My presentation at Tate’s Artists’ research seminar in January 2014 relayed some of my thoughts on the Art Maps project, and built upon a thesis, developed some time ago, on the constraints of systems of these kind: that is, those that address the concepts of ‘place’ and ‘space’ through geo-location technology.

  • Richard Long's Two Straight Twelve Mile Walks on Dartmoor, England 1980 on Art Maps
    Richard Long's Two Straight Twelve Mile Walks on Dartmoor, England 1980 on Art Maps

This is a thesis – an argument made in a very rhetorical piece of writing for Mute Magazine, commissioned back in 2005, about the then nascent media artform of ‘Locative Media’. Within this essay, I suggested that the technology on which this art form was based made demands based on certain assumptions about what was most important about our living in the world – namely that ‘location’ was our primary concern. Further to this, the technology itself had certain technical constraints which further limited how location could be understood within these systems – namely that location is coeval with a spatial coordinate. The additional things that ‘happen’ at these coordinates are termed ‘content’ in these systems. Yet the idea location is more than ‘space’ and that ‘place’ is more than what happens on the substrate of a spatial grid has been challenged for some time. Space is produced – it could be argued that it does not exist prior to ‘things happening’; and ‘place’ is ‘practiced space’ – and is not reducible to coordinates and representations of ‘things that happen’. So it is this teleology of geo-location technology that formed the focus of my presentation and which preoccupied me while thinking about Art Maps.

This blog reports back on several excursions that I took in December 2013 – to Dartmoor and to Brooklyn – and which place in tension the concepts of ‘place’, ‘space’ and ‘artwork’ represented within geo-location systems. My first excursion was to Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, in the South West of England. I had been drawn to artists’ works which challenge the system’s assumptions about its representation of ‘place’ as spatial coordinates and thought of Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt’s excursion to this very ‘place’ in 1969 and which is where my report starts.

The blog is written as a reflection on Art Maps between November 2013 and January 2014.

In thinking of what these ideas mean for what a ideal geo-location system would be, for me, it is the enmeshing of social network and dispersed geo-location that would be of interest, (and of use) to me in the work that I make. For example, quite often I have travelled to a location associated with an artwork, in order to bracket-off other ideas and to focus on the job-at-hand – to increase the associations with the artist or artwork that I am concerned with. In my current art practice I use a rudimentary ‘snowball’ method, for example, which links people and things together through word of mouth, producing a tightly/richly connected set of things. A geo-location software that would acknowledge other location – archives, fragments, models, maquettes, fabrication shops, artist’s studio, site of exhibition and so on – would be of use; equally (and more importantly for me at present) would be the various people and their locations – even as contact information – which would assist my ‘snowball’. Of course, the web itself allows this link-by-association – that is, after all, what the hyperlink was intended to do – and which confounds physical geography and the things that constrain our physical linking, through travel and bodily movement, of one thing to another.

After a walk around the main galleries at Tate Britain

In Alan Sekula’s photographic slide work, Fish Stories – from Dismal Science, exhibited at the Tate – we see poetic association to other locations made visually – conjuring up, for example, the USA in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne through representing girls, painting each others’ fingernails, holding half-eaten hamburgers; There are also literal directions to other places – such as road signs pointing to ‘Buddles Industrial Estate’ for example; And there are instances when imaginative leaps are made – in a Sebaldian mode of wondering/wandering – as we see groups of people looking out to sea from the ferry Shieldsman. These are typical of the images presented in Sekula’s project – visiting harbours, travelling by boat – and the expectation and realization of ‘elsewhere’ in every image.

We see a sign for ICELAND – ‘mum’s gone to Iceland’ – imagining a rolling, frozen sea rather than the brutalist rained-stained concrete wall in a Glasgow street; ELDORADO is in a bottle of cheap dark rum.

And in a time when provenance means everything, we can even speculate on the journey through many locations and many hands of the greasy pork chop plated-up in the caff.

Questions from the floor

Richard Long, 'Two Straight Twelve Mile Walks on Dartmoor, England 1980' 1980
Richard Long
Two Straight Twelve Mile Walks on Dartmoor, England 1980 1980
Screenprint on paper
image: 1022 x 1521 mm
Purchased 1980© Richard Long

Comments made from the floor during the Field Notes event – that living artists may object (or have a view on) the inclusion of geo-location data on their work – is heightened, I think, in the case of Richard Long’s Two Straight Twelve Mile Walks on Dartmoor. In this work, the exact location of the Tors define a straight line along which we imagine the artist walking. If we were, for example, to re-trace the walk, track its path with GPS and represent this series of geo-locations alongside Long’s work, we could immediately disrupt the elegance of the imagined-line that Long establishes; we would trample all over the poetry of the work, or even the contrasts that the artist establishes between waypoint and lived-event or experience. We were left wondering how the artists would feel about that, especially in this case, where the Long has so carefully constructed the narratives by which we understanding his work. The making explicit of the nuances of mathematical-geometrical detail we may lay-bare this mythology – a similar exercise having been done by which has been done by William Wood1 – yet we might also preclude other understandings or experiences of the work.


  • 1. Michael Newman and Jon Bird, Rewriting Conceptual Art (London: Reaktion, 1999)