My walks, however, freeze time momentarily, for one last walk through that special place with that special, lost loved one.

Modern funeral services always use a tombstone to mark the final resting place of the deceased. Instead of hopelessly grasping onto stones without context, I provide those left behind a personal message of hope forever inscribed upon a series of locations; all aspects meaningful in the context of each different listener who performs the walk.

Locative Media is a powerful tool in which we can fulfill our deepest human desire to live on. Our innermost wishes and feelings can be imprinted upon virtual gravestones that dot the landscape of our lives.