Mapping Media Art in London

I attended a workshop loosely based around the EVNT software project but billed as bringing together producers of events and coders of event software to meet each other and “brainstorm the future of event organisation (with an emphasis on the arts), calendaring tools and technologies.”

I wouldn’t really describe myself as belonging to either of those groups but I was very glad I was along for the ride. The introduction to why we were all there generally and specifically as individuals was really interesting. It became clear that although there was a good deal of common ground among us we had such diverse motivations that distinctions like coders and producers weren’t that meaningful.

Loosely speaking most had a specific interest in some project/s and events as well as a general interest in how these could be better ‘managed’ and how technology / software could help. Listening to others I was really taken by how much people are doing in this area and the wider implications and issues.

Individuals described projects in Manchester, Bristol and particularly London. If I say that nearly all of these had to do with exploring the potential of technology in relationship to art and communities that's true but it skates over so much of the interesting detail. I'll try to give more detail soon but they included: Open Guide, NTK, Artscrape, SMAL, HTTP & Furtherfield, Wireless bristol, Proboscis and a whole heap of others including Open Street Map and World Kit.

Some of these I’d heard bits about before but hearing those involved describe them within this context made loads more sense.

The workshop was led and introduced by the EVNT team: Timo Arnall, Jack Schulze and Matt Webb , Rachel Baker and Saul Albert also gave some really useful background.

For example we were introduced to the idea of how social web applications like Flickr and del.icio.us suggested the possibility of more flexible socially managed event applications. But also how a range of tools are being developed (not just in these projects) in response to social 'needs'.

We split up into 2 groups made up of coders and producers. I went into the coders room, a path that six months ago would have seemed as likely to me as taking an active part in a Tory party rally. Although I didn't get exposed as a fraud, I was only just hanging on by my fingertips to the more technical parts of the discussion.

I won’t go into the details too much (partly because I can't) but this did help me to understand the interrelationship of technological considerations and wider social issues. The wider issues for me include why we want to map and what we lose by mapping then move on to the impact of how we map.

What concerns me most is the implied connection between representing information (or data to use its most neutral name) and knowing about something in some omnipotent sort of way.

One of the first wildly optimistic pieces about locative work and geo-data suggested how great it would be if you could look at a flower in some remote place and then refer to the data that had been stored about it. I find this naïve and worrying in so many ways. Most crucially I don’t understand how more classification and more absracted data will add to our lives. Social mapping as we expored it here gives me some more optimistic insight.

My experience of del.icio.us has also been very positive though not scaling the heights that some predict. It’s not been through getting some overall picture of things or their relationships that it's had an impact on me, it’s been through following connections often quite randomly. So I don't think that mapping of this type is good because it gives us a grand overall map of relationships but it can be great for filling in some gaps and starting us off in new directions.

The power of this could be to allow us to learn from each other based on our common interests and even beyond this to bring us together based on our shared values and goals

At the micro or at least local level I find EVNT very promising. I’ve already found out about events that I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have known about and started to get ideas about how others view the murky and complicated world of new media / media arts / social software. In fact more than that I’ve started to see some groups that I thought of as cliques as actually just groups of well informed individuals all interested in and engaged in the same or similar things.

The hope of most of those at this workshop must be that technology can for once be used to bring us closer. Right now I’m sitting in a cyber cafe a few feet from John Pilger, someone whose writing I admire loads. I won’t speak to him, unless he asks me to move my bag or something, I think that's ironic.

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