Urban Tendencies - Workshop: report

Report by Lisa Haskel about the Urban Tendencies workshop

Knowbotic Research are developing a project for Rotterdam, for 2001/ Rotterdam City of Culture. In developing a concept for the project they wish to build on the lessons of their earlier 10-dencies projects, but also to review certain elements. They wish to keep the underlying ideas around creating tools that can in turn create different kinds of political/social cartographies across urban and media sites- to build interfaces that enable interaction through networks that is linked to the urban domain. However, they wish to develop the ways in which their work stimulates action and enables agency. They aim to re-locate the technological know-how that is developed in order to build the tools back into the urban domain. They have a sense of needing to go deeper into the relationship between the technological and the social competences that are needed to create an effective system: itâs especially a question of re-thinking and re-configuring output mechanisms into the public domain. With this comes a need to re-define the boundaries of subjectivity, creativity, interfaces, tools, and especially to approach this with a sophisticated notion of "public" which neither assumes homogeneity nor is defeated by fragmentation.

Jeanne van Heeswijk has been involved in building a lo-tech and illegitimate mapping tool. As part of her artistic practice. "The Machine" located in a defined development area in London is a simultaneously a mapping tool and an incitement to cultural production. The mobile box both amplifies and records sound. A location for it is randomly assigned. Its presence is publicised and it is then made available within that locale for people to use as they wish. There is no pre-determined use or format for analysis of the accumulated recordings.

The dialogue pivoted on a set of issues about the position and function of the artist and the artwork once the domain of networked media and digital technologies is entered. It was agreed that there could be no uncontaminated outsider position to the corporately driven development of markets for new software and hardware tools, and yet the intention is clearly to develop and provide something different. Available software tools seem to lead to a glut of cultural production, but this is not in itself a proliferation of action or agency in the public domain. In fact this rush of production contributes to the necessity to develop a awareness of an increasingly heterogeneous notion of public, therefore fracturing traditional notions of "audience" or "participant". Must a cultural project therefore set out to create its consitutency, and if so: how might this be different from any other part of "the desire machine" - market research, direct marketing, targetting advertising and so on - that also engineer constitutencies in the form of market sectors and consumer demand? Perhaps our own "market research" needs to start with a set of questions about the media and social competencies of any intended "audience". Jeanne pressed the point that her work had revealed to her the ability of many different kinds of people to use the opportunity to raise their voice in very sophisticated ways. She felt that her experiences indicated the potential to read and manipulate the "desire machine". Others round the table would like to take such a positive approach but were less certain of the legitimacy of such a starting point.

Knowbotic Research"s current questions in formulating a new project were strongly expressed; how to create presence without presentation, visibility, representation, expression, even production. In this set of concerns they contrast strongly with Jeanne"s work which sets out to create visibility of a material and useful object though which people can become and actor in their own surroundings to "act up", perhaps. And yet the central, political issues of how the idea of "public" and "public space" is constituted, of the social and media competencies of both users and initiators of a project, and how these are re-inserted to strengthen the public domain are shared and primary concerns.

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