Grassroots Creativity and Adverstising: A GPS drawing in a Smartphone TV Ad


Some weeks ago I wrote an entry in this blog about the aesthetic quality of GPS traces and shared a couple of expressive GPS drawings I found at OpenStreetMap. As I explained, the GPS traces shared by the OpenStreetMap community are not explicitly drawings, but they can certainly be appreciated as such. However, searching the Internet, I encountered a couple of GPS drawing enthusiasts who are engaged in this practice in a more personal and “artistic” way. For instance, there is a cyclist in Baltimore named Wally who has specialized in “GPX riding” and tracing drawings in his city.  Jeremy Wood, a British artist, has also engaged himself in “GPS drawing” and has created several projects that explore the expressive and conceptual qualities of tracing trajectories with GPS enabled devices. Although the act of GPS drawing seemed to be kind of amateur, experimental, and non-commercial, I also encountered that such creative practice has already been showcased in a Verizon TV ad that aired last January. This fact raises interesting questions about the capacity of corporations and commercial culture to appropriate very fast emerging new media creative practices.

The ad tells the story of a man who riding his bicycle across San Francisco “virtually” draws a heart over the city layout using a smartphone GPS app. At the end of the commercial, he sends a message to his girlfriend so she can see in her phone the heart displayed on the top of a map. Although it seems like the ad is inspired in a true story and that the actor is the actual cyclist who performed the GPS drawing originally, it is interesting to see how the practice of GPS drawing and its expressive potential enter consumer culture.

How do cyclists and GPS creative users negotiate their representations in commercial culture? How does creative practices become commodified by corporations? In this case, it seems like the actor and original creator of the GPS drawing didn’t have any problem with turning his amateur practice into an object of desire for potential consumers.

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