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Walking with Satellites- Introductions to the act of drawing with GPS during the Sideways festival
Walkshop 1- MENEN at Cultural Center De Steiger 19th August 2012
Walkshop 2- BRUSSELS at Parc Maximilien 2nd September 2012

Sideways festival was a four week expedition through Belgium, from West to East, between August 17th and September 17th 2012. Over the festival weekends, the mobile laboratory took stock at 5 festival locations: Menen, Herzele, Brussels, Turnhout, and Zutendaal. During the two of weekends in Menen and Brussels I was invited to create A Death of a Walk and to conduct public GPS drawing and mapping walkshops.

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WALKSHOP #1- MENEN 19/8/12: We looked at the difficulties of walking freely in a limited space by taking advantage of our own manoeuvrability. The walkshop took place in a car park that was encompassed by strictly defined zones of public access. The car park was like an island fortress defended by low-trimmed box hedging, a moat-like one-way road, and then a clearly marked cycle path on a slim sidewalk that met the edges of the surrounding buildings.

I hate walking GPS drawing Sideways

GPS drawing is about the movement of the body and the experience of 1:1 scale mapping. It’s a process that can create a quality of line that might be straight and smooth through one place and be complex and intricate in another. It can form a density of travel by scribbling round and round in one spot or by hatching and crosshatching over an area; much like one can do with a pencil. Whilst there are investigations into rediscovering and reinterpreting ‘given’ pedestrian paths there must be a counter practice of stepping off and away from the routes and ruts that dictate our travels. Pathscapes can be revealed by travelling along them, but more can be seen through the context of their vicinity. It’s about the way we see and use the space around us and how it informs our sense of place. Act like a geodesic mark maker by choosing collision points and bouncing off physical obstructions. Go to the boundaries and seek the perimeters of traversable space. Find out what’s at the permissible edge and steer away from the pre-designed flow. Don’t go where the paved paths lead you, step off and go perpendicular. Even the short-cut ruts in the grass are well pounded trenches.

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With GPS we mapped our explorations and formed new meanings within a strictly designed totalitarian topography. The difficulties of the area was chosen in full knowledge that the walkshop was to take place a day before some of the participants began their great walk across the width of Belgium. The rigidity of the space was conducive for the creation of text that anticipated the great journey ahead, and rather ingeniously a drawing of a fish whose bones lay along the lines of the parking bays. It encouraged a counter intuitive approach to navigating the available space. The experience was hopefully as frustrating for the participants as it was rewarding to see the results.

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Moments before the Sideways festival departed on the 334 kilometers walk across Belgium.
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WALKSHOP #2- BRUSSELS 2/9/12: The location for the GPS drawings was the biggest open space available in Brussels, the old maritime and rail port Tour & Taxis (Thurn und Taxis). The walkshop offered an opportunity to create freestyle GPS drawing in a wide open space and encourage a pictorial approach to walking. Walking shapes, it’s what we do every day, sometime more economically than others. What would our travels look like if we were to leave logic aside and not worry about the quickest and shortest routes between places? If we allowed more time, exploration, and humour for our journeys what might we gain from them?

Someone drew a star bursting from something indistinguishable (51 minutes, 2.8km) and someone else a large chubby flower. One participant chose to navigate the place using a map from another. She had bound map of Brussels and opened it at a random page that revealed an area near the airport. The idea was to transpose the cartography of one place onto another by copying the features of the map on foot with GPS. This is a large task at any scale and she walked in the shape of a park and somewhat along the ring-road.

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Whilst considering what to draw another participant walked around a few circles as a gesture to welcome anyone looking to land from above (visiting aliens were mentioned). She was then heckled from a great distance by a man not minding his own business. His loud curiosity was rejected and his increasingly aggressive demands beckoning her towards him were ignored. He could have been confused with seeing her walking in large circles as her concern was on not wanted to disrupt the shape of them. It might have been read as mixed message as when walking in a circle it could appear that she was indeed coming towards him but then slowly changing her mind by gradually turning away to show her back. The abuse continued to be shouted across the wasteland in a barrage of rude words loaded with sexual harassment. This gave her the idea of what drawing to make with the GPS receiver. It was to be a giant 'Fuck You' marched out in capital letters made in the hope that one day men like him might see it shouting out at them on the maps of their smart phones.

Elsewhere on the field at the same time there happened to be a participant drawing a 205x255m Batman symbol across the wasteland. Maybe he was the local Mayor calling out for help. Perhaps he was calling for help by pacing along the outline of the symbol on the ground in case the superhero was visiting the area and not paying much attention to the clouds. After all it was daytime. Or maybe he was just a fan of the comic book character as he also drew a joker’s hat at a similar size. It takes great skill and confidence to attempt a symmetrical drawing with GPS at that size. In the time to spare he then finished off his creative encounter by running in a straight line for 43 seconds and then walked straight back in a micropiece of conceptual land art.

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There was one walker who walked to and from the other walkers; bouncing between them. This proved to be a little tricky as her destinations kept moving in unpredictable directions so she had to constantly adjust her course in order to intercept them. Then there was a walk made that was not at all concerned with a pictorial approach or with what the screen of the GPS receiver was showing him. He just looked at the ground and let that lead him. When I asked him what he was looking for he said he wasn't looking for anything in particular but to just empty his head of thoughts. I then asked what he found and he said he had found nothing. (more)

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Two participants decided to collaborate on a single drawing. They agreed to each draw a dancing figure and the position where they both started was where the dancers would be holding hands. As they made sketches of their dancers this place held the departure for their walks and then clasped their arrival when they met at the end.

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GPS drawing presentation by Jeremy Wood at the Cultural Center De Steiger in Menen (photo by Daniel Djamo)
GPS drawing presentation