Europeana – Aggregating Europe's cultural heritage

Posted: November 15, 2010 at 12:41 am  |  By: morgancurrie  |  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Former worker at Knowledgeland, Harry Verwayen started off his presentation by mentioning what he would not cover in his talk, namely viable revenue models to apply in this day and age (since according to Verwayen, this has been greatly covered on Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly's blog). Thereafter, Verwayen directly mentions what he finds an effective business model for publishing: dual licensing, wherein "what you sell is the legitimacy." This is also the approach in the Europeana initiative, which was funded by the European Union, and supported by many European cultural institutions.

Europeana logoAfter the Europeana project was commissioned in 2005, five years later the portal had expanded with an developer API and with a large network of participating institutions. Also, the entire platform is published as open-source. Currently, the platform holds over 13 million digitized cultural objects, that are aggregated from the different databases. While users can freely access the content (be it images, texts, sounds or videos), the records are indirectly advertisements as they contain links to the original archives.

By opening up these archives to the public, cultural content can easily get distributed across multiple sources (via the API), or it can engage end-users to "participate and work with the material." Working with the material would for example mean investigating a very specific topic within just one platform, like reports in newspapers in France during the first World War. With such an aggregator, we might also more easily gain insights into which archives 'privileges' which topic.

Thereafter, Verwayen elaborated on the cost and benefits. As the portal relies on advertising, visibility is key for getting the traffic going. Therefore, one of the approaches is to upload material to large open platforms (for example, Flickr has a cost-ratio of 1:160). Another indirect benefit is that of using open-source code, which reduces the costs for other institutions to participate in the project. Most importantly, value is generated by putting the material into the public domain, which at Knowledgeland resulted in a cost-ratio of 2:3.

But, according to Verwayen, the "problem is not funding", it's rather "how to sustain digitalization and rights." Roughly, the archived content falls under three categories. The first one, 'digitization' is the 'easiest' to digitize, since the rights expired or didn't have any license to begin with (mostly classics). Secondly, there's 'digitization and rights', this category is more troublesome since the content is often protected by copyright-holders who are hard to trace. Thirdly, there's the 'rights' category wherein the cultural object is already digital (or digitized) but copyrighted.

In conclusion, Verwayen raises the question of how to formulate a sharing licenses that's more compromising towards cultural archives. Also, how to organise the collective funding (by museums, institutions and governments)? How to ensure the continuation of digital heritage by these stakeholders, and (finally) how to work on revenue models for copyrighted cultural objects with have low intrinsic value? These are a few of the open questions that will affect the sustainability of initiatives like that of Europeana.

Test_Lab: Urban Screen Savers: Event Report

Posted: May 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm  |  By: julianabrunello  |  Tags: , , , ,

Test_Lab: Urban Screen Savers

20 May 2010, 20:00- 23:00 hrs, V2_, Eendrachtsstraat 10, Rotterdam

The interactions between the urban space as means of artistic expressions and the dilution of such intervention by commercialization of such spaces was explored and critically examined in the Test Lab. Six live demonstrations by artists:

Follow the Money – a datavisualization report

Posted: January 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , , ,

follow the money on twitterhttp___networkcultures.org_wpmu_portal_files_2010_01_Follow-the-Money_small.pdf-1

The conference Follow the Money took place on January 14, 2010 in De Balie in Amsterdam. New media professional and MA student at the UvA Margarida Fonseca chose to visualize this event on datavisualization:

When I went to Picnic this year here in Amsterdam, they had a huge screen showing all the tweets people were posting about the conference and one presenter even mentioned something like: "Wow, there is a lot of conversation going on about Picnic over the Internet, even more that it's actually going here". That got me curious and prompt me to follow "Follow the money" conference from another angle, the angle of who's watching and that has obviously something to say. The attendee becomes also a broadcaster.

Margarida Fonseca is currently a Project Manager working mostly on Web related projects: websites, intranets, web advertising and usability projects at a Portuguese Telecom Company. This year, she decided to take a year off work to learn new approaches and to gain insights, and that’s why she moved to Amsterdam to study new media at the UvA. Recently, Margarida became more and more interested in information visualization.

Download Margarida's report (as a PDF) that doubles as a datavisualization of the Follow the Money event (on Datavisualisation).

Also, read a short summary of the conference by CPOV research intern Juliana Brunello.

Follow the Money – Conference on 14.01.2010 at de Balie

Posted: January 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm  |  By: margreet  |  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Screen shot 2010-01-15 at (video availabe)

Conference on 14.01.2010 at de Balie

Short summary by Juliana Brunello

First Welcome: Hans Maarten van den Brink welcomes us participants to the conference. He shortly explains that this is the 11th edition of the circuit of conferences done by Mediafonds, Sandberg Institute and for the first time with Erasmus University. The speaker points out, that the theme of today’s conference, which is actually more of a ritual due to its periodicity, is not data visualization, but about ruling the world.

Introduction:  Annelys de Vet starts her introduction with a funny graphic representation of the efforts put into preparing this conference. She concludes that summing all of the costs involved in it, it is as if each one of the participants was paid 117,65€ to be here today.

She continues by asking some important questions: how do we deal with overload of information and numbers? Do we need data visualization to understand it? “If the database is the new narrative then what is the role of visualization?” (Lev Manovich)

She concludes her intro by asking the participants to continue researching about it after the conference; otherwise if there is no interest in doing so, one should leave the conference, as it does not pay the immense effort to put the conference together. Since no one left, she introduced the first speaker and the actual conference started.

Fist Speaker: Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens. Unfortunately for me it is in Dutch. Therefore I have nothing to report.

Second Speaker: Koert van Mensvoort. Money as a Medium

The speaker made a very entertaining and informative presentation, showing new speculative ideas on how the future system could look like. His presentation involved the themes money, media, data and reality. He stated that money is one of the oldest virtual realities in our culture. This also shows that the virtual has a deep penetration our society. “We are moving from the world of things to the world of information. Virtual economy is booming nowadays, the opposite is to say of the real one.” (Not his exact words, but sort of) As an example he shows one of the new millionaires due to second life.

“Virtual money is a pleonasm. Money has “always” been virtual.”  In the beginning cattle had been used as trade object and it was not virtual. Tools were also used as currency. In China, these tools became smaller, just representing the object itself, and then they became round, becoming virtual. These were made of metal, which was too heavy to carry around, so that paper money was developed. Other places they were made of expansive metal. Later on the credit card found its place in our society: physical and virtual at the same time, “but just plastic”.

The speaker continued by showing the difference between implicit weather data (as seen from the window) vs. explicit data (as seen in numbers). Financial data is explicit, but how can it be implicit visualized? There are no natural phenomena in this case. An interesting case in Kenya showed how prepaid airtime became a de-facto monetary value in the country. In this case “the signifier becomes the signified”. Will then telecom providers become banks and v.v.? Who will make the money? Government or corporation?

Mensvoort stated then that database has become our reality. Our days were consisted of things, now of databases (“are we already living in the matrix?”). He also spoke of the concept of Noosphere: the sphere of human thought. It transforms other systems, like the biosphere. Is this therefore a natural phenomenon? Are the financial and virtual systems a kind of ecosystem? If one compares two ecologies: rainforest and financial system – one is stable and the other of rapid growth – one is self sustainable and the other feeds on biosphere – however, both are threatened. A proposed solution was to link the financial system to the environmental one. To deal with climate change we need system change. The proposed solution: Environmental value needs to be monetized.  The eco currency (separate currency) should be created. One would earn to preserve and depending on the environmental urgency, the currency would fluctuate. However, there are many problems involving its implementation.

He finishes his presentation by expressing his hopes, that geosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and datasphere will live in harmony. I hope so too.

Third speaker: Christian Nold

The speaker introduced the idea of Bijlmer Euro, an experimental currency that should support the development of local identity. This way, data visualization can change the local. It is a very interesting project and I will no longer discuss the it here, but suggest a visit to the following website:

Forth speakers: Floris Douma

In Dutch…

Fifth speaker: Richard Rogers. Mapping for people

Very interesting and entertaining, sometimes ironical, presentation about mapping. He started his presentation by explaining what the use of mapping is: it is to find out things that actually help who are looking for it. Activists, NGOs, IGOs, States, celebrities and the common men can find use in it.

Activists want for instance to know how big is the movement they are involved with. They collect URLs and map it in order to visualize the scope of the movement. However, cluster maps have its pros and cons, sometimes provoking a sense of concurrence, which was not the initial goal. NGOs can with the help of mapping find out important relationships. INGs can for instance visualize “who spoke during which issue?” and “which issues which delegate speaks or stay silent?”. States can recognize who their allies are per issue, by for instance mapping in clusters of terminological blocks. Celebrities can check how popular they are, what kind of issues they should be associated with and therefore which kind they should support: children, mine bombs or organ donation?

Rogers points out that maps can show and at the same time construct reality. They send out an invitation to enter a symbolic world. They prompt people to rethink their strategies, for instance to make one’s position higher in a hierarchy, as it has large impacts on how one thinks about himself.

For more information check

Sixth speaker: Staffan Landin. Gapminder

Landin is a very enthusiastic speaker and a true believer in Gapminder. He explained that the data brought from the world is in a “strong” way transformed in statistical data. However, when statistical data should be brought back into the world producing knowledge, it is done in a “weak” way. This enforces the prevalence of pre-conceived ideas, which are actually wrong. Gapminder should make it easier for people to understand statistical data and therefore grasp the knowledge they transmit in a better way.

The graphics shown in the presentation were really nice ones, very entertaining. I do recommend a visit to their website. However, one must keep in mind that it is very ease, even with nice techniques of data visualization, to misinterpret data. One can for instance confuse cause with effect, of join two variables that actually have no connection to each other making it looks like it does.

Check it out at

Seventh speaker group: Yuri Engelhardt, Martijn de Waal and Raul Nino Zambrano. Data stories

The central question of this presentation is “how can one use database to tell stories?” One of the speakers explains, that all we do today is stored in databases. This opens up a range of opportunities to get data and tell stories with it. But how? Documentary and filmmakers have been doing that. A new genre has emerged, a new discipline. However, this is not completely new. Minard designed a graphic in 1869 that “told the story” of Napoleon’s march. Another example of the early development of storytelling with graphics is e.g. Land of promise; Rotha (1946), a city speaks (1947).

More presently, the film “an inconvenient truth” (Guggenheim, 2006) provided a kind of prototype to the “powerpoint” cinema. However the graphics don’t do all the work, rhetoric is also needed. (At this point the speakers show the part of the film of an animated data graphic with al gore explaining the development of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.)Other good examples of contemporary films of this genre are “The federal debt” I.O.U.S.A. (Creadon, 2008) and “The crisis of credits” (Jarvis, 2009)

Second genre: Geography data used to tell stories. The example the speakers have chosen is “Britain from Above” (BBC, 2008), which uses for instance GPS data from Londoner taxis and other satellites images to make a film.

Third genre: Database Cinema. The exemple used here is “What a life” (Canada), in which they use several devices, like quizzes, to create a story. One is invited to explore the areas of the website.

Forth genre: Interactive web graphics, with the characteristics of being interactive and online. E.g.: “they rule”, a database that shows the concentration of power. One can upload the maps they created by searching data. Further examples: the “baby name wizard”, “how Americans spend their day” and “we feel fine”

I strongly recommend a visit to the websites they cited for an educational look and good entertainment.

Eight speaker: Judith de Leeuw.

In Dutch.

Ninth speaker: Ian Forrester. BBD Backstage

Missed big part of it…. Sorry…

Tenth speaker: Joris Maltha. Catalogtree

Catalogtree is involved in designing data visualization. At the moment they are doing data visualization mostly to American magazines. However, at the presentation he spoke of their approach to design. He emphasizes the meaning of self organization as design tool.

He showed some projects in which social data of people behaving in a certain way has been used. He presented one in which the theme was cultural norms vs. law enforcement, by using data of a research that showed diplomats parking their car incorrectly and the corruption indexes of the CIA.  The conclusion of this research was that corrupted countries have more diplomats that park their car incorrectly. Biased? Maybe… (flocking diplomats nyc 1999-2002) Using this data they produced different designs in form of posters. You can check them at

Another example of their work, which also involves social behavior, was a map that became useless because of its continuous use, and the habit of people touching it with the finger where they stood. This part of the map was so worn out, that one could not recognize it anymore.

Further example was “the blue marble”, not done by Catalogtree, but for NASA.. In this case, satellite data should be made understandable to a larger audience. Oceans were painted blue, forests green, etc. It looks like photography, but it is not.

In the end of the presentation there was a weird discussion about the design involving diplomats, if it was biased or not. Fact is, that there were only pictures of their cars, in different sized considering the amount of time they were parked incorrectly. There was no citation to countries or so. Someone pointed out one could still influence something, by changing the color of the poster, that it would make a difference if it were red of white. I don’t see the point… I believe that the speaker also didn’t, as he decided at a certain point to just leave the podium.

Eleventh speaker: Mieke Gerrizen. Infodecodata

In Dutsch, so I left home, as it was the last presentation of the day.


The conference was very informative and entertaining. I learned a lot just being there and came out with new ideas. I will definitely keep my attention on the subject. I do understand now how data visualization can “control the world” now. One can use it to prove a point, to influence, to convince and not to mention it: to lie. Very tricky thing…

US09 Report: Paul Klotz on light as artistic medium

Posted: December 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , , ,

Urban Screens 09: The City as InterfacePaul Klotz is an applied art engineer and light designer who focuses on interactive light installations for public spaces. By means of light and sound installations which react to and integrate the movements of the passersby or of the people which interact with them, he attempts influence the movements and behavior of people in public spaces.

Although some of his projects have a more obviously political dimension, such as the thermometer project, which aims to create awareness of environmental pollution, the primary function of his creative lighting installations is aesthetic and stems from his passion and fascination with light as medium. The content of his light installations is generated as a response to the data gathered by sensors at the location of the installation. In the thermometer installation for example, the light bar of the thermometer fluctuates according to the people or vehicles that are passing by, indicating the level of danger for the environment.

It would have been interesting to further find out from the artist: Why light? Besides the artist’s passion for it, how does light as medium in particular influence interaction with the installation and between individuals? How does the creative use of light in public space shape that space?

More information about Paul Klotz’s projects can be found on the artist’s website.

For more urban screens reports please go to:

US09 Report: Mettina Veenstra on Public Screens and Social Capital

Posted: December 4, 2009 at 12:25 pm  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , , ,

Urban Screens 09: The City as Interface Mettina Veenstra is the principal researcher and coordinator of the theme public spaces at Novay Research. Novay is a research institute for ICT driven innovation. Her presentation today at the Urban Screens conference focused on what public displays can do for public space in terms of stimulating encounters and interactions between people in public spaces. They aim to explore the role as public displays as external stimulus to create contact between people, a process called triangulation, with art being an important form of it. The speaker identified eight applications of public displays: information, entertainment, art and culture, advertising, communication, better services, e-participation (the stimulation of discussion on environment and other local issues) and influencing (colors or imagines that can improve the mood of people).

But why is it important to foster social interactions? According to Mettina Veenstra social interactions lead to social capital which is important for our well being and our economy. Some important issue which the research institute takes into account when creating installations for public space are: create local content, and allow people to interact with the screens by means of games for example. A list of their projects can be found on their website.

Another issue that is being researched by Novay is the integration of sensors and facial recognition technology in order to create context aware applications which can offer personalized information. The presentation was rather uncritical of the role of surveillance technology in public space.

Video Vortex V – Day 2 – Online cinema

Posted: November 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm  |  By: margreet  |  Tags: , , , ,

andrew clay

What will happen to web cinema as we shift from learning to see and how to feel to learning how to participate in this new electronic space of modernity?

Andrew Clay is the first speaker in the morning session and talks about web cinema; Mind the Gap! He is lecturing in Critical Technical Practices at the Montfort University, Leicester and program leader of BSc (Hons) Media Technology in the Faculty of Computing Sciences and Engineering.
Andrew never heard about Video Vortex before, nevertheless he gave an interesting lecture closing ‘prosumption’ (producers and consumers) and widening between online moving image participation culture and traditional theatrical culture.

Technology has been used to materialize the use-value of film – film as aesthetic experience commodified. is an example of how we engage with expanded cinema as viewers and collectors of new forms, new genres that are at the same time old forms – the new as the ever-same of modernity as conceived by Walter Benjamin. SWK culture demonstrates participation in production as imitation of the strategies of traditional media.

YouTube Preview Image

The web via the internet is a gateway and a delivery system for film as material digital files that can be seen as resonant cultural objects, ‘fetishes-on-display’ in the web arcades. The web is also a ‘cinema of distractions’ and ‘attractions’, a digital playground allowing playful enchantment of utopian non-work and the hybrid work-leisure of user-generated content achieved through proximity to electronic machines, and this is where our hopes and fears for web cinema are made material, where our love of film is tested.

Web cinema shows us that we should be fearful about the exhibitionism of online audio-visual culture. The BMW Films advermovies mobilize Hollywood resources to web short film production bringing viewers into new relationships with advertisers. The ability to make films available to others is greatly extended, but participatory film production is not inherently progressive. One might hope that participant production will bring progressive forms of more democratic media, and certainly there are interesting experiments such as A Swarm of Angels, a ‘groundbreaking project to create a £1 million film and give it away to over 1 million people using the internet and a global community of members’ So, there is still the possibility that we might become trained in good habits.

James Provan a Scottish student, songwriter and video producer, uses especially stop motion techniques. The stop motion animation Pancakes took him 90hours to make.

YouTube Preview Image

In terms, then, of our symbolic engagement with films as commodities, we have used technology to materialize the aesthetic experience of cinema-going. I grew up watching films on television and I learned to love film. I received a film education watching a range of films from different cultures and historical periods in my ‘home cinema’ as well as visiting public cinemas. In both cases the engagement with the physical existence of film as celluloid, and the series of commercial exchanges associated with it were quite remote. They were more experiences than material engagements with physical objects. The introduction of the videocassette recorder (VCR), films on Video Home System (VHS) tape and subsequently on disc formats began to change this.

Since the introduction of the VCR, it is widely possible to ‘possess’ film, or at least the right to own a viewing copy. Subsequently, the cinematic heritage has developed more physically through the ownership of films in personal video collections as well as a memory-based recall of viewing experience. This physicality, of ‘getting our hands on’ film, is further developed using the web and the ‘next-point’ of the technological materialization of the film and video experience – mobile devices that can store downloaded moving image products. Television and the computer have been used to bring cinema into the home, and mobile devices such as phones, laptops, PDAs and multimedia jukeboxes are bringing cinema into new public spaces outside of cinemas. The web, like television, is not just a viewing space of aesthetic experience but it is also the source of material objects that can be saved and archived. The web continues the expansion of cinema from experience to materialism through the downloading of films to the hard drives of the PC.

Furthermore, in contradiction of the common view that digital media promote dematerialization, digital technologies such as the web do not dematerialize film as commodities, but instead allow them to be re-materialized as part of a historical process, most recently subject to the conditions of ‘hypercontextualisation’. Peter Lunenfeld (2002) uses this term to identify the real interactive potential of cinema and new technologies whereby the film text is just one element in a wider network of intertextual commodities such as DVDs, videogames and websites – a condition of marketing, promotion and responsive consumer participation.

Benjamin recognizes that there was a growing trend for readers to become writers in published media that began in the press with letters to editors. In the same line of argument he points to the progressive potential of film to offer ‘everyone the opportunity to rise from passer-by to movie extra’ so that ‘any man might even find himself part of a work of art’ (1935: 114). However, the development of video and computer technology has facilitated a level of participation in cinema that goes beyond the ability to appear as oneself in a film. Digital video technology enables the production of web cinema and web technology provides the distribution channels and exhibition spaces. The real ‘jolt’ of web cinema is the invitation to participate so that spectators become film-makers just as readers have become writers.

Andrew lectures also about the departure from the screening culture of production and consumption. Advocating ‘de-participation’ – rolling back of video interpersonal, social media communication of online video and the promotion of the web as a modified theatrical screen culture. Within this topic he shows a video of Howard Rheingold used as a social media communication of which he was quite shocked about. The movie is about learning to participate – teaching media literacy, interactivity and participation begins early.

He concludes with: ‘I would like more WeScreen and less YouTube’.

Video Vortex V – Day 1

Posted: November 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , , , ,

System Flaws and Tactics

Screen shot 2009-11-21 at 15.54.53 Video Vortex V
After the opening speech by Bram Crevits (Cimatics) and Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures), the 5th edition of Video Vortex kicked off at the amazing Atomium in Brussels.

The first session addressed System Flaws and Tactics. This session was inspired by the inherent errors, disabilities and restrictions of online video technology that often conduct our behaviour but can also provide inspiring new insights. Liesbeth Huybrechts and Rudy Knoops gave the first presentation of the day, titled 'Playing that video'. They work at the School of Communication and Multimedia Design (C-MD) in Genk, Belgium, where they lead the research group Social Spaces, on the topic of social, societal and spatial issues, using the internet as a tool and interface.
Video Vortex V Video Vortex V

After pointing at the rules of play and playground, and building on theory of tactics and strategy as defined by De Certeau, the presenters explored the diffuse difference between work and play in the age of new media. Knoops pointed out that Google employees get to spend 20% of their time 'playing', i.e. working on their own projects. In his recent work, Julian Kuecklich refers to this conflation of play and labour as 'Playbour'. Knoops and Huybrechts showed impressive work by the C-MD students in Genk, and called for play as a critical tool, and encouraged a practice of tactical play.

Video Vortex V
Next up was Brian Willems, who lectures in media culture as well as British and Irish Literature at the University of Split, Croatia. In his talk, titled 'Blindness: the inability of YouTube to read itself', he argued that online video often demonstrates blindness,as theorized by Paul de Man, Agamben, and Proust, and rather than being readable. He presented two cases of online video: The Rodney King Story, and Natalie Bookchin's installation 'Mass Ornament', which was presented by the artist herself at the Video Vortex conference in Split (2009).

According to Willems, the Rodney King story demonstrates how difficult it is to read video. In the video, King, lying on the ground, tried to get up when the police attacked him again. The police later stated that they considered his standing up as aggressive behaviour. The video does not clarify whether this was indeed the case. Therefore, Willems argues the video demonstrates its blindness. In this respect, the work by Natalie Bookchin is equally hard to read. Inspired by the chorus lines of the Tiller Girls, she selected and sorted YouTube dance videos so they form a chorus line, through montage, soundtrack and composition. Willems pointed out that the amount of screens, layers and motifs makes this video hard to read, and therefore confronts you with its illegibility or blindness.

Video Vortex V Video Vortex V
Rosa Menkman, artist, VJ and PhD candidate at KHM presented her Glitch Studies Manifesto, in which she called for a more drain approach of technology studies, which includes the study of its flaws and failures:
1. The dominant, continuing search for a noiseless channel has been, and will always be no more than a regrettable, ill-fated dogma.
2. Dispute the operating templates of creative practice by fighting genres and expectations!
3. Get away from the established action scripts and join the avant-garde of the unknown. Become a nomad of noise artifacts!
4. Use the glitch as an exoskeleton of progress.
5. The gospel of glitch art sings about new models implemented by corruption.
6. The ambiguous contingency of the glitch depends on its constantly mutating materiality.
7. Glitch artifacts are critical trans-media aesthetics.
8. Translate acousmatic noise and soundscapes into acousmatic video and videoscapes to create conceptual synesthesia.
9. Speak the totalitarian language of disintegration.
10. Study what is outside of knowledge, start with Glitch studies. Theory is just what you can get away with!

The session ended with a presentation by the artist Johan Grimonprez, who guided the audience through his You-tube-o-teque. And while the sphere of the Atomium was shaking because of an autumn storm, grimonprez created his own whirlwind, going from the history of the remote control and the invention of zap-proof commercials, to hitchcock pastiches and the swine flu vaccine scandal from 1976. (
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Society of the Query coverage

Posted: November 14, 2009 at 8:44 am  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , ,

The Society of the Query conference is covered by bloggers on, photographers (check flickr, tag sotq) and a twittering audience (#sotq).

Soon after the event, the presentations will be online as video on demand. Thanks to the crew and of course all speakers, moderators and participants. And for everyone: enjoy the last day, and don't forget the evening program full of Google art!

More info:

Sentient City workshop @ IABR

Posted: November 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm  |  By: sabine  |  Tags: , , ,

Open podium event: presentations of the Sentient City workshop. NAi. Rotterdam. 6.11.09.
by Elena Tiis

After a one-day workshop aiming to develop “approaches toward urban computing and locative media applications, systems and infrastructures for near-future urban life in Rotterdam”, the results were presented at the Open Podium event of the Architecture Biennale.

By way of an introduction, IABR curator Jennifer Sigler notes that the exhibition has a blind spot. In its concentration on physical urban space it elides the effects of digital networks. This is why the Biennale comprises also a week-long (4th – 8th November) program on the theme of Connectivity.
Curated by the Mobile City bloggers Martijn de Waal and Michiel de Lange in collaboration with Mark Shepard of the Sentient City Survival Kit, the workshop investigated the importance of "the digital” for urban space. Shepard, in his lecture the previous day, had used Jane Jacobs’ idea of the sidewalk ballet and transposed it to the notion of the 'informational ballet,' a kind of invisible layer of urban space which architecture should have a chance at influencing.

In introducing the project sketches, Michiel de Lange describes the Mobile City as a knowledge network, aiming to bring together professionals from various sectors. The first part of the presentations showcased the results of the workshop, which was about critical design interventions and explore what “digital” means for the city. In the second part, Shepard’s Sentient City Kit was presented.

The projects of the day comprised:

1. “Nuggit”, which is something you have to offer – a skill, staff or a situation. It’s a kind of service without currency exchange. One becomes a nuggeteer by offering a nuggit, which is whatever one is offering in time and space, for a moment, or for a certain duration or on the spot. Walking someone’s dog for twenty minutes while waiting for the bus might be a nuggit. This is done by opening Nuggits on one’s smartphone and signaling one’s willingness to offer something.

2. “Goede Reis” team took the OV-chipkaart system (a public transport card with RFID, which was recently introduced in the Netherlands) as their starting point. The goals of the project were to raise awareness of the data collected by these cards, to improve social interaction and increase serendipity. The medium or location for these interventions are the turnstiles/ticket control machines in public transportation. The idea of the project is twofold: First, after you swipe your card, the machine says something about you so that the person entering behind can get a conversation going. The cardreader displays inferred information based on the travel information of the person, for instance “she’s late today!” Secondly, it aims to bridge the boundaries between the social, cultural and spatial aspects of the city by an LBT (location based task). This is one’s “score” for city exploration; the card tracks the areas of the city that are familiar and unfamiliar for the person and recommend exploring unknown areas and allocates points on that basis. Traveling to the south of the city although normally residing in the north is to significantly increase one’s score.

3. “Landmarks” team was concerned with making the “after” of events more visible to the point of actually making it mandatory for biennales and festivals. The timeline for a landmark would be as follows: initial event idea →going to the local government to get the event permit; in conjunction with this, one must agree to produce a landmark for it → the event produces an augmented reality landmark, a living monument capturing the experience in pictures, memories, text and sound which stays on as a reminder after the festival in question has finished.

4. “What clicks on the street” is about taking the Dutch “probleembuurt” (Dutch government terminology for a 'problematic neighbourhood') and reconsidering a “problem” as a space of negotiation. It is a way of getting at the qualitative information behind street noise and movement for the purpose of mediating what is considered a problem by different people. The point is to find unexpected ways of addressing intrusion; there should be a kind of “leakage” of personal information about the situation, producing an intimate message about the origin of the sound or situation in question. This would take the form of unexpected notes published on shop receipts, soundfiles via Bluetooth or “junkmail”.

In the case of all these project sketch presentations, there seems to be a palpable concern with bridging what one might term the modern metropolitan remove, or the anonymous façade of interactions in the city. All project an actual interest in spying upon the details of a stranger and a fascination to inscribing memories onto physical urban space. Indeed, “Landmarks” goes as far as to stipulate that this might be something mandatory in the case of festivals. The more disquieting, intrusive and even coercive edge of technologies that track and control is thus repurposed as something that can have benevolent uses.

The second part of the event opens the Sentient City exhibit with the presentation of Shepard’s survival toolkit. The toolkit is about imagining tactile objects in response to the transformation of urban culture. By taking a playful stance and imagining a type of “urban computing”, it wants to know what happens in an over-coded city as digital information on mobile devices comes in interface with urban space. By taking jabs at the future and as one example of critical design, the kit fabricates things which are relating and sensing.

Shepard’s four concept sketches for survival in the Sentient City are an exercise in the archaeology of society that does not yet exist. By reconstructing a future possibility, we can get to know in the present the kind of future that we could want. These items address the social, cultural and political implications of the Sentient City, in response to computing leaving desktops and information processing entering urban realm, modifying our behaviour.

1. GPS Serendipitor (like a Tom Tom, but one which picks out a route which one hasn’t used before to get from A to B)
2. RFID Under(a)ware (underwear that has vibrators sewn into it which sense the presence of RFID tags)
3. Ad-hoc Dark Roast Travel Mug (a travel mug which sends subversive messages to one’s fellow passengers)
4. CCD-Me Not Umbrella (an umbrella which hides one from CCTV monitoring)