[-empyre-] GPS: Does location matter?

Hi empyreans,

Christina McPhee contacted me and asked me to comment on my own approach
to locative media, more specifically to address a certain question that
I'll mention later, but as I'm new to empyre I suppose a short
introduction would be a good way to begin. My name is Pall Thayer, I'm
an Icelandic artist and I've been working with various types of data for
quite some time now, grabbing data from various sources and then turning
them into audio/visual representations. A little over a year ago I
started experimenting with and examining GPS data. Through my work I've
discovered that different types of data have different specific
characteristics in much the same sense that oil colors and water colors
have very different characteristics. I come from a painting background
so that may explain my approach. The really interesting thing about GPS
data is that it's characteristics can easily be controlled. For
instance, if we want to ?paint? something with low resolution (little
detail) we can track a car, if we want higher resolution (more detail),
we can track a pedestrian.

The question that Christina posed to me was:
?Why and how is site important??

This is a really good question because a year ago, I would have said
that it's not. All I care about is the data, I don't care where it comes
from. But of course, the actual location where the GPS data is gathered,
has a lot to do with the characteristics that the 'medium' displays. For
instance, a cityscape will give you straight lines and squares, where-as
a rural landscape or a stroll in the forest will give you more
free-flowing, organic forms. Location also affects the resolution factor
mentioned above. If tracking a car, residential areas with lower speed
limits will give slightly more detail than a highway. Time of day +
location can make a difference. A pedestrian walking through a city's
business district at 5 pm will move differently than walking through the
same area at 5 am.

So, in this sense, location does matter but as far as cultural
significance, history, social issues etc. goes... does it matter? Keep
in mind that my work (at least so far) has nothing to do with annotated
space, geotagging or anything like that. It's just audio/visual
representation of the data itself. That brings us to the point of who or
what is generating the data and why. I'm not interested in GPS data
that's collected for the sake of collecting GPS data. When I collect the
data I want it to be someone doing what he/she normally does and this is
where cultural significance and history comes in. For instance the fact
that fisherman Freyr in Hofn, Iceland goes fishing at 7 am every weekday
morning if weather allows, is of cultural significance. It's one of
those things that defines his location. If I were making a piece in
rural Minnesota, USA, I wouldn't get the same sort of trace. There I
might be able to get farmer Frank to carry a GPS when he goes out to
gather his crops and it's going to have entirely different
characteristics which are however culturally significant to rural Minnesota.

So even if you're not out to create a map, annotate space, define space
or whatever else you can think of, location matters. No matter how you
look at it, the GPS data is always going to contain characteristics that
are in some way unique to the site where it's collected.

It would be interesting to hear what other have to say about this.

Pall Thayer

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