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[- Data Dérive
By TreborScholz, Section review-a-rama
Posted on Wed Jan 7th, 2004 at 10:13:01 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
Data Dérive; Angie Eng's Mental Mappings is an exhibition review in the context of Eng's New Media Art Residency at Art in General, New York City, October 28 to December 20, 2003>


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Data Dérive; Angie Eng's Mental Mappings
by Trebor Scholz

<Exhibition in the context of Angie Eng's New Media Art Residency at Art in General, New York City, October 28 to December 20, 2003>

When first entering the exhibition space, one finds the gallery walls painted in a desert tone and a tent captures our sight. Silhouettes on the tent show the shape of a person working on a laptop. The moving images of nomads that are projected onto the skin of the tent present a mnemonic repository of experiences of migration. Light shines through the tent and onto the walls where painted lines inscribe a room-sized map. The waxing and waning of the map's drawn lines remind us of Oyvind Fahlstrom's paintings of the 1970s. More recent mapping projects such as those by Bureau d' Etudes (1) or Josh On (2) come to mind but are not quoted directly. Angie Eng's map is a visualization of seven decades of seasonal migrations of an African tribe. Eng talks about the history of nomadism and the way in which it originated out of necessity, and in some parts of the world, now continues as ritual. Mounted onto this wall drawing are about a dozen lightboxes that show multi-layered film transparencies of saturated black and white patterns.

For her project Transhumance (the title is inspired by a 1998 nettime post by Calin Dan), Eng set up a non-competitive game inviting media artists, activists, and critics to think of a theme that would guide them when drifting through the Internet, playfully going from one site to the next based on an Internet search or driven solely by their impulses. The thematic end result could be entirely different than the initial topic. All participants were asked to return a list of about twenty-five URLs documenting their journey. Eng materialized these fascinating mental maps of the participants by transferring the starting pages of the provided web sites onto transparencies then superimposing them on top of lightboxes. The stacked layers of film transparencies resulted in a graphically dense image that looks much like browser art. The visitor is tempted to finger through this flipbook of sorts.

While Transhumance does not have any actual online components, the submissions by the participating data flaneurs that led to the creation of the displayed mental maps, activate many relevant topics in Internet cultures. We are confronted with issues of access, bandwidth, translation, commercialization of time spent online, and the politics of search engines. From Russian to German, and French to Arabic, we come across websites for which even online translation tools like Babelfish will offer only modest help. Eng says that she invited many academics for her project considering their ready high bandwidth access to the Internet and the fact that they have the time to meander online.

The list of sites that each designated surfer of Transhumance returned makes up experimental narratives--portraits of their creators, exquisite corpses of sorts, collaborative sentences. Their meaning appears in between the (web) pages. In most hypertext artworks, the artist creates chunks of text, narrative bits that are then linked to each other. But here, we browse through the URLs going from one readymade web site to another with the sites themselves not being created by the invited mapmaker. The nature of these mental maps is quite similar to the montage technique employed by the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov: fragments of actuality, which, when organized together, take on a deeper truth. Each website becomes a frame in a cinematic narrative that gains its meaning through the juxtaposition of readymade websites.

For instance, Jeff Lewis, a new media professor in Sydney, takes us on an online trip through histories of immigration, gold digging, prostitution, the Woomera Detention Center, Heidelberg School landscape paintings of Australia, the US Embassy in Canberra, the war in Iraq, the Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras, ending up at a medical site about hip replacement. David Crawford, a media artist based on the British Islands, takes us on what seems to be an aimless hypermedia tour to sound files, tutorials, businesses, political banners, and personal sites. His choice of web pages could have originated from a link swap--friends exchanging their browser favorites. Crawford's online drifting has much in common with the Situationist dérive (literally: drifting).

In 1958, Guy Debord describes the dérive as a "playful constructive behavior and awareness of psycho-geographical effects; which completely distinguishes it from the classical notions of the journey and the stroll." (3) This psycho-geographic drifting, the dérive, was meant as record of emotions and mental mapping, the production of mood-based maps inspired by a location. Angie Eng's poetic installation takes the notion of the dérive into the discursive context of the Internet.


(1) Bureau d'Etudes
(2) Josh On, "They Rule"
(3) Guy Debord, "The Theory of the Dérive," In Internationale situationniste, No. 2, December 1958, pp

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