Cities are not merely collections of buildings; they are the living, breathing, teeming product of the human bodies who inhabit them. A city razed to the ground may recover, but a city emptied of people is dead. Yet emphasis is always given to the locative nature of a city – the neighborhood you live in, the street, the floor, the unit – an assertion of a Cartesian primacy which ignores the more profound natural relationships of the city: the coming together and parting of human beings living social lives. Cities are their people; souls are the bricks from which a city is constructed.
BlueStates: Exploring Relational Space is an attempt to reverse the figure and ground of the city, ignoring its visible nature as a locative, Cartesian space, creating, instead, a view of the city purely as a social space. In this work, the trope of absolute location is abandoned in favor of the idea of relational proximity. BlueStates does not show you where you have been, but rather, it shows you who you have been with – a more perfect metric for the inner life of the city.
The inspiration for BlueStates is drawn from the recognition that most of us, most of the time, carry that most common of 21st century appliances, the mobile phone. Most of these mobile phones are equipped with a wireless technology known as Bluetooth. A Bluetooth mobile phone user creates a radius of electronic awareness – what we call a “bluesphere” – extending as much as ten meters from their body. When two Bluetooth devices pass in proximity to one another, each senses the other. Data is exchanged – and promptly ignored. BlueStates: Exploring Relational Space uses its own, custom software sensors – which run on mobile phones, PDAs and computers – to listen intently to the bluesphere. These sensors contribute to a database record of proximal encounters, and this data is then used to build views into the social life of the city’s residents.
BlueStates is by its nature a highly participatory work. Anyone will be able to visit the website and create their own views into relational space. Residents of cities around the world will be encouraged to add their own sensors to the global network of sensors, expanding the database to incorporate the inner social life of their own cities. Beyond this, the work’s creators have committed to releasing all software developed for the project as as free and open source software (under the GNU General Public License), believing this will encourage others to create their own projects in relational space. Finally, artists will be provided with tools to that will allow them to permute the data gathered by BlueStates: Exploring Relational Space in new and unique ways.
The two artists behind BlueStates have spent their careers exploring the intersection between art and technology.
- Mark Pesce, American-Australian author, researcher, engineer, futurist and teacher, is best known as the inventor of VRML, the standard for 3D on the World Wide Web, and has pioneered new interactive techniques for a quarter of a century.
- John Tonkin, Australia, has consistently produced a stream of artworks that twist technology (and, occasionally, his body) into new and unexpected forms. Currently based at the University of Sydney, he has been involved in a broad range of projects including a collaboration at the Banff Centre for New Media Arts (Canada) and a fellowship funded by the Australia Council.