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Brain Off » OPEN PLAN Workshop :: Mikel Maron :: Building Digital Technology for Our Planet

OPEN PLAN Workshop

OPEN PLAN Workshop

Take a dozen smart & creative people, vaguely around the same interest area. Place them in a room in Nottingham for a week, feed and (fire)water regularly, and poke & prod to some brilliant ideas emerge on the other side. The workshop took place a couple weeks ago, but I’m only now getting a chance to look back. It was pretty enjoyable!

Participants ranged from an artist who built interactive algorithmic audio doors in China to a geometry professor. After a lot of talk and hacking, we crystalized into three project groups. Artifacts from the week were collected on the wiki. There’s detail on the participants and projects; I hope to delve in deeper on the amazing stuff demo’d and described which I didn’t get to fully explore, like 2D barcodes, new models of space (similar to JJ Gibson’s affordances), Kennington Common, and spatial generative music sharing.

Steve Coast, Libby Miller and I hacked towards a shared vision, which may be crystalizing around a location/mapping/events/networks technology demo/deployment at the Futuresonic Festival, the last stage of the PLAN plan.

Libby started work on a system for managing events, folded with social networks. (She also took all the photos I’ve used in this entry). Steve, with blinding quickness, put together a geoRSS aggregator. Steve and I also did some OpenStreetMap hacking. I worked out a few Javascript bugs in the upcoming slippy map view of OSM, and we almost successfuly squeezed Mercator projected OSM WMS tiles into worldKit. With some help from the Glasgow mobile hackers (brillant guys who have built many things, including Navizon, collaborative wifi positioning system). In a frantic hack, we got worldKit running on a PDA, plotting live GPS data over Landsat! They also did the same for Christian Nold’s BioMapping.


PLAN is intended to bring locative technology into an arts practice. To do something not about infrastructure, I put together mapping flickr tags. This differs from flickr mapping projects: it’s only the tags, without any obvious geographic context. The results are pretty interesting, a mix of accurate place names, abstract poetics, and completely random nonsense. We went looking for Sadness in New York but they are apparently too busy.


My angle in my application to the Workshop was Locative Animals. Nothing much happened on this, but I did get to meet a researcher with similar interests, Shaun Lawson. Here’s the blurb I submitted on Locative Animals.

My interest in Locative Arts has been somewhat on the fringes of the predominantly urban, socially focused arts projects. The natural world is under ever greater stresses, and these technologies, usually employed to buffer nature, can and have been effectively used to raise awareness of the non-human world and give it a voice. The idea of over saturation of technology has been parodied by projects like “Augmented Animals” [http://www.auger-loizeau.com/augani_pop_01.html], though in reality new communication modes are being employed by wildlife researchers to track elephants and reindeer by SMS and GPS. I’ve been gathering various resources on spatial technology and spatial understanding in animals under the moniker “Locative Animals” [http://del.icio.us/mikel_maron/locativeanimals/].

Nature is not seperate from urban experience, though most city dwellers would not be that aware of the populations living in their midst. Sensing and tracking of wild fuana and flora in urban environments could raise awareness of wildlife in a tangible, positive way. Bird watchers are particularly active and independent; tools to bridge individual bird monitoring into larger situated databases and patterns could be another interesting application of the technology. Another interesting area is Porton Downs [http://www.ecn.ac.uk/sites/porto.html], site of much controversial chemical testing, but due to the lack of intensive human activity, also home to many rare species that have disappeared from the rest of the UK. If access is be attained, artistic investigations of nature on this site would be potentially very insightful.

This concept grows out of my interest in spatial models of ecosystems, and spatial niches. Birds may not be able to navigate human buildings that competently, but they can migrate to precise locations over 1000s of miles, with senses evolved for the purpose. In other words, a map is only one (and sometimes inferior) way to get around. The Nottingham Jubilee Campus was a pretty successful brownfield restoration, melding natural and urban fabric.