Daniel Belasco Rogers was born in London in 1966. After a foundation at St Martin’s College of Art, he studied Stage Design in Nottingham between 1986-89. In 2001, after many years working in experimental theatre in the UK, he started making solo lecture performances that investigate personal history through accidents and the process of the projection of one city onto another.
Since April 2003 he has collected every journey he has made with a GPS, exhibiting maps of the resulting drawings and making performance lectures about this activity. In 2002 he formed plan b with his partner, Sophia New. Together they have made performance, gallery installation, new media and audio pieces in the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
Could you explain briefly what you understand by “map-making”?
When it comes to describing what we do, I think I mean it very practically. I describe what I do on my web site as ‘The Daily Practice of Map Making’ because I want to stress that it is an ongoing activity. Maps often have this air of authority. Our traces are the daily movements of two individuals following their daily lives. We have a GPS with us all the time and turn it on when we leave a building. We record every journey we can and collect these into maps which we represent in a number of ways, either printing them out or making computer animations.
How and when did you start?
I started in April 2003, after I assisted my friend Miles Chalcraft on a project he was making in Scotland as part of his residency in the Makrolab. It was there that someone had a small, basic GPS. I realised that it could automatically do what I had begun to do anyway and that was make a note of everywhere I went. The initial impulse was to note down every new street in Berlin and when I encountered it and watch myself learning about the city: I have this idea that you ‘join a city up’ when you start to spend time in it and all the isolated places you visit at first start to form a related network, just as I imagine the same process happening in your brain cells as they learn a new activity.In January 2007, Sophia began to record every journey she makes. We not only live and have a daughter together, we make work together as the company ‘plan b’. Our work often deals with the intimacies of a relationship and the fine detail of daily life and we were excited about the prospect of mapping the times when we were together and the distance between us when we are apart. This work lead to the exhibition we recently took part in in Aberdeen: ‘Recoded: the Landscapes and Politics of New Media’
Do you make maps every single day?
We collect the data every single day we step outside a building. For an exhibition that I have just been in in Berlin, I sent a map to the gallery every day for a month. I presented each day’s journeys on an A4 pdf that they printed out and hung on the wall. This was the first time I really produced a map every day. Usually I download our data every two weeks and update the large map I have on AutoCAD each month. From this programme I produce the prints, zooming in to different cities and turning months on and off.
How is GPS data stored and how does it look like?
It can take many forms but it is very simple, it just consists of the longitude, latitude, date and time, altitude and a flag that tells if there was GPS reception since the last point. This can be presented as text, and can look like this:
H LATITUDE LONGITUDE DATE TIME ALT ;track
T +51.4567100 +000.0844500 01-APR-07 08:27:55 42
T +51.4558800 +000.0883100 01-APR-07 08:28:09 57
T +51.4543100 +000.0949200 01-APR-07 08:28:32 56
T +51.4527300 +000.1013900 01-APR-07 08:28:55 54
T +51.4513900 +000.1071800 01-APR-07 08:29:15 51
T +51.4510800 +000.1103800 01-APR-07 08:29:26 47
T +51.4506600 +000.1142000 01-APR-07 08:29:39 44
T +51.4499000 +000.1174000 01-APR-07 08:29:50 41
T +51.4493000 +000.1205400 01-APR-07 08:30:01 40
T +51.4488400 +000.1250700 01-APR-07 08:30:17 36
T +51.4485100 +000.1285400 01-APR-07 08:30:29 33
T +51.4483300 +000.1327000 01-APR-07 08:30:44 34
T +51.4484400 +000.1352000 01-APR-07 08:30:52 37
T +51.4485900 +000.1397400 01-APR-07 08:31:06 34
T +51.4484100 +000.1430800 01-APR-07 08:31:18 30
T +51.4485300 +000.1464300 01-APR-07 08:31:30 29
T +51.4484900 +000.1498600 01-APR-07 08:31:42 25
T +51.4479800 +000.1528900 01-APR-07 08:31:53 23
How many points do you generate a day?
This is very changeable. It is dependent on how we have set the GPSs that we carry and what we are doing. You can set them to record a trackpoint every second but we don’t often do that as they get full too quickly. On this setting, you can only record 2.5 hours of material. If we are in Berlin and just moving around as we normally do and the GPS is set to an average level of point recording, I download the tracks every two weeks before they overwrite themselves.
How many cities have you been tracking so far?
I’ve only analysed the data for 2007 like this – I wouldn’t like to guess how many places I’ve visited since 2003 because our work takes us to lots of different towns and cities. It also depends what you define as a city. In 2007 alone, we visited approximately 32 cities and towns.
Why do you think is so engaging to look at the generated maps?
This is a question I asked myself at the beginning: I can stare at my own tracks for hours but are they engaging for anyone else? By exhibiting and talking about the work in a number of contexts, it became clear that a lot of people were interested in them too. I think there could be a number of reasons and I believe it is a mixture between interpreting the drawings as maps that show where one individual spends his time – if you know the city you can tell this and a reflecting on one’s own movements. A lot of people think that the maps of their lives would be boring but I hope to show that this is not true.
Are you planning to do something else with the GPS data that you are collecting?
We are starting to make animations of the lines drawing themselves. To do this we are collaborating with Andreas Schlegel, an artist, lecturer and software designer I met in Tokyo who has is very knowledgeable about Processing, an open source programming language.
Do the tracks bring memories to you? Do you somehow feel emotionally attached to them?
When you look at a map of a city I am in a lot like Berlin, there are lines that are very thick because of a combination between GPS (in)accuracy and the fact that I go that way almost everyday. Of course these, familiar lines are the hardest to read back like this which is interesting because it makes me think about how much you really remember your daily journeys, how conscious they are. However, there will be some lines that are one or two lines thick and these I can read back as memorable trips. To answer quickly, I feel very emotionally attached to them because it makes me feel very mortal. This is the drawing of my life, not the one I fantasize but a very real, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting, collection of everywhere I go. It’s kind of defining, kind of frightening and also kind of liberating.
London has a polemic network of public cameras controlled by the police, what do you think about being tracked for security reasons?
Hmm, this is a topic that I am increasingly interested in, angered by and feel like wanting to do something about. I find England a very strange case now I’ve left it! We have never had anything like an identification card and for years that was something we were proud of. Now we’re the most surveilled society in the world. I’ve seen this turn around in my lifetime and I wonder if those things are connected, somehow. We have 20 per cent of all cctv cameras globally. 4.2 million. It’s not just the cameras that bother me however. Now cameras have parabolic mics in them that can tune into conversation, we have gait recognition software to supposedly automatically spot someone acting suspiciously. Combine this with the fact that most ATMs now have cameras in, the bank knows exactly where you are, as do the all sorts of people you don’t particularly want to know. I have to say that the GPS units we carry about do not broadcast any signal. I could be tracked (like everybody else) through my mobile phone, bank card, bahn card, passport etc. but not through my GPS.
Do you believe tracking techniques such as mobile phone tracking are going against people’s privacy?
I think I would have to get into a long discussion about what exactly privacy is and that is outside of the scope of this interview. However, the challenge for today’s technocratic society is that we don’t lose sight of what we lose in terms of privacy every time we introduce some new, supposedly harmless technology for tracking, say, the movement of clothes round a shop. This technology doesn’t disappear of it’s own accord and governments are guilty of being seduced by the amount of data they can gather about their citizens. I think it gives them a sense of supreme power. We should be more informed about these steps and it should be each governments’ responsibility to inform it’s citizenship about exactly how much and what kind of data it stores on it. It should also be a requirement of every private enterprise (shops that offer you reward cards, for instance) to clearly inform the customer that they will use your data for analysis and marketing purposes and that that data will be sold on to other companies.
Tracking could save lives too…
Yes, and it does, there’s no argument about that but not always in the ways we think. The crime rate in the UK has NOT decreased significantly against other, less surveilled countries. I guess in the end, it’s just data. If you use the data to build a hospital in a region that really needs it, that’s one thing. I think that a lot of this surveillance culture that we’ve fallen into post 9/11 makes people feel paranoid, hunted, suspicious on a daily basis, that’s quite an impoverishment to our daily lives. Someone told me that it was as unlikely to be involved in a terrorist attack as winning the lottery. I thought that that was.
Did you ever consider your work as a criticism to the “big brother” culture?
Not really. I’m not interested in making issue-based work, work that criticises something specific in our society, that’s not the way I like to approach making work. I’m interested in knowing what we can do about things and how we approach the political through our own lives.
How long do you think you will keep on making maps?
That’s a very mortal question. Perhaps until I die or the technology changes. I don’t really have a reason to stop right now so I’m going to keep on doing it until the reason arises.
Any related exhibition soon?
There have been two exhibitions recently, in Scotland and Berlin. The best thing to do is check our web site.
Text: Eduard Prats Molner