View Transmission Lines 1955 to 1974 in a larger map.
This interactive map reproduces the map produced by my father. It documents the power lines he worked on through image and text. Click on the towers.

22 August 2008

Extract from my SLQ presentation, 16 August

Notes and extracts from my presentation at the SLQ on Saturday, 16 August.

I really enjoy this Web 2.0 environment - it's been described as 'an attitude, not a technology' - and I really enjoy social networking, content sharing, user-generated content and crowd sourcing. Recently, I was reading a call for papers for a journal that speculated that Web 2.0 is more like a topology than an attitude or a technology. Topological in this context means "repeated production of selfsame space via variation". For me, it's also trajective in the sense that John Rajchman discusses.

As a writer-artist who works with text and narrative, I am interested in the possibilities of artist publishing. I am interested in how these media and publications can bring the personal and the public into contact, making the personal a little more exposed and the public a little more private. I only ever make small overtures to these ideas, rarely grand statements or gestures. So I do acknowledge that I am just scratching the surface and going for the obvious. I'm also defining some limits for users - this isn't a utopian, wikinomics type experience - in terms of what can be added or changed on the sites. So there are many other places you can go with Web 2.0 like Wiki and video sharing and other things.

There's also a lot of conversation happening in the background of the work. Uncovering all these materials - the map, the photographs and the tapes - has prompted conversations around the family circle. Just a couple of weeks ago, my older sister and I were driving off the Gateway Bridge at the southern end where we encountered a fairly impressive and dense array of transmission lines. My sister asked me, "Do you remember dad calling them alta linea?" Alta linea is the Italian for 'high lines'. That is probably the title I should give the project or some addition to it in the future.

The biting question is what this project has to do with artists' books. For me, it's always interesting to look at things from the outer edge. I'm not for a second suggesting that this work is an artist's book, but I do suggest that it shares some commonalities with artists' books. There is a line of flight (or several lines of flight) between them. We know they are not the same, but the boundary that distinguishes them is quite unclear. And there's been quite a lot of literature that talks about tendencies in artists books and publishing. At a Mackay Artists' Book Forum a few years ago, Sydney-based artist Nola Farman talked about the 'fugitive'. And for me that's a exhilaratingly uncertain and rebellious space to inhabit. So I think, in these electronic spaces, we're really exploring multiple literacies, perhaps fugitive literacies. And there is even more literature about the question of digital literacies. But, as Nola says in her conference paper, the narrative of the fugitive is usually unresolved. When a something (an object, subject, event) ceases to be on the run or in hiding, it ceases to be fugitive.

My sense of the work is that it doesn't - can't - stay still. It needs to be invented and reinvented. So I'm also exploring ways of developing this work as an online book using the Diffusion Generator produced by Proboscis, a UK artist group and consultancy. The eventual book will be downloadable for free. I'm also thinking about a series of prints using the photographs. There's more that can be done with elements to tell the story in many and varied ways. Or alternately, to tell different stories from the same elements.

The map is central in this project. There's an explosion of social mapping in the online world and the group I just mentioned, Proboscis, are innovators in this area and they do a lot of work with mobile media, mash ups and social media. About 20 years ago, a project I was working on organised to bring Sue Clifford from Common Ground to Brisbane. Sue was a great advocate of social mapping and exploring psycho-geography and Common Ground developed very important quilting and other community art projects that focused on mapping, environment and place. So I have had an abiding fascination with topography and cartography - having spent much time exploring postmodern theory, I was very interested in the relationships between the cartographic and trajective imaginary and narrative.

So there's a new awareness of mapping and various DIY practices of cartography which are becoming integral to our storytelling. Even the mainstream media are seeing the value with projects like ABC Earth which pegs news stories to places. The term 'neogeography' descrived the merging of user data and experiences with online mapping technologies. So really, we're just talking about a more subjective engagement with mapping and charting space and talking about the map as narrative. This relationship between map and story is what I am exploring.

My family often recalls our lives as an itinerary. First we lived here, then worked there, then moved elsewhere. Much of that was, of course, framed by my father's working life. This project gives you a way into that.

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