Introduction (Part II): Networked Bodies: Locative Practices and Mobility

Meredith Hoy

Assistant Professor, Department of Art, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Part I of this volume concerns the materiality of network infrastructure, whereas the Part II addresses the various ways in which bodies move through networked space. In one sense, the bodies in this section are spliced into the networks they navigate. Bodies become nodes or conduits through which information travels, but the bodies here are not passive. Instead, they stage interventions, disrupting the flow of information or attempting to restructure the architectonics of the networks in which they participate. While the first section of the volume addresses the issue of hardware and the way it not only facilitates but makes possible the exchange of information throughout the network, this section reveals how ‘wetware,’ or physical, organic bodies, affect the functioning of networked information systems in their own right.

The artists covered in this section engage information ecologies—or the way in which information affects and is affected by living systems—through the use of locative media technologies. The contributors to this section use locative practices to challenge the notion that information has no body. Instead, the networks in these projects are established through the embodied actions, as they make connections between both concrete and ideational systems, such as the physical scattering of people and families through diaspora or the ideological organization of thought and behavior enacted through mapping practices. Locative media artworks employ communications technologies, such as GPS, that are used to locate and track bodies and objects in space, in order to provoke considerations about how these technologies shape our conception of and interaction with ‘space’ and ‘place.’ Place, rather than being an empty container, is space imbued with specific characteristics that enable it to be experienced qualitatively. Place is space made familiar, whether through direct bodily interaction, or through personal narratives born, for example, through memory. Location-based media utilize mobile devices to collect data and communicate details about the particular places in which they are used. Artworks that incorporate such technologies are often geared toward a critical reflection on the way these technologies are used in normative contexts. For example, a locative media artwork might launch a critique of ubiquitous surveillance enabled by GPS, RFID, or other tracking systems. Another common strategy in locative media arts is the utilization of these systems for spatial annotation, or the overlaying of data points onto spatial coordinates.

Positioning and mapping technologies help to construct a definition of space as a great network of coordinate points. Bodies move, at their particular velocities, from point to point, but the experiential quality of this movement cannot be captured. Locative artworks often attempt to introduce a phenomenological quality to the use of location-tracking devices, showing how behaviors within the spatial network can function as acts of resistance against the notion that movement and position in the network is nothing more than a calculation. These projects show how movement within a network is based on a complex series of intuitions, choices, and interactions.

But, the question remains, is the network constituted by bodies intersecting with networked technology and turning that technology toward the construction of knowledge—namely, spatial knowledge and knowledge about the interaction of bodies in space? Or is the network made up of “things?” As Marc Tuters has stated in his interpretation of Bruno Latour’s network theory, “These networks are thus transient, relying on actors to repeat the performance of their relations in order to sustain them, thus emphasizing the role of practice.” [1] In the projects discussed in this section of the volume, networks do not merely pre-exist the users who navigate them, but, in the Lefebvrian model, are produced through social and embodied practice. The meaning of these movements becomes apparent through the cartographic practice itself. In truth, the context of the movements must be provided—the line on the map, facilitated through the use of Global Positioning satellites, can only ‘speak’ with the aid of the voices behind the movements.

Section one of this volume demonstrates, precisely, how networks are, at their base, dependent on “things.” This section shows how the interpretation of the production of information flows by infrastructural elements is reliant on embodied, mobile users. Ultimately, three categories—wetware, software, and hardware—are mutually constitutive. The conditions of embodiment are dependent on the hardware systems that generate virtual experience, but the use of these material devices is determined by embodied subjects who deploy them in particular ways.

Paul Taylor’s Digital Trust Hike deals with the notion of the cognitive unconscious—the aspects of phenomenological experience that are tuned out or deleted in order to help one focus on a task at hand, such as a conversation with a single person in a crowded room. In this case, sensory input from the external world is minimized by the act of donning a special helmet that cuts off visibility. Instead of navigating real space directly, Taylor simply follows the directives given by the mapping application on a mobile phone. Real space is thus hypermediated by the virtual, amplifying the close connection between the user of location-based technology and the technology itself. But what is key in this experience is that simply following the map is insufficient for negotiating the hazards of physical space, such as traffic. To mitigate the dangers of the physical world, Taylor sets up a network of assistants who help him cross streets by calling out to him. In this way, the layer of technology that mediates Taylor’s spatial exploration is dependent on the social world and the presence of an embodied network. Wetware thus intercedes in the navigational process enabled by the mobile device, revealing the limitations of location-based technology if sensory proprioception is cut off or disabled. The social network here is local rather than distributed across time and space via the Internet; but the principle, according to media theorist Jason Farnam, would remain the same: “location-based social networks offer a form of intersubjective embodiment that gives participants a sense of social proprioception: a sense of embodied integrity that is aware of the self’s place as that which is always already situated in relationship to the location of others.” [2] The integrity of Taylor’s embodied self is dependent on his intersubjective exchanges, and his place as he moves through the city is always in relation to the location of others.

Likewise, in Move and Get Shot, Joana Moll describes her experiments with a network of cameras set to record movement across the border of Mexico and the United States. These cameras set up a fantasy of omniscience and control that is dependent on the presence of alien others who are managed through a process of remote surveillance. The identity of self and other is established through the act of looking with the aid of a locative device. The device itself facilitates the formation of a social network whose raison d’être is the tracking of the location of others. The cameras register the movement of bodies (whether animal or human) over the borders, as those using the cameras are reduced to transfixed stillness. The social network produced by the surveyors, as they watch for movement and report it to the authorities with the push of a button, mirrors the network set up within Digital Trust Hike, but instead of functioning as a protective measure for a person using a device, here the network is formed through the use of a device with the intent of identifying and reporting illegal movements. The maintenance of the network in both cases depends on action. In Digital Trust Hike, assistants call out to Taylor as he moves through the city, his body effectively connecting the nodes of the network. The users of border-controlling cameras are linked through the act of reporting an infringement. In the first case the use of locative media is geared towards the facilitation of movement, while in the second, locative technology is deployed towards the cessation of mobility. In both cases, the relationship between self and other is determined by movement, and locative technology is used to establish the parameters of networked social relationships.

Networked mobility is also a central theme of Rachid Ouramdane’s performance Far…, as discussed by Ashley Ferro-Murray. In his dance, Ouramdane negotiates a network of wires that bears a series of metaphorical connotations concerning hardware and connectivity. Not only do the wires represent global connectivity that can cross between diasporic subjects, but they also carry references to the torture of colonized bodies. Ouramdane’s moving body manipulates the wires, suggesting again that it is the moving body that draws points of connection and intersection between networks of people, objects, and references. The body’s manipulation of the wires triggers video and sound effects that reveal the brutal conditions to which Ouramdane’s father was subjected, as narrated by his mother. Technology provides the viewer of Ouramdane’s dance with an embodied connection to the effects of colonialism, materially instantiated in electric shock torture. The wires, the very technology that violently connects torturer and tortured, is also the technology that provides the possibility of reunion between not only Ouramdane and his family members, but also between other subjects that have become disconnected from one another through the scattering effects of diaspora. Violent and peaceful connectivity are metaphorically brought together by the figure of the wire, challenging the viewer to understand that a technological network of relations is activated by intending subjects.

Billy Friebele and Ned Prutzer examine the potentialities and limitations of locative technologies by addressing the power structures that such technologies help to produce. Friebele discusses the “omniscient prosthetic eye” of satellite technology, while Prutzer shows how the ubiquity of Google’s geolocative representation engenders its own particular ideological effects. In both essays, ambulatory practices disrupt the normative operations of satellite imaging and mapping technologies. Friebele’s project encourages participants to imagine themselves creating a drawing visible from outer space as they walk their chosen paths through a given city. By enacting these ambulatory drawings, participants replace the disembodied view from above with a durational, embodied spatial experience. This spatial experience is a dual one—as participants navigate the city, they are both aware of their surroundings and of the aerially viewed drawing that their movement creates. In this way, the participants create a hybrid experience of real and virtual space, using their GPS enabled devices to see from the omniscient, birds-eye position of the satellite while navigating the conditions of real space. Projects such as this one activate the proprioceptive register; as Merleau Ponty describes it, proprioception occurs when our phenomenological experience extends outward, beyond the limits of the body. For example, “a woman may, without any calculation, keep a safe distance between the feather in her hat and the things which might break it off.” [3] In this case, the user of the device proprioceptively enlarges the boundaries of his or her embodied sense of the world. Technology, here, provides the conditions in which the user can move fluidly between real-spatial experience at ground level and soaring virtual experience from high above.

Ned Prutzer introduces the notion that Google, in its dominance over the representation of spaces and places, functions as an Althusserian Ideological State Apparatus, or ISA. ISA’s are institutions that “contribute to…the reproduction of the relations of production, i.e. of capitalist relations of exploitation.” [4] The projects Prutzer discusses counter Google’s overarching control of spatial representation through strategies of dislocation, in which locative technologies are used to defamiliarize particular places. Locative artists often appropriate dominant technologies and institutions in order to critique the notion that the representation of space is transparent and uninflected by ideology. In the projects assessed here, the movement of bodies facilitated by technology undercuts Google’s authority to dictate the normative representation of places and spaces. Participants in Mushon Zer-Aviv’s You Are Not Here (YANH), for example, are asked to navigate New York City using a map of Baghdad, calling into question the notion that the virtualizing technology of mapping can engender the kind of spatial knowledge that is acquired through localized phenomenological experience. In YANH, participants perform, through embodied movement, an oppositional reading of Google’s cartographic systems. It is technology that directs the path of each participant, but that technology is effectively turned on itself.

In all the projects analyzed in this section of the volume, hardware is imbued with a deeply social component. Devices do not function independently of their users. Just as space is not an empty container, but is ‘produced’ through social relations, technology does not simply determine the actions of its users, but becomes a relational tool whose use is produced through embodied intersubjective action. The Lefebvrian model, in which “space is not a thing, but rather a set of relations between things,” can be mapped onto locative technology as well. [5] Locative technology is inherently relational; derived from the locative case of the Latvian language, the term corresponds to the English prepositions “in” “on” “at” and “by,” which necessarily imply a relationship between two or more people or things. [6] In the projects contained in this section of the volume, locative devices are not used in isolation. Instead, they are used to foster connections between people and places. The device is the condition for connectivity, but without social and embodied relationships, technology is emptied of meaning. Hardware and wetware unite, defining practice in relation to technology and vice versa. Information ecologies are managed by hardware, software, and living systems, showing the inextricable relationship between the three categories, and the mutual influence they exert upon one another.


1. Marc Tuters. “From Mannerist Situationism to Situated Media,” Convergence Vol. 18, No. 3 (2012), 272.
2. Jason Farnam. Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 27
3. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The Phenomenology of Perception (New York: Routledge Press, 1958), 143.
4. Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (Monthly Review Press, 1971), 154.
5. Henri Lefebvre. The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), 83
6. Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis. “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things. LEONARDO Vol. 39 No. 4 (2006), 357.