On Landscape as an Interface: Textuality, Walking Practices and Augmented Location in Notes for Walking

Abstract (in English): 

Since the early 2000s, media artists have explored the potentials of location-based technologies, developing locative media projects “in which geographical space becomes a canvas” (Hemment 2006). Artists both within and without the locative field, such as Teri Rueb (USA), Blast Theory (UK), Jeremy Hight (USA), Janet Cardiff (Canada), Chris Caines (Australia) and Paul Carter (Australia) have developed creative works involving narrative, textuality and place-based storytelling within a site-specific context. In many of these works, real world spaces are annotated and augmented with a range of artistic contents – primarily audio and/ or textual – and mediated by mobile devices.

Certain earlier, pre-digital practices also involve the augmentation of real world spaces with cultural contents, such as various pilgrimage and walking practices involving the spatialisation of narrative and the virtual annotation of the world. These highly embodied and imaginative site-specific practices involve landscape operating as an interface to “an enhanced, symbolic world” (Czegledy 2005), involving “stories we can trace with our feet as well as our eyes” (Solnit 2001) and resonating with contemporary techniques of spatialisation, annotation and augmentation within digital contexts.

The paper will discuss my 2013 locative media work Notes for Walking (the space in-between time), a locative narrative / augmented reality work that was exhibited in the Sydney Festival 2013, a major Australian arts festival. Notes for Walking annotated 13 video notes (comprised of text, sound and moving image) to an abandoned naval fort at Middle Head on Sydney Harbour by using locative and AR technologies, and was experienced as a walked, locative work by audiences using their own smartphones and a free, downloadable project app. The project drew audiences of over 5000 people to Middle Head during the Sydney Festival period in January 2013, and was downloaded to over 2,600 mobile devices in this time.

Notes for Walking emerged from extended research into pilgrimage and related walking practices; in particular the 88 Temple Buddhist pilgrimage of Shikoku, Japan where the 88 temples ringing the island of Shikoku operate as a large-scale spatial narrative. The research revealed a complex, multilayered system of narrative spatialisation and annotated, augmented landscape within the Shikoku pilgrimage; including a straightforward annotative level in which temples are associated with miracle tales via oral history, and a more participatory, imaginative level in which haiku-like poems or go-eika – written in second person, present tense – act as specific textual triggers at each site, mediating the participant’s live experience of the landscape as a poetic and highly embodied technique of participation.

This research – and especially the discovery of the poetic device of the go-eika – provided a textual and creative framework with which I approached the conceptualisation and development of Notes for Walking. Given the large audience numbers and high level of participation in the festival, the approach appears to have proved engaging for contemporary audiences and may have relevance in a broader locative media and locative narrative context.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans