A Performance Series

Related Texts

Why the world needs OpenStreetMap

By Serge Wroclawski

Every time I tell someone about OpenStreetMap, they inevitably ask “Why not use Google Maps?” From a practical standpoint, it’s a reasonable question, but ultimately this is not just a matter of practicality, but of what kind of society we want to live in. I discussed this topic in a 2008 talk on OpenStreetMap I gave at the first MappingDC meeting. Here are many of same concepts, but expanded.

In the 1800s, people were struggling with time, not how much of it they had, but what time it was. Clocks existed, but every town had its own time, “local time”, which was synchronised by town clocks or, more often than not, church bells. Railway time, then eventually Greenwich mean time, supplanted all local time, and most people today don’t think about time as anything but universal. This was accomplished in the US by adoption first of the railroads, and then by universities and large businesses.

Geography is big business

The modern daytime dilemma is geography, and everyone is looking to be the definitive source. Google spends $1bn annually maintaining their maps, and that does not include the $1.5bn Google spent buying the navigation company Waze. Google is far from the only company trying to own everywhere, as Nokia purchased Navteq and TomTom and Tele Atlas try to merge. All of these companies want to become the definitive source of what’s on the ground.

That’s because what’s on the ground has become big business. With GPSes in every car, and a smartphone in every pocket, the market for telling you where you are and where to go has become fierce.

With all these companies, why do we need a project like OpenStreetMap? The answer is simply that as a society, no one company should have a monopoly on place, just as no one company had a monopoly on time in the 1800s. Place is a shared resource, and when you give all that power to a single entity, you are giving them the power not only to tell you about your location, but to shape it. In summary, there are three concerns: who decides what gets shown on the map, who decides where you are and where you should go, and personal privacy.

Decision time

Who decides what gets displayed on a Google Map? The answer is, of course, that Google does. I heard this concern in a meeting with a local government in 2009: they were concerned about using Google Maps on their website because Google makes choices about which businesses to display. The people in the meeting were right to be concerned about this issue, as a government needs to remain impartial; by outsourcing their maps, they would hand the control over to a third party.

It seems inevitable that Google will monetise geographic searches, with either premium results, or priority ordering, if it hasn’t done so already (is it a coincidence than when I search for “breakfast” near my home, the first result is “SUBWAY® Restaurants”?).

Of course Google is not the only map provider; it’s just one example. The point is that when you use any map provider, you are handing them the controls – letting them determine what features get emphasised, or what features may not be displayed at all.

Location, location

The second concern is about location. Who defines where a neighbourhood is, or whether or not you should go? This issue was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when a map provider was providing routing (driving/biking/walking instructions) and used what it determined to be “safe” or “dangerous” neighbourhoods as part of its algorithm. This raises the question of who determines what makes a neighbourhood “safe” or not – or whether safe is merely a codeword for something more sinister.

Right now, Flickr collects neighbourhood information based on photographs which it exposes through an API. It uses this information to suggest tags for your photograph. But it would be possible to use neighbourhood boundaries in a more subtle way in order to affect anything from traffic patterns to real estate prices, because when a map provider becomes large enough, it becomes the source of “truth”.

Lastly, these map providers have an incentive to collect information about you in ways that you may not agree with. Both Google and Apple collect your location information when you use their services. They can use this information to improve their map accuracy, but Google has already announced that is going to use this information to track the correlation between searches and where you go. With more than 500 million Android phones in use, this is an enormous amount of information collected on the individual level about people’s habits, whether they’re taking a casual stroll, commuting to work, going to their doctor, or maybe attending a protest.

Certainly we can’t ignore the societal implication of so much data in the hands of a single entity, no matter how benevolent it claims to be. Companies like Foursquare use gamification to overlay what is essentially a large scale data collection process, and even Google has gotten into the game of gamification with Ingress, a game which overlays an artificial world onto this one and encourages users to collect routing data and photo mapping as part of effort to either fight off, or encourage, an alien invasion.

Finding the solution

Now that we have identified the problems, we can examine how OpenStreetMap solves each of them.

In terms of map content, OpenStreetMap is both neutral and transparent. OpenStreetMap is a wiki-like map that anyone in the world can edit. If a store is missing from the map, it can be added in by a store owner or even a customer. In terms of display (rendering), each person or company who creates a map is free to render it how they like, but the main map on OpenStreetMap.org uses FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) rendering software and a liberally licensed stylesheet which anyone can build on.

In other words, anyone who cares can always create their own maps based on the same data.

Similarly, while the most popular routing programs for OpenStreetMap are FLOSS, even if a company chooses another software stack, a user is always free to use their own routing software; it would be easy to compare routing results based on the same data to find anomalies.

And lastly, with OpenStreetMap data a user is free to download some, or all of the map offline. This means that it’s possible to use OpenStreetMap data to navigate without giving your location away to anyone at all.

OpenStreetMap respects communities and respects people. If you’re not already contributing to OSM, consider helping out. If you’re already a contributor: thank you.

Mapping Social Practice

 By Sue Bell Yank

I’ve recently been talking to several cultural practitioners about how to educate those with a more traditional notion of art in understanding and contextualizing today’s social practice. The notion of expanded or post-studio has been around for some time now, but the historical contextualization of social practice is still very much in formation. My own efforts in this realm have been mostly trial and error, guided by some very sharp and inquisitive theoretical minds, but the way I trace the development of social practice seems to find some resonance with others striving to do the same thing.

Now, I must give a disclaimer – there are so many multiple influences and complex practices that contribute to how we understand social practice today, but from a purely pedagogical standpoint the following seems most useful for bridging the gap. I start at Beuys, simply because he is a well-known albeit controversial historical figure who was able to encapsulate his paradigm-shifting work in a few useful phrases. Most notably, the phrase “social sculpture,” which illustrates Beuys’ idea that activities which structure and shape society are a form of art no longer confined to a material object or artifact. From this radical notion (and buttressed by decades of expanded, non-object based conceptual practice) arose a variety of mostly non-object based practices engaged in social and spatial issues.

These follow several major veins that are relatable but manifest in varied ways. I would describe them as such:

Relational aesthetics – projects focused on congenial gatherings like making and distributing food or beer, discussions, invitations, and exchange (i.e. Rikrit Tiravanija)

Systems analysis – projects focused on uncovering, analyzing, criticizing and/or celebrating current systems that contribute to a deeper understanding of how society works, often with the goal of shifting those paradigms (i.e. Merle Laderman Ukeles, LA Urban Rangers, the work of Teddy Cruz, Urban China)

Pedagogical Practice – projects focused on sharing information in a non-traditional format, often user-generated and multi-disciplinary (i.e. The Public School, SOMA, The Mountain School of Arts)

New Models – related heavily to systems aesthetics, these practices focus on modeling new (or forgotten) societal systems that undertake issues ignored, perpetuated, or inadequately addressed by current systems (i.e. Project Row Houses, Watts House Project, Victory Gardens, Fallen Fruit, various eco urban farming collectives, the work of the Harrisons)

There are of course many variations and overlaps amongst these categories, and work that does not fit so well in any of these. The semantics of these categories can also be argued about – the titles are working titles and may not adequately encapsulate the definitions I have put forth. Nevertheless, I find this framework useful as a starting point. In terms of current work, I do believe that research-based analysis of social and spatial systems (Systems Analysis) is very much where it’s at – though plenty of relational aesthetics practice still exists, more model-based and solution-based practices are prevalent.

This framework still brings up some questions for me, questions that solidified when I examined the very interesting “Map for another LA” put out by the Llano Del Rio Collective just recently. The map is meant to describe growing “collectivist activity” that in many ways fall into the “New Models” category of social practice – though the practitioners may identify as artists or not. I will post further about my thoughts on this map, but now I leave you with a few questions:

1) What core values run throughout these different practices – and why?

2) Are these infrastructural practices?

3) What institutional or civic strategies that may be focusing on the goals described above (systems analysis, new models, new forms of pedagogy) are not considered social practice – and why?

4) Are the “new models” that strive for reproducibility actually spread? Or do they only perpetuate other “new models”?

A quote by Bruce Conner

“For a period of time I did assemblages and collages using found objects, and they would sooner or later coalesce into something I could call art. A sculpture or a wall piece. I was working under the spaghetti theory of art. If you want to know if the spaghetti’s done, you throw it on the wall or the ceiling and if it sticks, it’s done. You put something in an art environment, you call it art, and if it sticks, it’s art”

Notes from Relational Aesthetics

By Nicolas Bourriaud

1) The role of the artwork is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.

2) The possibility of a relational art (an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather then the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space) points to a radical upheaval of the aesthetic, cultural and political goals introduced by modern art.

3) It is no longer possible to regard the contemporary work as a space to be walked through (the “owners” tour is akin to the collector’s). It is henceforth presented as a period of time to be lived through, like an opening to unlimited discussion.

4) Duchamp: “Art is a game between all people of all periods.”

5) What do we mean by form? A coherent unit, a structure which shows the typical features of a world.

6) What does a from become when it os plunged into the dimension of dialog? What is the form that is essentially relational?

7) There are no forms in nature, in the wild state, as it is our gaze that creates these, by cutting them out in the depth of the visable.

Guidelines for Map Making

by Myra B. Cook (The Come-Alive Classroom 1967)

1. Portray a few key ideas. Do not clutter your map with a mass of detail.
2. Lettering should be bold, clear and easy to read.
3. Colors should be standard: Blue – Water, Green – Lowlands, Yellow, Orange – Higher Altitudes, Brown.
4. The scale should be clear and easy to use.
5. Symbols should be carefully chosen and explained.
6. The key or legend should be placed conspicuously in one corner. Title, symbols, colors and scale should be clearly shown. Bordering the key will help it stand out.

Subversive Cartographies

By Chris Perkins (as part of the 2008 Association of American Cartographers meeting)

To be subversive, is to wish to overthrow, destroy or undermine the principles of established orders. As such subversive cartographies offer alternative representations to established social and political norms. Maps are no longer cast as mirrors of reality, instead they are increasingly conceived as diverse ways of thinking, perceiving and representing space and place which express values, world-views and emotions. Maps are no longer part of an elite discourse: they can empower, mystify, and enchant. More critical assessments of mapping increasingly explore subversive contexts strongly associated with innovative methodological approaches, with mapping seen as an explicitly situated form of knowledge. This shift has been strongly facilitated by the increasing popularity of new media, burgeoning technological change and newly developing mapping spaces (eg OpenStreetMap, WorldMapper and EmotionMap). So subversive mapping has an agency, which can be enacted outside existing cartographic conventions. It has escaped from the grasp of cartographers: everybody is mapping nowadays.

Simulacra and Simulations

from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.166-184.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

The simulacrum is true.


If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.l

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.

In fact, even inverted, the fable is useless. Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction’s charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer’s mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation, whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational. In fact, since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary, it is no longer real at all. It is a hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.

In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their art)ficial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.