A person walking through the city centre hears a beep on their phone and glances at the screen. Instead of an SMS alert they see a message reading:
“We are currently experiencing difficulties tracking your position: please wave you network device in the air.”
Loca is low cost, grass roots, pervasive surveillance; an exercise in everyday tracking. What happens when it is easy for everyone to track everyone, when surveillance can be effected by consumer level technology within peer-to-peer networks without being routed through a central point?
Loca aims to lightly touch large numbers of people. The aim is not complex interaction, but subtle affect. It will be like a picture glanced at sideways, a message caught in the corner of the eye, or a mosquito swatted on the arm.
Loca deploys a cluster of interconnected Bluetooth nodes within inner city urban environments, each one is built using readily available, cheap parts, and is encased in concrete.
Loca enables anyone with any device that has Bluetooth set to discoverable to be tracked. Bluetooth is the first ‘everyday’ network technology that enables people to be tracked, and to track each other, within the physical environment.With all these technologies the only way to opt-out of surveillance is to switch off.
We are not asking people in advance. We dont want their permission. Then it would not be surveillance, but a performance by them for us. One principle of the project is that people should be able to participate through their own mobile phone without being given any additional technology, and without their own device needing to be modified in any way, either through installing software or by altering settings.
Pervasive surveillance has the potential to be both sinister and positive, at the same time. The intent is to equip people to deal with the ambiguity and find their own conclusions.
Loca is an artist-led interdisciplinary project on mobile media and surveillance by Drew Hemment, John Evans, Mika Raento and Theo Humphries.
Loca first appeared on Pixelache, the Finnish Festival of Electronic Art and Subcultures.
Drew Hemment, one of the authors, wrote an insightful essay telling the fascinating story of "Locative Arts", published here (below the text you will find a dozen addresses excellent locative art projects published on the nt). I have never expected this to be such a blooming field of art. You can also find more at locative.org, with all sorts of new and on-going projects.