Exploring the Poetics of GPS Data

The development and popularization of the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite navigation, and digital mapping, are transforming the way in which we imagine, encounter, and experience the city. Before we used to navigate with the aid of physical landmarks, paper maps and face-to-face advise from other citizens. Nowadays we can navigate with the help of GPS data, real time computations, digital visualizations, and signals broadcasted by space vehicles that orbit planet earth. As a result of using GPS technology we are being able to geographically locate things, places, and people, with exact geodetic coordinates and universal atomic timing, scientific and military precision. We are rarely getting lost and our trajectories in space can easily be visualized in maps and recorded in digital logs. As we become familiar with finding places and directions with the help of phones, computers, and personal navigation devices that speak to us with automated voices and show us interactive maps in their screens, our practices of mobility change. How is our experience of urban mobility changing? What are the implications of this kind of navigation for surveillance and control? What are the consequences for freedom and play?

With GPS data, another layer of networked information has been added to the city increasing its complexity. As Kittler has pointed out, “in the city, networks overlap with other networks.” Networks that transmit energy (electricity, supply, highway, street) intersect with networks that transmit information (telephone, radio, television, Internet, GPS). Urban mobility is turning out into a hybrid experience of spatiality in where we navigate at the same time physical and data spaces. In an effort to explore the poetic possibilities of this kind of experience I have been developing a creative practice in the different cities I have lived and visited. I have imagined this practice as an urban ludic operation in where one draws, with the help of a GPS personal navigation device, labyrinth trajectories while moving through the city. In this entry I present a selection of five drawings performed in different cities around the world (Amsterdam, Bogota, New Orleans, New York City, and Prague).


Each of these drawings is a visualization of the digital logs I have recorded as I traverse and explore a particular city. They are visualizations of the GPS data I have generated while walking, cycling, or riding a form of public transportation. During the drawing performance I transform both the physical space of the city and the virtual space of GPS data (visualized on the screen of the personal navigation device) into a canvas for a labyrinth trajectory. Superimposed, these spaces compose a hybrid canvas where I can draw with my movement as if I had an Ariadne’s thread.






Kittler, F. (1996) `The City Is a Medium’, New Literary History 27(4): 717-29.

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