Nate Larson & Marni Shindleman: Geolocation – Tributes to the Data Stream

Dates: January 5 – January 28, 2012
Location: United Photo Industries HQ | 111 Front Street, Suite 204

In 2007, Twitter had 5000 tweets each day. Twitter now estimates there are over 50 million tweets daily, which together create a new level of digital noise. Clive Thompson in the New York Times article, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, September 7, 2008,” has a name for this sort of incessant online contact: ambient awareness. He says, “It is. . . very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does – body language, sighs, stray comments – out of the corner of your eye.” Twitter and other social networking microblogging tools, such as Facebook’s Newsfeed, are changing social interactions. Our collaborative work examines virtual communication and its impact on physical encounters.

We realized our first project, “Witness”, in 2007, which utilized psychic techniques the government developed during the cold war as means of communication. We sent and received messages through telekinesis. The messages were recorded through a series of drawings and photographs that comprise the exhibition. Within the exhibition, we also asked viewers “What they would/wouldn’t need” if they had reliable psychic abilities. The majority of answers became summed up by one response: “I wouldn’t be so lonely.” This loneliness became the impetus for our latest collaboration, “Geolocation: Tributes to the Data Stream”.

As a society, we strive for means to abate a loneliness that seems exasperated by an increasingly overly connected culture. Cell phones and instant messaging have simultaneously made us more connected virtually and lonelier than ever. Geolocation: Tributes to the Data Stream utilizes publicly available GPS coordinates embedded in tweets to locate them in the physical world. For this work, we mine the public time line of tweets for those with GPS coordinates, then mark the locations with a photograph, including the original tweet below the image. Each of these photographs is taken on the site of the update and paired with the originating text. We follow these strangers through their Twitter updates, becoming intimately involved in their banal daily errands.

This work is a means for situating the virtual into the physical realm. We imagine ourselves as virtual flaneurs, ethnographers of the Internet, exploring cities 140 characters at a time through the lives of others. Like a historical marker on the side of the highway, these photographs interrupt a historical narrative, that of the Twitter public timeline.

Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman’s collaborative work focuses on the cultural understanding of distance as perceived in modern life and network culture.

Their GEOLOCATION project was recently featured on the NPR program Marketplace Tech Report and in the British Journal of Photography, BBC News Viewfinder, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun among many others. Their work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and they recently completed a commission of site-specific GEOLOCATION works for the Format International Photography Festival in Derby, UK.

Their collaborative work has been featured in solo exhibtions at the Contemporary Arts Center Las Vegas; Marks Center for the Arts in California; and the New Gallery in Calgary and will be shown at Blue Sky Gallery in May 2012.

Selections have been shown at the Houston Center for Photography; Baltimore Museum of Art; the 2nd Moscow International Biennale; RAIQ in Montreal; Peloton in Sydney, Australia; the Center on Contemporary Art Seattle; City Without Walls in New Jersey; and the Conflux Festival in NYC.

Larson & Shindelman have lectured on their work at the Format International Photography Festival, the Society for Photographic Education National Conference, Shawnee State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alberta College of Art and Design, Nerd Nite NYC, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Johns Hopkins University.