Synapse posting 02

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For the Synapse list I promised to write about the successes and failures of the Souvenir project. Yesterday finally I found time, and I decided to publish a summary of my text here as well.

The project was a good opportunity to observe and test the behaviour of our sand robot. The robot is special designed to draw GPS tracks in a manner that expresses the subtle richness of GPS data. The robot draws a GPS route directly on the surface of the earth, and it results in a map drawn on the ground. The nice thing is that it works as an hourglass on wheels: the robot draws the GPS tracks, scaled both in time and in space. This way the differences in speed are also represented in the sand tracks that the robot leaves behind: a slow movement results in a thick line, and a fast movement in a thinner line… a stop results in a heap of sand.

The robot is still under development and so are the (visual) possibilities for it. I expect it will never be possible to make the robot perform as perfect as a computer screen visualization: the sand drawing will always be a subjective and partially imperfect, as we use dead reckoning for its orientation combined with an electronic compass. This decision was first made for technical reasons, but also as we wondered how much precision and perfection is actually needed to evoke the effect that we want it to have: a recognition of ones own tracks and movements: as being a memory machine of space. So we develop, step by step, out of experience, how much perfection is needed for a good enough performance, and what the needed standards are to have an experience of identification.

The tracks of the Zeeland crop farmers are very geometrical, and therefore all the deformations produced by the robot stand out merciless. In this installation we simply accepted the imperfections, and focused on making the sand drawings result in permanent mono-prints that can be sold to the audience and function as a souvenir of the agricultural part of the landscape. I developed this technique of making mono-prints recently: we run the sand tracks over sheets of paper, spray-paint over them, and remove the sand after the paint has dried. What I did not anticipate so much was the real cartographic effect of this visualization: the tracks continue from the one print into the other: just as with a set of “normal” maps. Also the fact of the tracks extending over/out of the frame of the print, as is the case with normal maps and the fact that the borders of the maps are contingently chosen parts, depending on the grit of the total amount of maps, did ad to this effect.

The mono-prints are now made in sets of 9 sheets per robot run. We planned to make a lot of prints, so we would be able to sell them relatively cheap, for the majority of the public here consists of tourists, and for a real interaction and involvement with them, a prize that competes with other souvenirs was needed.

During the opening this was tested for the first time. And it was really interesting to observe how the audience interacted in deciding if- and which print to buy. They found out pretty soon that it was nice to buy a set of two or three prints that are connected, and even got temped to buy two or three in a row. I did observe this with a growing enthusiasm: it reminded me very much of myself in process of buying maps of a new terrain to explore: I always get greedy and tempted to buy some extra maps: to buy more space, more possibilities: expecting to walk, bike or travel always further: beyond the borders of the map in my hands.

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