In December of last year, the European Union and the European Space Organisation agreed to set up a European venture as competition for the American Global Positioning System (GPS) by 2005. The non-military system “Galileo” is to consist of 30 satellites and cover the entire globe.  The EU argues that this decision is aimed at making it independent of the GPS – which is still used for military purposes – by giving it its own surveillance complex. The end users of this geographical location system are to include customs and the judiciary, transport and communications authorities, and tourism organisations. On May 1 the White House in Washington announced that “SA” (Selective Availability), which caused civilian equipment to give more imprecise results, would no longer operate. These two decisions show what a central role satellite systems will play, or already play, in everyday life, alongside the telecommunications systems of telephone and internet.
These developments, leading towards an ever more perfect universal surveillance method, have not gone without comment from activists  and artists. Whereas at the end of the nineties there were mainly reactions to the – in some cases – extremely extensive installation of video cameras in public places,  a new technological paradigm of media art is now starting to emerge. Besides Web-based works about the surveillance of data transfers,  the first artists have already begun working with the GPS, such as the documenta participants tsunamii.net.
This involves a Web-related approach: tsunamii.net looked for correspondences on the Web to the real places they passed on their travels. The focus is on an alternative mapping of the internet.
The current project by 0100101110101101.org, which has the awkward name “VOPOS” – a reference to former East German police as representatives of a historical surveillance state that shows little more than a “radical chic aesthetic” -, also functions partly via GPS. Tanio Copechi and Renato Pasiopani, as the operators of 0100101110101101.org call themselves, carry a GPS transmitter around with them. It sends the data it receives to a server via mobile phone, and this data is then visualised on the web site by means of software. With the aid of a digital street map of Barcelona, which is where the two Italian artists claim to be, users can see which street they are in – whether just one or both of them is an open question. The clock can also be turned back – this means it is possible to vaguely reconstruct the route taken through the city by the “surveillees”. But “VOPOS” has nothing to do with a sociological interest in the erratic wanderings of everyday life, as the situationist approach would suggest; it is a criticism of the potential of the GPS: who uses the coordinates it provides, and what does the electronic profile that can be deduced from them reveal?
The two artists do not just illustrate the way the GPS functions within a larger communications complex; their artist strategy is also expressed in their refusal to give their identity and provide a level of narrative that could explain why they visit the places they do (unless someone knows the city very well and thus has options for interpretation). It is equally impossible to verify whether they really were at the positions marked or not. “VOPOS” therefore also remains a game involving reality and fiction, information and disinformation. For a knowledge of the way the system could potentially function suffices to enable one to critically take up the surveillant’s perspective. As the second part of the long-term project “Glasnost”, “VOPOS” continues the planned collection of comprehensive, person-specific data. The first phase – which still exists on the web site – consisted in the project “life_sharing”.  0100101110101101.org put the local hard disk of their computer onto the Web, thus making their private e-mails, project sketches and software publicly available.
What is the artistic added value of this project? To what extent is it only a preparation for something that can be commercially exploited later? After the experiences with the “Big Brother” series, a similar scenario using GPS technology would also be imaginable: one group – the surveillants – has to hinder another group – the “surveillees” – in carrying out the game task allotted to them. “VOPOS” operates precisely at the ambivalent point between affirmative slogans like that of one mobile phone manufacturer – “Put the world in your pocket” -, and the non-commercial production of transparency.
Translation: Tim Jones
1 http://europa.eu.int/comm/energy_transport/de/gal_de.html (Galileo homepage) http://www.heise.de/newsticker/data/dz-01.12.01-003 (Report on the decision in favour of Galileo, 1 December 2001)
3 See the Surveillance Camera Players:
4 See the Software Carnivore: http://rhizome.org/carnivore
5 See Marina Grzinic: “Das Leben zur¸ckgewinnen”. In: springerin 1/01, p. 10