Joining forces with Nottingham Contemporary as part of their forthcoming Uneven Geographies exhibition, Tracing Mobility, the first of Radiator’s three international symposia, examines the emergence of a new space, a space born out of the technology used to control and divide society.
Since the fall of the Berlin wall and the 9/11 attacks, Europe has entered a new historical phase characterised by the wholesale movement of its peoples across national boundaries. Migration has become one of the biggest political hot potatoes of the last 10 years, uniting left and right in the demonization of millions of people whose only crime is trying to find a way to survive.
Perversely, the western industrial-military complex at the heart of our society has been preparing us for mobility for the last 30 years – ever since we put the first calculator into our pockets in the 1970’s. Society wants to be mobile, pro-active colonizers of new spaces for new reasons.
We hear about the mobile office, the digital city and augmented reality. We are obsessed by reducing the size of our phones, our computers and our HiFi. In a region of the world that is becoming increasingly indolent, it is a paradox that we should care so much about the portability of our lifestyle peripherals.
These days, we needn’t sit in a cramped noisy office writing our reports, essays or budgets. Connected with one or another digital networks, we can now file copy in a park, or on a train or in a café. The question has become whether we need to visit the office at all. A well connected café can function as a hot desk for a small start up and provide the perfect ‘watering hole’ where other entrepreneurs congregate too.
In parallel with this personal mobilization, the public realm itself has become a hybrid zone – one physical space overlapping with another through a pocket of connectivity where we meet and do our work, like an architectural Venn diagram.
It is not only business that takes advantage of this. Virtual communities are springing up everywhere dedicated to the expounding of particular and specific cultures and ideas. Recent migrants benefit from this overlap because it means they can continue to live remotely alongside their compatriots while working in a land where they may be unable to speak the language and may have little opportunity to make home visits. This scenario may provide a gentle integration into a new culture for many but it could also result in a lack of integration too. There is a question here deep at the heart of the multicultural versus integration debate. However, in a post 9/11 integration oriented world, we should be aware that electronic multiculturalism is going on regardless of the debate – and it’s astoundingly successful.
It is so successful, in fact, that it could change the very space of our cities. While we are increasingly encouraged to populate these virtual spaces we would do well to remember that it is us doing the data input that provides their bricks and mortar. Everything that we write can be analysed. Spiders and bots can trawl through the megatonnes of data spitting out trends and anomalies. Corporations, hungry for trend analysis, pay dearly for such information. Our virtual worlds are not innocent – the hybrid spaces we inhabit have real world consequences. These consequences change the very nature of the real world that we live in, change the very structure of the city we work in, dictate the very roads that are open for us to take.
It is this very fundamental right of mobility, to travel from one city to the next, to pass through this gate or that, to take one road or the other, that can and has been used to divide and control people by disenfranchising each individual of the group from their historical routes. We see it very much in evidence today, call it what you may – road block, security wall, biometric scanner.
In a similar way, mobility in the work place needn’t equate to up and down the corporate ladder either. Rather, the remote worker and the road warrior, in their satellite office, can be seen as pawns in an effective strategy of ensuring that the workforce never gels into a collective power.
Mobility is thus a double edged sword and where do we learn how to wield it?
In the field of art, many new artistic practices and approaches can be observed that are tracking this re-organisation of space. New artistic formats are emerging. These formats allow us to connect geographically specific places to data (image, video, sound, user generated data etc.) and to re-imagine these non geographical, virtual spaces. City tours, psycho geographical walks, audio-video-tours, performative and interventionist actions can all inscribe a set of connotations to a topography or hack into the existing data layer and render it visible.
Taking place in Nottingham, Warsaw and Berlin the Tracing Mobility symposia provide an opportunity to increase knowledge about the cultural aspects of future mobility and new spaces. Contributions from the fields of art, architecture, urban theory, geography, social sciences and computer science will explore different aspects of the ‘Mobile Me’, uncovering how artists are cataloguing new cultures, stories and histories thrown up in the urban and rural landscape through the technologies used to pinpoint, follow and connect us.
Participants include: Frank Abbott (UK); Active Ingredient [Rachel Jacobs] (UK); Heath Bunting (UK); Simon Faithfull (UK/DE); James Kennard (UK); Plan b [Sophia New & Daniel Belasco Rogers] (UK/DE); Esther Polak (NL); Kasia Krakowiak (PL); Krzysztof Nawratek (PL/UK); Kate Rich (UK); Michelle Teran (CA/DE); Open_Sailing [Ollie Palmer] (UK); Gordan Savicic (AT/NL); Trebor Scholz (US); Basak Senova (TR); Société Réaliste (HU/FR); Joanna Warsza (PL); Mushon Zer-Aviv (IL/US)