Essay by Roslyn Helper
Stickers. They are seen slapped to the sides of street poles, fading at the edges of window panes, pasted hastily to cement walls. They are made for bands, for brands, for upcoming events, for political and environmental causes. They are applied to surfaces and then left to the weather, to wear away, to fade, for the glue to melt and the paper to disintegrate, to become obsolete. They occupy the surfaces of our streets, over years building up a historical urban landscape rarely registering to the casual observer.
Australian media artist Josh Harle presents Tactical Space Lab, an experimental cartography of the urban environment built-up from a patchwork stickers. During his international residency, the artist pulled the eponymous Space Lab – a rugged flight-case with colour printer, Raspberry Pi computer, wifi access point, car battery, and inverter – through Paris, Berlin, London and finally Vienna, gathering marks of the vernacular visual languages of each as he went.
This ‘mobile research platform’ served as the site for the artist’s performative mapping experiments. At each deployment, Harle added to the collection of points encountered during his passage through the city. Over time, the Tactical Space Lab has built up composition of these spaces both virtually and physically: on it’s surface it collects traces of its path as a palimpsest of overlapping stickers, while the access-point inside shares the artist’s virtual map via open WiFi.
This project is a continuation of Harle’s interest in the various ways of ‘making sense’ of the world, from the subjective, embedded tactics of everyday life, to the technocratic, rationalising strategies deployed by nations and institutions. Often the very technologies we use to help us make sense of our environments can also play a role in limiting our scope.
Harle’s practice explores the possibility that both geographical space and technology can take on new meanings depending on how they are used. He re-appropriates advanced digital capture and geolocation tracking technologies as expressive mediums, altering their usual outcomes in the hope of provoking an affective element which is normally absent.
In Harle’s previous work Making Sense, also showcased in the exhibition, a small robot endlessly navigates the gallery space. The robot uses cloud-computing and computer vision technology to reconstruct it’s path as it goes. Disrupting the map, the robot’s performance of the space is marked through a chalk trail left as it continues its journey.
In another recent work, Harle photographically captured and digitally recreated ‘real world’ environments, where audiences are able to interact with and augment these constructed experiences. Tactical Space Lab, on the other hand, approaches concepts of environment, spatiality, locality, history, truth and sense from multiple – often competing – angles.
The virtual maps created by the flight-case are hyperlocal in both time and place, creating a fleeting microcosmic world defined by a psychogeography of stickers; an intimate surround which vanishes from the atmosphere once the lab and its WiFi connection has passed on. Additionally, a fascinating feedback loop starts to occur, where stickers are captured through multiple users’ viewpoints, virtualised and embedded in a map, then physically re-created, cloned and stuck on the Lab, which itself becomes a unique map – a map that represents many times and places simultaneously.
It’s fitting that Josh Harle has created a multiplicity of viewpoints for experiencing Tactical Space Lab, which is rooted in radical cartographic practices and challenges the singular, linear practices of making sense via traditional mapping techniques. Here the map is a performance of embodied exploration. The map is itself an environment, not just merely a representation. The map is organic, partial, marked by points of collective and singular experience. The map travels between the virtual and the embodied, existing fully neither in one nor the other.