Art And GPS Tracking

Some say that beauty is in the eye of beholder.  While I disagree 100% with this view of aesthetics, I do recognize that certain individuals see beauty where others are blind to it in certain works of art.  This happens with modern Cubism just as much as it does with the classic sculptures of antiquity.  Some will call one art while rejecting the other as a valid expression of beauty.  The same thing is going to happen is art generated by using a GPS tracking device.

Some laugh at the notion that use of GPS as your paint and the earth as your canvas can be classified as art.  One site even lets you create what it calls “Unimpressive GPS Art” – mocking the notion that this medium can communicate anything useful or beautiful to humanity.   The site utilizes a flash app that lets you “draw” a faux piece of art that resembles something that might have been created using a portable GPS unit. To be honest, the app isn’t that great but it does do a pretty good job at poking fun at this artistic expression.

Self Portrait GPS Tracking ArtHowever, it does appear that there is a real movement that uses GPS to create art.  It even has a formal name, locative art, and has real life artists who actually do locative art.  One such artist, by the name of Antti Laitinen, made the image found to the right by drawing his face on a map and then with nothing but a compass and the map to get his bearings trying to actually follow the chart that he plotted.  A GPS tracking device was in his backpack logging all of his activity.

It is my understanding that the image to the right is also a composite of no less than 6 different images.  Some of the single tracks look a little sparse, but when they are combined together you obviously get a much better picture of the artists.

But with all art, we have to ask the question: What does this mean?  Who do GPS tracking art?  What makes it significant?  What makes it beautiful?

I think for starters we have to say that this has yet to fully been seen.  Drew Hemmet, writing in 2004, had this to say about this budding art from:

A coherent discourse around locative art is only starting to emerge, and it is common to find different artists speak of or engage in a similar set of interests, without referencing other works in the field or contextualising their own practice. These points illustrate not a defect or shortcoming but that the locative project is in a condition of emergence, an embryonic state in which everything is still up for grabs, a zone of consistency yet to emerge. As an emergent practice locative art – like locative media generally – is simultaneously opening up new ways of engaging in the world and mapping its own domain.

While the boundaries of this art form are still being explored by artists, it does appear that a basic understanding of GPS art as a way to engage the world, maps, and locality in new and interesting ways has already become established.  This art is interesting because it says something about the way we move about the world – that our physical movements can have a form and a beauty that is their own.

Some GPS tracking artist have taken to using logs of their travels as forms of self-expression, displaying the maps of their existence as a form of self-knowledge and self-definition.  Others have taken to using the art form to actually try and represent actual shapes or images – such as the self-portrait we found above.  While a self portrait is almost always a form of self expression, it could just as easily have been a reproduction of the Mona Lisa or of Whistler’s Mother – both of which would be a sort of expression of art in space.

While you personally might not think that this type of GPS tracking is an art form, I think that there is a beauty to it if you let yourself think about what this type of thing says about what it means to be human in the space where we live.

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