Performing Dynamic Cartographies—Mapping affective data and archiving experience in Strava’s Segments and Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke.
‘Artistic activity is a game, whose forms, patterns and functions develop and evolve according to periods and social contexts: it is not an immutable essence’
This paper critiques debates around relational aesthetics, network theory and phenomenology to interrogate two emergent performance forms that document themselves as they are being staged: the collaborative contest and the virtual palimpsest. Ritualised traversals of space and interactive behaviours of participants in Strava app’s segmentation and Blast Theory’s velocipede performance, Rider Spoke offer instances of practice through which the theoretical concerns of the paper will be framed and interrogated.
In Cinema 1, Deleuze theorises interrelations of past and present that offer a dynamic interaction between certain aspects, mirroring dynamic cartographies made possible by GPS technology. Expressed as ‘circles’, the past comprises:
regions, strata and sheets: each region with its own characteristics, its ‘tones’, its ‘aspects’, its ‘singularities’, its ‘shining points’ and is’ dominant’ themes
(Deleuze, 1985: 96)
These aspects enable a renewed understanding of Strava, an app used each week by 3+ million sportswomen and men. GPS devices harvest data in real-time, one aspect being to log an athlete’s times for segments, stretches of route, road or terrain that are identified, claimed and named by users. For cyclists, the fastest rider over a particular segment attains status, for example claiming themselves to be KOM – King of the Mountain – an accolade usually reserved for professional bike riders in the European Grand Tours. I will examine encounters of the cyclist with Strava, analysing how the real-time capture of data offers a process of competitive engagement that is ritualised through habitual repetitions of terrain whilst simultaneously allowing the re-write and re-mapping of physiological attainment. The cyclist’s bodily action is performative not just in physiological terms, but by inscribing a data overlay of the virtual and actual forges new relations to geographical terrain in affective and dynamic ways and brings about experiential and physiological changes in the process. I will consider these notions in the light of palimpsestic memory in which the present is ‘shadowed or haunted by a past’ that interacts with and to an extent determines present action (Silverman, 2015: 3). I will demonstrate how the over-layering of performance data – speed, cadence, wattage – onto a geographical map simultaneously personalises the terrain, but also generates a composite structure as distinct moments in time and space are re-arranged, drawing together different spaces and times into a new spatio-temporal configuration. I will also attempt to explain how amateurs and professionals produce data that enables a unique form of communitas, which is technological driven and, though producing a hierarchical system, brings with it a spirit of community. This spirit is also brought into being through the often witty namings and comments of the cyclists, who use jargon to firm-up the communitas.
Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke offers another form of palimpsestic memory, inviting the touring cyclist to listen and respond to messages that are geo-tagged to specific places on a prescribed route, performing an auditory impression at each location. I examine ways in which Rider Spoke is exemplary of Bourriaud’s ‘art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context’, whilst offering an example of an emergent performance paradigm that situates the rider / participant in a dynamic mode of engagement that is both immersive and hyper-textual (Bourriaud, 1998: 4). Rider Spoke is predicated upon exploration of terrain and the perceptions of others, whereas Strava app users are familiar with the segmentation of terrain and the traversals of others.
The paper will conclude by drawing together these different approaches to mapping and marking terrain, examining the implications of the digital palimpsest and the new relations of past, present and future made possible.