Text in the exhibition catalogue “Jodi” (Rotterdam, 2005).
"The use of a GPS to navigate a car turns out to be far richer in implications than generally recognized. In particular, it requires an identification with a moving cursor on a screen generated by a computer that tells the driver what to do. (...) the subtext of the new digital maps of control and drift is the existence of an individual who can lend concreteness to the points and lines flickering on the screen, and play with the layers of software and databanks to create effects stamped with an utterly new materiality "
Antoine Picon, "On digital cartography" GNS Catalogue Palais de Tokyo 2003
Maps and geographical charts, that have for centuries fascinated artists and cartographers alike, now come alive. Lines indicating rivers and geographical borders drawn on paper, and surfaces covered in cities and nations have now become navigable spaces to discover: images through which we can move with a mouse, with our sight, with our mind. With the simple click of a mouse we can switch from the urban area in which we live to a complete view of the globe as a whole. We can choose which features of the Earth to examine (pollution, atmospheric currents, population density and transportation networks). We can locate and follow airplanes, cellular phones, ships and individuals. The application of modern digital technology to geography (GIS) and the transformation of military objectives into civilian objectives brought about by military satellite technology in the early 1990's (GPS) have further expanded the visual domain as we know it. It isn't only a matter of having new uses, functions and devices at hand, but rather the challenge of new mental models and spaces that develop with this overload of imagery. If by techniques and economy one speaks of using existent instruments and information that guarantee understanding and user friendliness; then by artists one speaks of the development of new processes of appropriation of this larger space, of creating new ways to enliven the relationship between micro and macro, between near and far, physical and digital and making sense of it all.
This greater visibility doesn't necessarily mean greater clarity and truth, nor is it a guarantee of greater comprehension and knowledge. The new images at hand are organized according to criteria and precise 'rules of transformation' and are based upon necessary needs and functions (as old maps once were). The "window", both that of Leon Battista Alberti on the real world as well as that of digital culture today (GUI), has never been a transparent frame but rather a material device that shapes the experience of the observer, expressing simultaneously a unique point of view, the singular and partial view of the author.
This publication -Jodi's artistic project for the Rhoon Traffic Management Center- brings to light the "thickness" of this mediation, and it reveals the subjectivity and purpose existing under the apparent neutrality with which information, and therefore the new images of the Earth, are organized.
"Driving a Car/ Drawing a Car 1:1"(Jodi)
Faced with the current high tech instruments of the survey and visualization of information relative to automobile traffic Jodi adopts a material belonging to an opposite world: the analogue one of paper and drawing. "Driving a car becomes drawing a car on the road-network". The car designed in this way transforms itself into the origin and the unit of measure of a new universe of roadways that, like Jodi's previous manipulations of browser, software, web pages and computer games, it is shaped through a collage of images both real and virtual.
"The car" -and the road circuit that it represents- are subject to continuous manipulations through software and 3D rendering applications for the Earth's surface and popular Route calculators. The result is a car-route with instructions on How-to-drive-it-yourself and projections of the same route in circuit-drawings of computer car games.
The viewer is "displaced" by what he sees. "Chaotic aesthetic", "random behaviour" (Florian Cramer), "confused geography" (Ian Campbell) -characteristics of the artwork of Jodi- all change the function of the GPS Road navigator. The roadmap is progressively deprived of its function to instruct, providing certainty and security; its function to measure, calculated and precise, is slowly lost, and the accurate road instructions given by a confident voice ("At the end of the road, turn left, then turn right", "Turn right 200 meters ahead", "You are here", "At the roundabout, take the second exit"), in the end, reveal themselves useless.
The deconstruction and the multiplication of the interface and the graphics of the Road navigator are the means for a critical, conceptual discourse on high technology. To the navigator's preciseness and functionality, Jodi, in fact, proposes a "childish" universe. (The car, appearing crumpled, seems as if it's right out of a comic strip, or from a sketchbook of a child.) They create a playful atmosphere and procedure which contrast with the sensations and atmosphere of control and threat that derives from the interface design of GPS Road navigators. The 3D bird's-eye view (the model of navigable space created by some of the first flight simulators for Boeing in the U.S.A in the early 60's which then developed into a visual style often associated with monitoring and surveillance) is "dismantled" and "mixed up". It is transformed by the generation of lines in a stylized cluster of roads around and within the car-route, that conceal more forms and words to be discovered ("now here", "draw", "on the road").
Transported by the little car in this sequence of jodian images and maps, we continually bounce between the concrete and illusional representations, between real and virtual worlds where it is difficult to distinguish one universe from the other.
If the path from a to b is the place in which the identity of the driver is created and formed, then the little blue car that moves along the red line at sea level could be potentially our "real" car. Thus "the real navigator/user" could be the same driver who crashes the car in the race game of 'V-Rally 2' or that discovers medieval villages in 'Trackmania'. On the map-drawings their paths are the same.
But are we actually talking about the real driver? The roadway featured in a Road Navigator program doesn't necessarily imply that the voyage happened in reality. Just insert the spatial coordinates (in the form of mailing address, or latitude and longitude) and one can actually navigate while sitting comfortably in the living room of his home. The real driver thus resembles very much the virtual driver of a computer game.
This short circuit of identity, this continuous exchange between real and virtual renders any indication, any sign, or any system of coordinates or roadways completely relative.
New orientations and reference points are formed along the trajectories delineated by Jodi and the car. These reference points "break" the rigidity of standard screen-interface and render relative the suggestions of the common car navigation system. We no longer see one road, but we see -and drive along- many others.