U-COG-144 (Urban-Colonization Orientation Gear-144)
Reengineering The City:
UCOG-144 and The Technology of Intimacy
Location is no longer everything. The city, once the mythical and concrete site of community and connection, culture and commerce, is rapidly being displaced by its electronic doppleganger. Unlike the physical city with its clearly demarcated neighbourhoods and boundaries, the vast, unseen, virtual city does not practice a precise cartography. Geography has been replaced with speed and mobility; the ability to be anywhere in the world with the click of a remote. This is not to say that the virtual city does not exact a verisimilitude. Configured as a public forum and electronic meeting place, it operates much like its physical counterpart. Telecommuters clog the roadways, citizens bank, shop, socialize and even fall in love - all without having to leave the comfort of their homes. With all its characteristics seemingly condensed to the flat screen of a monitor the physical city, like geography, appears obsolete.
Yet, there are enormous differences between the city and its representation that cannot be easily ignored. The pockets of neglect and decay that mark the urban landscape have been carefully eliminated from the space of the simulated environment. The omissions signal not only a widening in the gap between virtuality andreality, but the uneasy feeling that tecnology has become a tool that we use to shield ourselves from the harsher facts of urban life. Laptops, walkmans and other portable technologies even enable us to reframe the city as we walk the streets or ride the metro. In the process, we are able to effectively shut- out all the noise, chaos, and social woes that are part of urban environment, lending credence to M. Christine Boyer’s observation that social insecurity breeds a love of simulation.
The widening gap between reality and virtuality foregrounds our need to reengineer the way we have been programmed to think about both the city and technology. Cultural theorist Celeste Olalquiagua has suggested that one way to rescue the city from obsolescence is to use the tools of technology that threaten to displace it, to šre-register it anew’. A similar spirit of rediscovery permeates the Urban Colonisation and Orientation gear-144 (UCOG-144), a street performance project from Projekt Atol Communication Technologies (PACT), an artist group located in Ljubljana, Slovenia: UCOG-144 is a portable, mobile communication system that enables performers to individually reconnect with the urban environment. Donning a backpack which contains a Global Position Satellite (GPS), transceiver, audio beacon, slow scan camera, and wireless modems, performers walk through the streets of Ljubljana carving out špaths of colonisation’. With their bodies functioning as satellite dishes that both transmit and receive information, performers are able to track their physical coordinates within the urban environment in real time. Throughout the walk, an ECM (electronic countermeasure) tracks the performers positions which are in turn transmitted to Projekt Atol’s World Wide Web site. The performer later updates this site by posting sounds, images, and thoughts collected during the strolls.
Through its process of recording the city, UCOG-144 can be seen as the latest high-tech entry in a long tradition of šcandid camera’ city filmmaking that reaches back to Dziga Vertov’s Man with A Movie Camera and Walter Ruttman’s Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City. But whereas Ruttman was creating an abstract portrait of the city and Verov’s masterpiece was less about Moscow than it was about the process of filmmaking, something much more revolutionary is operating in UCOG-144: the performances are imbued with a spirit of rediscovery. The devices that the UCOG-144 performers utilise as they carve a path through the city streets work like high-tech compasses facilitate a reconnection with the physical. Originally designed for military deployment, the GPS satellite, audio beacons and many other of the technologies that UCOG-144 has reappropriated are powerful enough to unveil eventhe most minute details of the urban landscape. As the performers move through the territory checking their coordinates, mapping their position and recording their position within it. Rather than replacing or simulating the physical, UCOG-144 works like a corrective lens that brings the city into sharper focus making the invisible once again visible. Re-mapped and re-registered, the city is no longer terra incognita.
In the process, UCOG-144 also charts an innovative way of thinking our relationship to technology. Technology as we have come to conceive it has been defined by mass consumption; individual experience is discounted in favour of šconsensual hallucination’. UCOG-144 reengineers our perception of technology by expanding it to include notions of the personal. Donning a UCOG-144 backpack, wearing the technology directly on your body, is a highly intimate and transformational act. Moving through a territory, collecting sounds and images, tracking your own movement, differs radically from viewing a simulation on the flat surface of a monitor. The technology becomes an extension of the performer’s body; the recorded sounds and images a reflection of the individuals interaction within the cityscape. Although ultimately public in nature, the UCOG-144 World Wide Web site - which performers update at the end of their strolls - has also been designed to encompass and extend the notion of personal experience. Working much like a cartographic diary, the WWW site offers UCOG-144 performers a space where they can order and make sense of the information and impressions they have collected. With its emphasis on hyperlinks and movement, the Web enables performers to replicate the spirit of (re)discovery and revelation they experienced within the urban terrain By accessing these intimate accounts, referring to the maps, images and sounds assembled on the pages, and following the links, visitors to the site are able participate in UCG-144 performances as fellow travellers (rather than a mere consumers) with the same sense of discovery and exploration that the performers experience. The result is a wonderfully empowering and liberating use of technology which promotes notions of participation and choice over spectatorship and consumption.