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|Lifeline - GPS|
The Japanese artist On Kawara documented the routes taken on his daily walks and taxi-rides during sufficient periods in time on maps of various cities in the world. His activities were represented on these maps by a red line. This manifestation and the extent of it was an effective way of depicting the movements and events of one single day- a portrait of a day in a life.
During the course of a year Mikael Lundberg draws a map of daily life and excursions from it by carrying a GPS-receiver. A device that registers his geographical position every ten seconds when he is out-doors and within the reach of at least three of the twenty-eight satellites at the disposal of mankind through the American military defense. The Global Positioning System is based on the precise measurement of the time it takes for a signal to travel from a satellite to a receiver on the ground. The information that is sent from a satellite is the basis for pin-pointing the position of a receiver, more specifically it informs the receiver of the individual satellites ID and status as well as where it is at a specified moment in time. When a single GPS-receiver receives data from three different satellites it is possible for it to calculate its own position and thereby confirm its geographical coordinates. From the strictly timed ten second measurements, a considerable amount of data is accumulated every day. The data is fed through a computer, which then transforms the material into numbers and parameters indicating longitude, latitude, altitude, time and date. During the course of two months positions are registered corresponding to 3000 printed sheets of A4-format paper, which not only is a considerable amount of paper but also a solid volume of information about Mikaels life. The movements; meetings, actions and thoughts of a single human being lie hidden underneath an insurmountable quantity of numbers.
The raw material is converted into a picture, a map, where the means of representation become critical for our understanding and interpretation. A map can never mirror reality since its producers priorities, choice of perspective and scale govern the information conveyed by it. For example, if every interval between measurements where represented by a cross, it would by possible to acquire an idea of transfer-velocity by looking at variation in distance between separate coordinates.
Pictures rendered in a smaller scale, where the most frequently visited places stand out as intense black areas, seem to harbour a dense activity without obvious traces of singular motions. The actions taking place within these obscure fields are as interesting as what ever is going on during the periods when the line abruptly stops and Mikael steps out of satellite-reach. Being conscious of being under observation naturally also generates a parallel consciousness of the time that is spent non-observed. It is a constant interplay between on and off, presence and absence.
The pictures rely on actual geographic spots and these are not of arbitrary importance. The comparisons that can be made between behavioral structures in different environments are of greater value when the specific locations are taken into account.
Looking at the pictures from central Stockholm and Långvikskär in Stockholm’s archipelago, where Mikael spent his summer, one can see how the urban patterns of motion generate a stronger visual intensity and how the map’s drawing of daily life on a skerry corresponds to the reality of a more tranquil life-stile.
Behavioral changes also leave obvious traces. The lines that represent Mikael’s boat trips show how his courage increases with every trip and how he comes closer to land, constantly reducing his own marginals. An aspect of an existence where every move is registered lies in the calculating of lines to come and in the expectations that arise at the prospect of trips that might create beautiful lines.
This one-year piecework and intimate union with a GPS-receiver raises many questions about rituals and how an object that is placed on a human body affects daily life in a practical and mental way.
Batteries need charging, information handling and the close to symbiotic life with the receiver also creates a kind of interdependent relationship, physically as well as mentally. The bodily connection to the GPS-receiver, in Mikaels case through wiring, brings the Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh to mind. In one of his one-year projects Hseih spent twenty-four hours a day bound together with one and the same person who, in the beginning of the project, was a complete stranger. Both of these very specific investigations of the mechanisms of supervision do not only raise questions of control and integrity but also display the human need to be seen and documented.
It does not seem far-fetched to see Mikael’s investigation as a self-portrait of a year of his life. In his earlier piece Lifetime , which second by second counts down the statistically worked out remainder of his life, a digital life line is drawn- a self-portrait in seconds. If Lifetime makes us aware of the artist’s hypothetical dying day, the GPS-receiver shows us his physical transport every ten seconds. Through his movements a personal map and line of his life is drawn, a Lifeline.
This article, originally in Swedish was published in Glänta magazine 3-4 2002
|© Mikael Lundberg|