Narrative Archaeology

TEXT: Narrative Archaeology: reading the landscape,

by Jeremy Hight

dynamic of narrative has long been one of certain specific
conditions.The narrative arc, establishment of tone, selection of
detail for mood and setting, or place. Narrative now can be placed in
the physical world. The use of gps, wireless and augmented reality
makes this possible. The writer no longer has to choose detail to
create fictive world and its tone for one to passively read; the new
paradigm finds the story written into this world, the physical world.
The writer historically has chosen details to establish tone, mood,
psychological underpinnings and a sense of story world as place. The
author now can write with these tools but also those of the physical
world itself. The narrative sections are placed in specific physical
locations to encounter in sequence and thus are to be integrated into
what is inferred from the places themselves and their stories in time.

writer/artist can now read cities, towns, and open spaces. The place
has layers to be read, studied, historical events and details,
ethnography, geography, geology, etc ( the list is quite long and
exhilarating). Narrative written utilizing gps and wireless to trigger
on a laptop, pda or cell phone moves into a “narrative
Archeology” a reading of physical place as one moves through the
world with story elements and sections triggered at specific locations.
and detail.

Narrative Archeology is a way of describing this
new form of writing, art, discourse, information dispersion and above
all, narrative. The pop culture notion of Archaeology is one of digging
in the ground and finding artifacts of the past in layers of soil. In
this concept, time can be literally seen in the layers of ground and in
the artifacts pulled from different depths of the dig. The new paradigm
of narrative utilizing locative technologies is one akin to
archaeology, but of narrative and place. Now, the layers in time are
unseen until discovered in the author’s research and then placed
into narrative to trigger at key physical locations. The details,
events, patterns shifts, etc may be from 1945 on one corner and from
1914 a few hundred feet away. The narrative sections triggered and
experienced by a participant’s movements form a narrative
archaeology as the story sections culled from past information and the
information itself are being pulled from the past and layers in time
into present view.

The author may be a single person, a person
collaborating with others for technical support to produce the
narrative, or a group working together actively creating the narratives
and the conceptual whole of the work. In a Barthean sense, the ultimate
end author is the movement and patterns of the person navigating the
space, their choices,

aesthetic bias in the physical world toward certain sections, buildings
or objects to move toward and investigate, and their selection of
duration and breadth of movement. The work is placed in the physical
world, thus the “reading” is of narratives in sequences as
experienced and consumed as one also “reads” the spaces
themselves and the information and stories of each specific location.

key element is the author selecting what type(s) of information on the
place and its properties, shifts and past, of research and layers in
time. Why choose certain details from specific years in the place of
others? This can be a writers strategy, as once was that of fictive
detail, of establishing tone, voice, of repetition and establishing a
sense of intention and commentary on ideas, of tonality and how details
connect to build in story as it progresses along. Now it is of the
place itself, of its many tones and “faces” in time and the
context of the work itself and its thrust that is laid upon individual
storefronts, bridge sections, corners at stoplights facing where a
building once had been and has since been lost in time. The tone of
information and how it is experienced may be lush and exuberant of rich
unseen past or a bleak condemnation of what has been forgotten, erased
or gentrified; the information itself and the narratives written can
infer a commentary and feeling of place.

An interesting
antecedent in written narrative for some of these concepts is the book
“ The Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavic. The book
is essentially an encyclopedia of a fictional lost society with
sections on certain key people, events, places, each an independent
text. Pavic published it to be considered a novel. The book is called a
novel but it is composed of many small parts that are designed to stand
alone. Pavic designed it as a non-linear novel of information with the
ultimate work determined by the reader’s choosing. If the reader
opened the book to a certain page and read its section of perhaps only
a few pages, fine, they had “read” the “novel”.
If one read a few sections at different times and was at some point
content, that was the novel for them. This was a brilliant
reformulation of textual narrative into malleable, ultimately user
formulated as read, of narrative sections designed to function alone as
well as in context and sequence with other sections.

such as “34 north 118 west” have shown the potential of a
new experientially driven spatial narrative interlaced in and
commenting on the world itself. The project “34 north 118
west” used a slate laptop with gps , headphones, and an
interactive map to create a narrative of a four block area of Los
Angeles. The map had graphic hot spots that marked narratives and their
trigger points set to latitude and longitude. As the participant moved
they would determine what sequence would be triggered based on how far
they moved and in what patterns they traveled. The project looked at
the last hundred years of shifts in population and infrastructure in
that area and the resonance of what is lost, forgotten or changed in
time. The buildings are mostly the same as in the turn of the 20th
century when the area was build up around the railroads and was the key
hub for raw materials by rail for early Los Angeles.

research was extensive and from this the most important historical
details, facts of demolished buildings, of waves of commerce and
housing in the last hundred years and a sense of what layers were
really rich and begging to be made agitated into being again in
triggered narratives based on their information emerged. The artifacts
became apparent from the past that needed to be placed in the present
los angeles. The juxtaposition of past and present at times became
commentary on the lost versions of the city and area beginning in the
early 1900’s which still left traces in railroad tracks visible
at times in the sidewalks and holes in the ground where structures once
covered the collection of materials off the trains. Traces also emerged
of a wave of latina immigrants working on the railroads in the
1940’s, of the glory of the la grande passenger station with a
glass dome long demolished where now is a barren storage area and an
electrified fence. The material selected to reference and construct
narratives from established a tone, established layers of place in
time, and with the use of audio as one navigated created an odd feeling
of being aware of two places at once.

While walking through the
4 block area mapped out by the project, some participants found people
coming up to them to ask a question or in conversations walking past to
seem fictional as they were engrossed in a narrative of another time
playing in their head phones. A doppler effect sample of an old train
at a corner with no

visible train tracks often made participants stop cold fearing a collision.

narrative sections were formulated integrating historical,ethnographic
and architectural information about the four block area over the last
100 years. The narratives were constructed to be each individually be
developed for, and integrated into a specific location. The use of
“weighted narratives” and “cumulative
resonance” allowed an endless number of completely different
narratives and experiences to be formulated depending on duration and
patterns of the participant’s movement the space.

Weighted narratives are sections that are weighted with more
meta-textual references , subtext, and information of place to ensure
at certain intervals there is not a tight control on the non linearity,
but a degree of weight and meaning will resonate regardless of the
person’s path and duration of movement. The effect is that of a
stronger guarantee of the participant moving past places referencing
key larger ideas, tone and details at intervals without placing a
strong control on their movement and how it ultimately sequences
narratives sections together into an experience of the work. These were
placed as were all narrative sections, after research, location studies
and analysis of map on which the narratives of place and considerations
of larger resonances were placed before programming.

resonance is a way to elucidate meaning and concepts in pure
non-linearity; key metaphors and details begin to build on each other
into a sense of larger issues and concepts. As the participant moves
and triggers a sequence of narratives they increasingly develop a sense
of the larger concepts and meanings of the work as a whole. The
narratives were written as to build into larger commentary on lost
history in time, of absence as presence and place.

The author
now can work with a massive and rich range of researched information on
the location(s) to integrate into what is experienced as the space is
“read”. There is a connotative and denotative city and
connotative and denotative of any physical space from farmland, desert
and mountain range etc. The narrative now can be constructed with this
in mind as well and the author can study place and see a particular
sense of resonance of connotative and denotative (what is seen on an
immediate level and what can be inferred on a deeper level) and develop
a narrative that conveys this to the participant as they move through
the space and sound files of narratives trigger at selected points. The
author can now create a story space as integrated into what is to be
inferred from the physical at the same time; there no longer needs to
be a discreet separation between story world and the physical world.

is possible for the author to select elements of the information about
the locations where trigger points are to be placed, the area as a
whole, its fit and tension within larger spaces both in geography,
cartography, politically (demographic shifts,borders, gentrification
issues, preservation concerns..), navigation and in time and history.
The information published in books, journals and other media can now be
moved from the physical dislocation of archives and shelves in
libraries as in the previous paradigm of place and its analysis and
study and now can return with great resonance and fusion back into the
precise place(s) from which they came. The author can place forgotten
or faded histories, lost buildings, previous incarnations of areas, the
tension or richness of who has come through the place at what times in
waves of commerce, housing, and previous events.

Archaeology allows a context to be selected as in the narrative and its
resonance of symbolism, detail and connectivity of its parts into a
larger whole ( as in written non-linear works); but it also allows this
in terms of what layers from the past are placed together in
sequence(s) as well as what information of specific trigger points is
selected to resonate again. This integration creates a fascinating
synthesis of commentary on the place and a specific agenda of the
author. Possible examples are social/political/environmental
commentary, reflection on the lost incarnations of place and the
fragmented ghosts that remain in isolated older buildings and
infrastructure, study of a particular piece of infrastructure such as a
highway and its effects over time of a community and its commerce and

The narrative is experientially driven as it is triggered by the participant moving

and places passed. The fact that the data layers and the larger
analytical concepts are integrated into the narrative sections and
their voice and triggered by the participant’s movements, The
experientially driven narrative archaeology of place has no distinction
between academic voice and fictive voice, of dialects within
construction, instead it occurs in a voice that is detail and story, of
narrative and information and is fused to what is seen at that moment
in the physical world. The short vignettes are recorded as sound files
ideally as this allows it to be heard as a voice in one’s ear.
The effect is of seeing the present place as it is, while learning of
what was and the two enhance what is seen or make one question place as
one permutation or constant.

The participant will glance at times at the map on the laptop, cell
phone or pda between trigger points to see what is ahead, but otherwise
will be looking at what surrounds them as they move. The importance of
sound is that one can experience the audio while seeing the physical
place. The effect is of being in one place and it being augmented, also
of the past and unseen coming to life while one is in the present.
Visuals compete, and if the information is primarily text on a device
it becomes separated from the physical world and secondary; this is
crucial as it can have the effect of making place and data of place two
things independent of each other and not integrated into juxtaposition
and comparison in the same way.

Moving through a space is not a
passive exercise as sitting on one world and reading (and actively
imagining) in another; it is akin to a conversation. The
“conversation” is

between the place ( streets, buildings, structures), its infrastructure
( sidewalks, roadways, streetlight timings and traffic speeds in car
and on foot, railway crossing, etc) and the movements chosen by the
person walking. The place makes certain choices unavoidable, mitigated
by its design, condition and controls, but it also makes many other
aesthetic choices of the viewer/reader as they move past types of
architecture, disrepair, renewal, perceived threat or comfort
thresholds, and simply what they are individually drawn to at the time.
. Punctuation in language and the written world can be viewed as a
mediation and mitigation of speed, movement and flow. Structures such
as sidewalks, stop lights, bridges, and roads can be seen also as
mitigation of speed, flow and movement; thus both narrative space and
physical space are punctuated in a similar fashion.

new narrative can work with these parallels in alteration of narrative
content triggered, voice, cadence, and resonance as built to move along
these same mitigations and mediations of movement of the participant in
the physical spaces. The interesting option is one of the “
Conversation ”. Does the author focus more on content being
triggered by the objects, structures and movement mitigation of the
physical place as designed and its current state ? Does the author also
alter the narratives in form and augment the content in real time,
based on the patterns and speed of the person moving?

speed, direction , these all are elements of the participants’
interaction with place and their aesthetic interface (their disposition
edits what they choose

to experience and thus sequenced as they move) in the sense that unseen
layers in space are triggering as one interacts with what is seen and
physically present, in infrastructure, architecture. It is possible for
the writer/artist to now get a feel for the many variations of
movements mediated in roads, streets, views as prescribed by what is
built and visible, and accordant shifts within; the writer/artist can
extrapolate how this correlates to variations of narratives triggered,
of cadences, pauses, voice, speed of delivery, all set to the places
one is encountering, sequencing and moving past.

participant forms a physical interface as they move in different
patterns of their own choice, patience and interest, this creates
multiple works to be experienced a multiplicity of works ultimately
authored by their path and what sequence of narratives they trigger.
This is an exciting break from linearity and even other forms of
non-linearity as now many cohesive and full works of narrative and
spatial analysis, experiences, each rich in detail and subtext exist.

As multiple works come to occupy areas in the cities, towns and open
spaces, the possibility will emerge for areas to be “read”
with multiple and differing voices, aesthetic approaches and thrusts
and points of entry. As more locative narrative projects are emerging,
areas of the landscape are beginning to fill in with a new resonant
narrative interpretation and agitation of space. The city is to be
read, but so are the open spaces, Suburbs, farmlands, and even the
dams, bridges and other infrastructures and their locations , contexts
and past. The possibilities are as resonant and vibrant in cities and
beyond; the landscape is waiting to be read.


Fight for copyrights in Bulgaria turns ugly

9 May the Bulgarian publishing house ‘Trud’, owned by the
German media group Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, sent a letter
threatening with a lawsuit a Bulgarian specialized web library for
blind people – (its name means ‘without a
monitor’). The publishing house claims that they own the
copyrights for certain classical Bulgarian books and translations of
foreign-language ones, which appear on the website, in ASCII format,
which is good for reading by the audio programs used by people who
cannot see. The website is non-commercial; its creator, Victor Kirilov,
who is also blind, is supporting it on his own. Although he removed the
texts in question in the same day, he mentioned this case to his friend
Grigor Gatchev, who is recognized translator, an author and well-known

On 14 May Grigor wrote about the story in details in his personal
blog, and hundreds of people express their outrage towards the immoral
behavior of the publishing house. The news quickly spread in Internet,
reaching over 50 websites and around 90 forums, and hundreds of e-mails
were sent to the office of the publishing house, demanding explanation
of this behavior.

In addition to being immoral, this action of “Trud”
appeared also to be illegal. The Bulgarian Law for Copyright and
related rights states:

 Art. 24 (1) Without the agreement of the owner of the copyright is permitted:


 10. Distribution of already published texts through Braille
writing or a similar alternative method, if this is not done for profit.

(All texts on are in pure ASCII, and almost only blind
people visit it, so, it falls under the category “similar to

Bulgarian citizens as well as organizations of the blind people,
such as Association ‘Eyesight’ and the National Library for
the Blind ‘Louis Braille’ informed all Bulgarian media on
the behavior of publishing house ‘Trud’, which itself owns
a few major daily newspapers. ‘Trud’ tried to prevent the
story from becoming public, as the owner of the publishing house is
also a director of the Union of the Bulgarian Publishers. Most major BG
media outlets kept silent. However, fewer small independent newspapers
voiced people’s outrage.

After removing the texts, Victor asked the publishing house for
documents stating that they really hold the copyrights in mention –
after all, anyone could say in e-mail anything. “Trud”
refused to supply him any documents, and instead wrote a complaint to
the Bulgarian Service for Combating the Organized Crime (despite that
all texts in mention were taken down). The department, although a state
institution, has reputation for serving corporate interests and having
made illegal arrests on previous cases. A phone call from the
department to the blind programmer of the website, Victor, makes him
remove all texts under the fear of arrest, which although completely
illegal and immoral, would put Victor’s health in danger.

Later, Victor was summoned to the office of BSCOC and presented to
sign a document in sense that he would be responsible for all violation
of copyrights that may involve his site, and that this is a criminal
offense that will lead to years of imprisonment. He was explained that,
after this warning, the copyright holders don’t have to resolve
the matter with him first, and may directly trial him – and that even a
sole pretension on violation would result for him in being arrested
(possibly for years, since these trials take a long), and his PC
confiscated. Which, to a blind man with a frail health, is a clear
attempt for intimidation. Victor was refused any access to the
complaint being filed against him, or to the documents the publishing
house is said to have attached to the complaint to prove their right.
He was refused even to have a copy of the document he signed.

At this meeting, however, it turned out that not only his site is
being harassed – all Bulgarian online electronic libraries are targeted
by the complaints to BSCOC, despite that some of them never had any
copyrighted texts. At a talk with the “Trud” CEO, Nikola
Kitzevsky, Victor learned that “Trud” now makes a
commercial (paid) online electronic library, and is determined to make
it the only electronic library in Bulgaria. Which sheds some light over
what is really happening.

The authors whose texts are in question are pillars of the Bulgarian
literature. In their stories they fight injustice and defend the poor
and disadvantaged people. Now a corporation, many years after
authors’ death, is attempting to prevent access to those stories
for those very same people…

It is sad that the publishing house ‘Trud’ completely
misses the point that one blind person has made the utmost effort to
provide access for sightless people to literature and this is an act
only to be admired and supported. People of Bulgaria, however, are
determined to win this battle. If you have something to to WAZ feel fre to do so here


Barcelona is the kind place Sam Spade the hardboiled private detective
would have cashed in and retired too. Well, Spade is long gone. it looks like we have a new PI. With clarinets of long legs, Tubas of greasy hair, and a Bass of observation LK-PI is on the job. Larry Kovacks is there and I believe he would out smart, fight and drink the Sam Spade of days past. To keep himself busy he pursues the “meisters of the gyp”, drinks Cognac and pursues the ever elusive indigenous Spanish “dame”. More than worth a read (twice even) between issues. You realize, just before you come to your senses and snap the hell out of it and get back to the scotch nipping at your lips that something there is resembling sanity and that sometimes it’s OK to grit your teeth and lighten the hell up and stop and look down and smell the streets. You know? Berlin could use a Larry Kovaks, Every city could use one.

LARRY KOVAKS, P.I. – Barcelona’s premier guiri detective

After the World Cup…This happens in Berlin.

Watch the video

In little more than two months dropping knowledge an event that may not rival the World Cup in audiance it may rival in energy. dropping knowledge is an intercultural platform for social change, open to every citizen of the world. Sustained by a global network of individuals, institutions, corporations and NGOs, dropping knowledge is committed to heightening social awareness, encouraging multiple perspectives, fostering a global dialogue and inspiring real-world initiatives. With offices in Berlin and San Francisco, dropping knowledge operates as an international non-governmental organization with 100 percent stakeholder perspective. A public resource, it cannot be owned and is freely accessible to all, for all time. I would love to the long tail on this event. I encourage all to support who can.

For all inquiries, please contact or visit our


Locative Media, Perspective, Flight

Floating Points:


Locative Media, Perspective, Flight

The primary
concern in locative media has been, understandably, location. This has
been a great new leap in terms of art, technology, science and
narrative. Locative Media Art consists of artworks utilizing locative
technology to trigger artworks in a specific physical space.

media art goes back to early experiments such as Telepresent by Steven
Wilson in 1997 that was an object equipped with GPS left to be
communally interacted with and moved while continually sending images
via the Internet.

Another key development was the GPS
drawings of Jeremy Wood in 2000 in which he discovered that by tracing
his movements as he drove or walked with GPS that he could form shapes
formed by the sequence of plotted movements. Other projects worked with
Geo-Annotation which placed a comment or reflection on a physical
location (similar to what hikers for years would do at posted signs on
certain trails). Then came the project 34 North 118 West that was the
first locative narrative.

34 North 118 West was a mapping of a
four block area of Los Angeles where the primary non-passenger rail
yard and related infrastructure at the turn of the last century and the
original grand passenger station of Los Angeles (La Grande station)
once stood. The majority of the buildings are the same but have changed
in usage in time, state of disrepair and who has come to live and work
in them in waves of development and housing.

Other buildings
were destroyed over the years and only the ghosts of historical
information and personal accounts remain. The project created a
“narrative archaeology” as the layers in time were to be
agitated into being. In one place would be narrativized data from 1936
a few hundred feet from a spot before a building that triggered
something from 1910.

Now groups such as the C5 collective are
doing work such as the GPS mapping of the entire great wall of china
and then placing the coordinates in another location. This type of work
creates a layered commentary and plays with form and semiotics as well
as referencing the Situationists who developed absurd commentaries like
a walk through the streets of Paris following a map of another
city…” Continue reading Floating Points: Locative Media, Perspective, Flight and the International Space Station by Jeremy Hight with Alexander van Dijk, Hz Journal, #8, June 2006.

Just an idea…

I am going to suggest that “Birdy Nam Nam” got its name from the 1968 comedy directed by Blake Edwards, starring Peter Sellers, Who actully said “Birdy Num Num”.

At one point in the film Hrundi V. Bakshi (Sellers) has a run in with a parrot who Sellers chareachter thinks is hungry wants some food. The film is set almost entirely in one residence.

And what a residence it is. Architecture and furniture fans must see this movie, if not for the laughs, for the eye candy. Also, it was the first use of live playback in the making of a film. And Ever the pioneer, with this film Coppola was one of the first to see this and support it he later became one of the first directors to use a live, from-the-camera video feed, instant playback which changed the face of film making forever…great film, check it out.