GPS Created Art: A New Trend?

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By Jackie Gately

Medieval artist portrayed distance by drawing figures that overlapped. It wasn’t until perspective art – where distant objects appear smaller than closer ones – that an artist’s position relative to his subject became important. But what if the artist is actually in the drawing? Not as in a self-portrait, but rather with a GPS tracking system in hand to create his image. Is that really art?

Some call it “position art,” “geo art, “GPS art,” “GPS drawing,” “personal cartography,” or just plain nerdy. But will using a GPS tracking device and a global canvas change the face of art going forward? A number of artists experimented with this “new” medium in 2008.

Perhaps the most notorious GPS generated drawing in 2008 was by Swedish artist, Erik Nordenenkar. His “Biggest Drawing in the World,” a global self-portrait, was based on shipping a GPS tracking device across the globe in a plastic briefcase. It turns out that his drawing was fictitious, but an amazing concept nonetheless.

In “Walk the Line,” Finnish performance artist, Antti Laitinen created a geo drawing of his face. He transferred the image onto a map, then walked the course repeatedly to create the resulting sketchy self-portrait. Laitinen provided the supporting GPS data to validate his trek.

One of the simpler geo drawings is the outline of a slipper formed by a series of intersecting streets. It’s known on Youtube simply as GeoArt Slipper and can be found at:

Artist and comic act Stavros calls himself “The Master of Position Art.” Using his Nokia, Stavros created what he calls “The Greatest Work of Art Ever” as he walks through Rome, Italy. The resulting work is rudimentary, but intriguing.

Ester Polak, from Amsterdam, creates abstract art using multiple GPS tracking devices. Her Amersterdam Real Time project tracked about 60 people over six or seven weeks through their daily routines to create art.

At the Cobham International School in London, teacher Jeremy Wood combines lessons in geography and programming, inspiring high school students to create simple images in a field. Wood encourages drawings that span land, water, and air. He’s created a gallery of contributed art, as well as visual travelogue over a ten- year period.

While using the earth as canvas seems groundbreaking, it really is nothing new. Instead, it is simply the resurgence of an old art form made easier by technology. After all, consider the upsurge of crop circles in the 1990’s, and the ancient Nazca geoglyphs in Peru. I bet GPS tracking devices would have come in handy for making those.

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