How can a Forest Move

This Saturday saw another workshop which builds even more conceptual foundations for the Moving Forest 2012. Rachel Baker and Kayle Brandon provided some incredibly stimulating background on how they had devised their ’3 keys’ game which they intended to use to let us explore the experience of Moving Forest.

The game took several cues from classic situationist tactics of making an area unfamiliar but was threaded through with thematics and elements of what constitutes the Moving Forest. The omen and prophetic phase of the 5 act Moving Forest performance was instantiated by participants drawing cards from three decks: a tree deck, a realm deck, and an instruction deck and this triumvirate of runes guided your drift through the park.

Your tree provided inspiration for what to seek out while making your way towards the castle, or alternatively provided you with attributes to role play. You situated your 60 minute siege in the domain which you had drawn. I had drawn Ash, a fascinating tree with plenty of unique attributes to seek out. (I’m embarrassed to say that I completely neglected one of these attributes while out walking: the ash has healing properties – it was believed that if you split an ash and passed an unwell infant through the split and then bound the tree back together that the tree and human’s health were somehow entangled (and the ash invariably healed due to it’s hardiness in this regard).
My realm was domestic and the instruction provided an activity to undertake, though mine was a tricky one to do and instead functioned more as a suggestive algorithm looping at the back of my mind (my task was ‘perform a credit risk assessment of a stranger’).

You had the option of choosing one of the 500 slogans and an Olympic slogan as further semiotic signposts to your subconscious stroll. My (randomly) chosen slogan “You are of a species that is almost extinct outside of captivity” somewhat resonated with the domestic realm. You were to walk towards a ‘Castle’ of your choosing, and the definition of Castle proffered by Kayle and Rachel will stay with me as a reference point for the remainder of Moving Forest

The Castle can be any social, spatial or political system, place,
person, or law which you regard as in a state of corruption,
grotesque, inhumane, mutated by fear, polluted, degraded etc

The castle can be set to any scale. It could be a personal issue or
megalithic system.
For instance; one might want to overthrow an overgrown personality
trait or a bureaucratic infestation.

It was another attribute of the Ash tree which took root (sorry) with my task and guided my walk: in Irish folklore it was asserted that crops would die if planted in the shadow of an ash tree. The ash tree’s shadow had agency, and this prompted me to think of Murakami’s shadow selves in ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland. This fictional concept was something I had previously associated with our data shadow/data double and the agency we might consider it to have. Data shadows steer how we navigate through the web and are also the means by which algorithms regard us, and a lens by which to feel how algorithms affect us in our lived reality. Why would I perform a credit risk assessment of a stranger? That is a task to which the cold stare of an algorithm is best suited, truth be told I would barely know where to start on such a risk assessment.

Throughout my walk I rolled the shadow concept around in my head as the sun inched it’s way towards the horizon, obligingly casting long shadows for me to meditate on. Most apt was the National Grid Heading tank and the shadow it cast (for where would digital culture be without electricity culture, itself barely a century old)

I was a little aimless in my walk (and not in the purposeful purposelessness way unfortunately). To play with the above idea of data shadow I decided to use the augmented reality app ‘Layar’ to take photos of my walk, exploring two services where the digital world can be overlaid with our sensorial reality. One is Foursquare, which was the closest fit I could find for domestic (defined as “convert, tame, save, civilised, cultivated, selective breeding, commodity, ornamental, pet, self-tame, normalise, trained, captive, socialised, with culture, modified, broken-in, aesthetics, comfort, security ). I have personally found it baffling and disconcerting how readily people ‘check in’ to places and leave behind an immensely useful data trail for Foursquare.The service is really banal care of it’s meteoric ascension to the quotidian, but the behaviour it encourages is troubling when considered objectively. The foursquare app lets you visualise the spaces (GPS coordinates networked into a social UI) one can check into in your immediate proximity

The second service is that provided by Weavrs, a project I have followed since May of this year and which of late I have been fortunate enough to do some actual work for (disclaimer:under a freelance contract for Philter Phactory). Weavrs are bots for the social web, possessed of a place of work and residence and a set of interests, tastes and passions. In truth they are infomorphs, a body of information who siphon the residue of the social web into raw material to create a a narrative. From their blogging and tweeting a coherence emerges and from there you can see the topics of personality blurring due to proximity to this non-human agency.

Weavrs are fascinating for many a reason but they were most interesting for my derivé as they can also be pinpointed in “virtual space” through the Layar app: you can see where a given Weavr is on their journeys (the Maschmischine project utilises this to wonderful effect)
I took screengrabs of the Layar application alongside photos of the landscape as I walked it, the latter consisting of a photo journal of the signs that grew up around the railway path I chose to follow. I tended towards this exploration as interested in the signs that gather around a thoroughfare of communication – the railway. With the screengrabs I hoped to get a voyeurs view of the virtual space in which people move and excrete data at a prolific rate.

inducing apophenia

However when I reviewed the screengrabs the background photos of the Weavrs and 4square had not been captured. Initially I was disheartened but then realised that this was actually for the best: the juxtaposition was a shallow one and in no way illuminating as regards the actual ways in which these digital bodies overlap the physical terrain in which are bodies move (and are captured). It was an itch I had to scratch and I’m glad the technology delivered the most fitting rebuffing of the idea possible – and that’s to say nothing about the reticular bias of Augmented Reality.

The strength of having so many points of inspiration/departure was that it was very easy to let them cross fertilise one another, but that came with the attendant risk of ‘anything fitting’ and losing some of the creativity productivity that comes from directing apophenia into a narrow corridor of associations
I found the game somewhat overwhelming in terms of everything that needed to be borne in mind, but the elements which they brought to the table functioned magnificently well as modes to trigger apopheniac creativity. Kayle’s wealth of knowledge on everything a tree has or could symbolise was for me the best way of charting a different way through the environment, and to be honest, I’d most like to do the exercise again in a more intensely urban locale, where there was no native foilage to distract. Moreover the biggest feeling I was left with was of missed opportunity, in terms of the traits I wished I’d maximised more and the paths I wished I’d taken (case in point was how Antony had followed an abandoned railway line, which would have fitted better with the ‘extinct species –> old media conduits path I had followed).

Some very useful concepts have already been stirred in my mind (more forthcoming) and there are tree attributes I’d like to extrapolate further. But I’d quite like to do the walk again, either with a completely open mind or with a more tightly delimted idea of what area I wish to explore

Plenty to take away from the workshop for budding Moving Forest actors, which I will surmise below:

Signs are tethered to their context
Slogans can become banal when they are saturated in one spot
Empty signification of signs lends them their power. – baudrillardArtifice
Moving Forest is an abstract assault
Moving Forrest has an affinity with occupy but they diverge in terms of method
Moving forest and black bloc
Theatrical props foment solidarity in a protest – see the Book Bloc
Assemble people under a sign or prop
What are the symbols that people gather under during a public protest
Moving Forest is a sonic assault

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~ by Stephen Fortune on December 13, 2011.

One Response to “How can a Forest Move”

  1. [...] of Rachel (and her collaborator Kayle Brandon)’s work on Prophecy and Omen, manifest in the Three Keys game work over the weekend, and to see that among the domains by which one could stage a siege of their [...]

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