Souvenir – the landscape as a place of work

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Last year I was invited by The Bewaerschole in Zeeland to do a GPS project together with Ivar van Bekkum. As we will be executing this project in July mostly, (the opening is July 27, you are ALL invited to come over!) I thought it would be interesting to post on this BLOG a regular journal of its proceedings.

The Zeeland province of the Netherlands is economically used mostly for agriculture and tourism (as it is a series of islands) and these activities determine the use of land and space and thus the landscape and its perception. The concept behind our project is to confront, or balance if you wish, these two totally different perspectives of the landscape: the tourist’s and farmer’s gaze. Each has a different relationship to the land: to give one obvious example; the farmers hope to make a living, whilst the tourists expect mostly to spend money.

So we will use this opportunity in Zeeland to do something I have wanted to do for a long time: to collect and visualize GPS data of farmers that work the fields for crops. I have been working with dairy farmers, but crop growing has a different relation to space: the plots of land being worked are really scanned rhythmically: for sowing, plowing, harvesting, different moments in the year bring different tasks and probably different machineries are being used… all resulting in use of space and land: landscape. To me working the land seems fascinating: working with the forces of nature, earth, moisture, temperature and the visual impact it has, all those straight lines, a sculptural statement almost! But also utterly boring at the same time… you really need to learn to appreciate this and I plan to do so..! Travelling a road from one destination to another, as opposed to working a plot of land, are fundamentally different concepts of mobility. This is one important aspect that fascinates me. The other thing that mattered to me was the fact that the farmers’ GPS data would provide essentially different visual imagery than the GPS data of city dwellers, or travelers. The relationship between the visual pattern and spatial concept of different kinds of mobilities is something fascinating to me.

And this brings me to a generalization: I figure the most interesting aspect of working with GPS and mapmaking is the balance between objective and subjective representation. Also empowerment. Who is empowered to give certain maps credibility, and who does the empowering. And what sets these, sometimes-unconscious, dynamics in motion. These aspects always play a role in ‘classical’ cartography as well as in locative media and/or art projects.

This was also the basis of my desire to collect the farmers’ GPS tracks. To record the mobility patterns of field work, and represent them as attractively as possible: as tourism scenery even. The exhibition space, located in one of the villages also plays a role to give the work its context: it is more likely to be visited by tourists than by farmers, and we plan to present the farmers patterns to the tourists as desirable souvenirs.

I started to talk to the farmers to invite them for collaboration, but instead of questioning me about my project, my mapmaking and the possible visual outcomes, they started rather to tell me about their own use of GPS: they explained that they use GPS themselves a lot: in order to help to make real nice straight lines in the field they use special systems, developed for farming to help to steer the machines! They even invest a lot in this, as it results in more efficient farming. Also in this farming area I heard an interesting rumor: there was a newly started farm that invested the price of a new car in a GPS system with which they can now work the fields with a precision of 2 cm! So the farmers we spoke with clearly have no problem at all working with us and sharing their GPS tracks.

In order to execute the project we did not need so much data and we have decided to work with two farmers: one farm of moderate size, a cooperation of three men, and one really small farm, run by one farmer on his own.

With the first farm we decided to record the preparing of one potato field: it was done in two days, as the work was disrupted by heavy rainfall. With the second farmer we decided to give him a GPS device for a couple of weeks as he has different plots of land, with a variety of crops, the moments he would work the fields were not so predictable, and it would be a couple of hours this day, a couple of hours that day. It was going to be easier to explain to him how to turn on the device and how to turn it off and leave it with him.

So yesterday I received the device from him – its memory was 95 % full! The visualized data was beyond my expectation. For now I will enjoy the beauty of the tracks and leave the interpretation to a later post!

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