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MacDonald, G., 2011.

New Threads for Old Labyrinths: Moving Bodies and the Practiced City

Output Type:Chapter in a book
Publication:Regenerating Culture and Society: Art, Architecture and Urban Style Within the Global Politics of City-Branding
Brief Description/Editor(s):Jonathan Harris and Richard Williams
Publisher:Liverpool: Liverpool University Press and Tate Liverpool

The chapter situates recent media art works involving GPS and the mapped trace of movement in a broader art historical and contemporary context. It counters a tendency among commentators on these artworks and technologies towards overstated claims for novelty and technological determinism. It draws particularly on Rosalind Krauss’s discussion of a ‘logic of the index’ at work across the dispersed art practices of the 1970s, and considers the indexicality of GPS traces by drawing parallels with discussions from the 1990s about the crisis of indexicality in digital lens-based media. The essay deals mainly with walking and mapping practices in urban settings. In their introduction the editors of the volume note that the essay is a contribution to histories of “artists who have made their physical-spatial journeys around the city the basis for ‘locative’ artworks of various kinds”(23).
The originality of this essay lies in its proposal of a new category of artistic practice: ‘trace-works’. Whether inscribed in the environment itself or on a schematic representation of space, trace-works are characterized by the indexical visual records of movement they generate. This category allows for common concerns and methods to be identified in artists working with walking and mapping practices in various media, genres and periods since the 1960s, as a starting point for more focussed comparisons. Contemporary media artists working within the locative media genre are discussed alongside Richard Long, On Kawara and Francis Al˙s. The intention is to identify the ways in which traces of movement, the performances of movement they index, and the play of presence and absence that they deal with, are made to speak in different contexts. More recently published scholarship in this area (for instance Karen O’Rourke’s 2013 survey Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers, published by MIT Press) has followed this general approach.