Books, Writing

08/06/2013

Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

baltic sea radio2

Baltic Sea Radio (2012) is an art project by Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet that makes use of the Baltic Sea traffic for artistic purposes and offers a novel sonic experience to the audience. The artwork reflects the local ships’ movements in real-time and applies marine traffic as a score of a sound composition. The boats that can be reached by the AIS-receiver, which is installed in Sopot, right on the coast of Baltic Sea, are affecting and determining the score of the soundwork in real-time.

The artists produced a catalogue of this work, for which they asked me to write a review. Below is the text that has been included in the catalogue. The publication is available online as a free PDF ebook.

Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

Pau Waelder

One of the largest seaports on the Baltic Sea, the port of Gdańsk is constantly receiving ships that dock on the Dead Vistula or sail along the Port Channel and the Kashubia Canal into the city. The vessel traffic is converted into data as each ship’s identification, position, course and speed is tracked in real-time by the Automatic Identification System (AIS) base stations located on the coast. Easily available on several web services, this data becomes an additional layer of information that extends over the port and the city. It increases the flow of data already present in wireless networks and adds a content that is specific of this location: it belongs to the port of Gdańsk.

We usually perceive the information displayed in our digital devices as ubiquitous and unlocated: even when it refers to a particular place (such as the weather forecast in our city or the Wikipedia entry about a certain town), it seems to come out of nowhere, to belong to that vast, formless cloud (formerly cyberspace) we call the Internet. It travels invisibly over a network of servers and routers, and finally pops up on the screen as if it had always been there. Even if Wi-Fi network coverage has taught us that we live surrounded by data flows, and that we have a growing need to interact with them, we are seldom reminded of the geographical and physical origin of the data we have access to. Furthermore, the fact that this data is generated by some kind of human activity is usually overlooked. In this sense, if we are “immersed in data”, as Lev Manovich points out [1], we should not forget that the large amount of data that surrounds us is not an abstract entity, but the output of billions of actions carried out by people almost everywhere in the world. Artistic projects that convert these data flows into something meaningful should, according to Manovich, “represent the personal subjective experience of a person living in a data society” [2]. In doing so, only if the collected data is related to a particular location and a certain human activity, we can avoid the impression of simply observing an infinite array of numbers and network packets. Data becomes information when it has a meaning, and as such it can be integrated into an artwork.

Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet have explored the interaction with data flows in the context of particular locations in a series of artistic projects. In The Rhythm of the City (2011), several metronomes are modified to react to the flow of data from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in a particular city; in Wireless Poetry and Revealing Digital Landscape (2013), the network density in the city of Seoul enables a novel way of written expression. Baltic Sea Radio (2012) belongs to this series of works, as it culls data from AIS base stations located at the port of Gdańsk and applies it as a score in a sound installation. In a previous project, The Flux of the Sea (2011), this process was tested at the seaport of Palma (Majorca, Spain) in the form of an open-air concert and a limited series of prints in which the location of the ships at a particular moment was rendered as a generative image [6]. Baltic Sea Radio has been further developed as a temporary exhibition and an online radio stream, enhancing its relation with the port and the audience. The sound installation uses an old boat as a listening station, providing an element that establishes a visual connection with the origin of the data generating the score. The audience listens to the real-time composition (which is, therefore, unique to every visitor at any given time) in a setting that suggests an intimate experience: the boat is placed upright, as a sort of chapel, while the composition can be heard by putting on a set of headphones. In this manner, each person is invited to listen attentively to the score by isolating herself from the environment and imagine the activity that is taking place at the port and far away at sea. Additionally, the online radio broadcast enabled anyone to listen to the real-time composition in a different location, providing a way to experience the maritime traffic as sound, just as it can be seen on a website that visually displays AIS data.

While Baltic Sea Radio takes the ethereal flow of data back to its specific context in the sound installation at the Gdańsk City Gallery, it also introduces a concept that is recurrently addressed by Guljajeva in her artistic practice. “Unaware participation” states the artist, “is an artistic concept that explores a novel way of applying real-time human or animal activity for artistic purposes without their awareness of participation in the artwork” [3]. It implies a re-contextualization of an everyday activity, which acquires an additional meaning while not being altered by the fact that it is integrated into the artwork. In this case, the maritime traffic is not affected by the sound installation, while it is, at the same time, transformed from a daily activity into an artistic performance. Artists have long sought the fusion of art and life, and while unaware participation only provides this possibility in one direction (from daily life into the artwork), it enables a different form of exploring the everyday by observing it in real-time. This observation is carried out by means of a détournement of the data flows, that allows the data to simultaneously serve its original purpose (here, to locate ships at all times and prevent them from crashing) while providing an input to the participatory artwork. Surveillance comes to mind, as in fact the network provides the means to obtain information about a human activity without requiring conscious involvement on the part of those who are engaged in such activity. And while it is true, as Boris Groys states, that “the internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance” [4], it must be pointed out that it is not the specific action of one person what is being traced, but the activity as a whole, which generates and modifies a certain output. In this sense, Baltic Sea Radio provides a new form of experiencing the constant coming and going of ships at the port, not focusing on the vessels themselves but on the “life” that is happening, at that moment, on the sea front of Gdańsk.

Notes

[1] Manovich, Lev (2002). “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime”.
[2] Manovich, ibid.
[3] Varvara Guljajeva, “Unaware Participation in Art”. Short description of thesis.
[4] Groys, Boris (2013). “Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive”, e-flux journal #45, May 2013.baltic sea radio2

Baltic Sea Radio (2012) es un proyecto artístico de Varvara Guljajeva y Mar Canet que hace uso del tráfico del Mar Báltico con fines artísticos y ofrece una nueva experiencia sonora al público. La obra refleja los movimientos de los barcos locales en tiempo real y aplica el tráfico marítimo como resultado de una composición sonora. Los barcos cuyas señales se pueden captar con el receptor AIS, instalado en Sopot, en la costa del Mar Báltico, afectan y determinan la composición de una obra sonora en tiempo real.

Los artistas han producido un catálogo de este trabajo, para el que me encargaron una reseña. A continuación se muestra el texto que se ha incluido en el catálogo, en inglés. La publicación está disponible en línea en formato ebook PDF gratuito.

Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

Pau Waelder

One of the largest seaports on the Baltic Sea, the port of Gdańsk is constantly receiving ships that dock on the Dead Vistula or sail along the Port Channel and the Kashubia Canal into the city. The vessel traffic is converted into data as each ship’s identification, position, course and speed is tracked in real-time by the Automatic Identification System (AIS) base stations located on the coast. Easily available on several web services, this data becomes an additional layer of information that extends over the port and the city. It increases the flow of data already present in wireless networks and adds a content that is specific of this location: it belongs to the port of Gdańsk.

We usually perceive the information displayed in our digital devices as ubiquitous and unlocated: even when it refers to a particular place (such as the weather forecast in our city or the Wikipedia entry about a certain town), it seems to come out of nowhere, to belong to that vast, formless cloud (formerly cyberspace) we call the Internet. It travels invisibly over a network of servers and routers, and finally pops up on the screen as if it had always been there. Even if Wi-Fi network coverage has taught us that we live surrounded by data flows, and that we have a growing need to interact with them, we are seldom reminded of the geographical and physical origin of the data we have access to. Furthermore, the fact that this data is generated by some kind of human activity is usually overlooked. In this sense, if we are “immersed in data”, as Lev Manovich points out [1], we should not forget that the large amount of data that surrounds us is not an abstract entity, but the output of billions of actions carried out by people almost everywhere in the world. Artistic projects that convert these data flows into something meaningful should, according to Manovich, “represent the personal subjective experience of a person living in a data society” [2]. In doing so, only if the collected data is related to a particular location and a certain human activity, we can avoid the impression of simply observing an infinite array of numbers and network packets. Data becomes information when it has a meaning, and as such it can be integrated into an artwork.

Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet have explored the interaction with data flows in the context of particular locations in a series of artistic projects. In The Rhythm of the City (2011), several metronomes are modified to react to the flow of data from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in a particular city; in Wireless Poetry and Revealing Digital Landscape (2013), the network density in the city of Seoul enables a novel way of written expression. Baltic Sea Radio (2012) belongs to this series of works, as it culls data from AIS base stations located at the port of Gdańsk and applies it as a score in a sound installation. In a previous project, The Flux of the Sea (2011), this process was tested at the seaport of Palma (Majorca, Spain) in the form of an open-air concert and a limited series of prints in which the location of the ships at a particular moment was rendered as a generative image [6]. Baltic Sea Radio has been further developed as a temporary exhibition and an online radio stream, enhancing its relation with the port and the audience. The sound installation uses an old boat as a listening station, providing an element that establishes a visual connection with the origin of the data generating the score. The audience listens to the real-time composition (which is, therefore, unique to every visitor at any given time) in a setting that suggests an intimate experience: the boat is placed upright, as a sort of chapel, while the composition can be heard by putting on a set of headphones. In this manner, each person is invited to listen attentively to the score by isolating herself from the environment and imagine the activity that is taking place at the port and far away at sea. Additionally, the online radio broadcast enabled anyone to listen to the real-time composition in a different location, providing a way to experience the maritime traffic as sound, just as it can be seen on a website that visually displays AIS data.

While Baltic Sea Radio takes the ethereal flow of data back to its specific context in the sound installation at the Gdańsk City Gallery, it also introduces a concept that is recurrently addressed by Guljajeva in her artistic practice. “Unaware participation” states the artist, “is an artistic concept that explores a novel way of applying real-time human or animal activity for artistic purposes without their awareness of participation in the artwork” [3]. It implies a re-contextualization of an everyday activity, which acquires an additional meaning while not being altered by the fact that it is integrated into the artwork. In this case, the maritime traffic is not affected by the sound installation, while it is, at the same time, transformed from a daily activity into an artistic performance. Artists have long sought the fusion of art and life, and while unaware participation only provides this possibility in one direction (from daily life into the artwork), it enables a different form of exploring the everyday by observing it in real-time. This observation is carried out by means of a détournement of the data flows, that allows the data to simultaneously serve its original purpose (here, to locate ships at all times and prevent them from crashing) while providing an input to the participatory artwork. Surveillance comes to mind, as in fact the network provides the means to obtain information about a human activity without requiring conscious involvement on the part of those who are engaged in such activity. And while it is true, as Boris Groys states, that “the internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance” [4], it must be pointed out that it is not the specific action of one person what is being traced, but the activity as a whole, which generates and modifies a certain output. In this sense, Baltic Sea Radio provides a new form of experiencing the constant coming and going of ships at the port, not focusing on the vessels themselves but on the “life” that is happening, at that moment, on the sea front of Gdańsk.

Notes

[1] Manovich, Lev (2002). “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime”. <http://manovich.net/DOCS/data_art_2.doc>
[2] Manovich, ibid.
[3] Varvara Guljajeva, “Unaware Participation in Art”. Short description of thesis.
[4] Groys, Boris (2013). “Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive”, e-flux journal #45, May 2013.baltic sea radio2

Baltic Sea Radio (2012) és un projecte artístic de Varvara Guljajeva i Mar Canet que fa ús del tràfic del Mar Bàltic amb finalitats artístiques i ofereix una nova experiència sonora al públic. L’obra reflecteix els moviments dels vaixells locals en temps real i aplica el tràfic marítim com a resultat d’una composició sonora. Els vaixells els senyals dels quals es poden captar amb el receptor AIS, instal·lat en Sopot, en la costa del Mar Bàltic, afecten i determinen la composició d’una obra sonora en temps real.

Els artistes han produït un catàleg d’aquest treball, pel qual em van encarregar una ressenya. A continuació es mostra el text que s’ha inclòs en el catàleg, en anglès. La publicació està disponible en línia en format  llibre electrònic PDF gratuït.

Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

Pau Waelder

One of the largest seaports on the Baltic Sea, the port of Gdańsk is constantly receiving ships that dock on the Dead Vistula or sail along the Port Channel and the Kashubia Canal into the city. The vessel traffic is converted into data as each ship’s identification, position, course and speed is tracked in real-time by the Automatic Identification System (AIS) base stations located on the coast. Easily available on several web services, this data becomes an additional layer of information that extends over the port and the city. It increases the flow of data already present in wireless networks and adds a content that is specific of this location: it belongs to the port of Gdańsk.

We usually perceive the information displayed in our digital devices as ubiquitous and unlocated: even when it refers to a particular place (such as the weather forecast in our city or the Wikipedia entry about a certain town), it seems to come out of nowhere, to belong to that vast, formless cloud (formerly cyberspace) we call the Internet. It travels invisibly over a network of servers and routers, and finally pops up on the screen as if it had always been there. Even if Wi-Fi network coverage has taught us that we live surrounded by data flows, and that we have a growing need to interact with them, we are seldom reminded of the geographical and physical origin of the data we have access to. Furthermore, the fact that this data is generated by some kind of human activity is usually overlooked. In this sense, if we are “immersed in data”, as Lev Manovich points out [1], we should not forget that the large amount of data that surrounds us is not an abstract entity, but the output of billions of actions carried out by people almost everywhere in the world. Artistic projects that convert these data flows into something meaningful should, according to Manovich, “represent the personal subjective experience of a person living in a data society” [2]. In doing so, only if the collected data is related to a particular location and a certain human activity, we can avoid the impression of simply observing an infinite array of numbers and network packets. Data becomes information when it has a meaning, and as such it can be integrated into an artwork.

Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet have explored the interaction with data flows in the context of particular locations in a series of artistic projects. In The Rhythm of the City (2011), several metronomes are modified to react to the flow of data from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in a particular city; in Wireless Poetry and Revealing Digital Landscape (2013), the network density in the city of Seoul enables a novel way of written expression. Baltic Sea Radio (2012) belongs to this series of works, as it culls data from AIS base stations located at the port of Gdańsk and applies it as a score in a sound installation. In a previous project, The Flux of the Sea (2011), this process was tested at the seaport of Palma (Majorca, Spain) in the form of an open-air concert and a limited series of prints in which the location of the ships at a particular moment was rendered as a generative image [6]. Baltic Sea Radio has been further developed as a temporary exhibition and an online radio stream, enhancing its relation with the port and the audience. The sound installation uses an old boat as a listening station, providing an element that establishes a visual connection with the origin of the data generating the score. The audience listens to the real-time composition (which is, therefore, unique to every visitor at any given time) in a setting that suggests an intimate experience: the boat is placed upright, as a sort of chapel, while the composition can be heard by putting on a set of headphones. In this manner, each person is invited to listen attentively to the score by isolating herself from the environment and imagine the activity that is taking place at the port and far away at sea. Additionally, the online radio broadcast enabled anyone to listen to the real-time composition in a different location, providing a way to experience the maritime traffic as sound, just as it can be seen on a website that visually displays AIS data.

While Baltic Sea Radio takes the ethereal flow of data back to its specific context in the sound installation at the Gdańsk City Gallery, it also introduces a concept that is recurrently addressed by Guljajeva in her artistic practice. “Unaware participation” states the artist, “is an artistic concept that explores a novel way of applying real-time human or animal activity for artistic purposes without their awareness of participation in the artwork” [3]. It implies a re-contextualization of an everyday activity, which acquires an additional meaning while not being altered by the fact that it is integrated into the artwork. In this case, the maritime traffic is not affected by the sound installation, while it is, at the same time, transformed from a daily activity into an artistic performance. Artists have long sought the fusion of art and life, and while unaware participation only provides this possibility in one direction (from daily life into the artwork), it enables a different form of exploring the everyday by observing it in real-time. This observation is carried out by means of a détournement of the data flows, that allows the data to simultaneously serve its original purpose (here, to locate ships at all times and prevent them from crashing) while providing an input to the participatory artwork. Surveillance comes to mind, as in fact the network provides the means to obtain information about a human activity without requiring conscious involvement on the part of those who are engaged in such activity. And while it is true, as Boris Groys states, that “the internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance” [4], it must be pointed out that it is not the specific action of one person what is being traced, but the activity as a whole, which generates and modifies a certain output. In this sense, Baltic Sea Radio provides a new form of experiencing the constant coming and going of ships at the port, not focusing on the vessels themselves but on the “life” that is happening, at that moment, on the sea front of Gdańsk.

Notes

[1] Manovich, Lev (2002). “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime”. <http://manovich.net/DOCS/data_art_2.doc>
[2] Manovich, ibid.
[3] Varvara Guljajeva, “Unaware Participation in Art”. Short description of thesis.
[4] Groys, Boris (2013). “Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive”, e-flux journal #45, May 2013.

One thought on “Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

Comments are closed.