Joyce Walks


Joyce Walks is a Google maps mashup which remaps routes from James Joyce's Ulysses to any city in the world, generating walking maps to be used as the basis of situationist inspired psychogeographical d?rives . The project takes the familiar format of the Google Maps mashup and adds to it an element of variability to generate individualized ways of navigating city space in a new and unexpected way. Joyce Walks is a participatory work structured so that it retains an essential openness, an 'unplanned-ness' as it were, which while it presents the participant with a predefined form avoids defining a mode of operation. Joyce Walks can be described as a locative work which adopts a fluid approach to location, one which is not confined to a fixed set of co-ordinates, but generates alternative locations from a universal narrative.

The space produced by Joyce Walks can be described as a hybrid space shifting between the certainties of Google Maps with it's all-encompassing, totalising viewpoint to the often confusing realities of navigating through the superimposed spaces of Joycean remappings at street level. I consider it not as a completed 'work' but as a ongoing process which will evolve, learning from how it is used and gradually progressing from it's current project state to developing a set of procedures or an 'artists toolkit' for exploring urban space.

Technical Overview

Joyce Walks is based on the Google maps API. The original routes are mapped out in Dublin through a close adherence to the text of individual chapters of Ulysses. Each route is then narrowed down to nine or ten points of significance which are expressed as points of longitude and latitude. Each of these points belong to a single chapter episode of Ulysses (at the moment three chapters are available, chosen for routes that are easily walked) and each point has an associated text from Ulysses.

To use Joyce Walks you have to choose a city to walk in, choose from the chapter routes and crucially choose a centre point for your selected city. The original Dublin routes are then remapped to your chosen city through a procedure of linear transformation (with the centre point as origin) which moves each point of longitude and latitude to an analogous location in the new city. This results in a isometric reflection which retains the relationship between all places of significance in the route. The points on the mashup retain the associated text from Ulysses so participants can choose to read the text at each location.

After a walk is completed, participants can upload images or videos associated with each point and the resulting final mashup is accessible for other users to view the route, text and images. To ensure the uniqueness of each walk generated the project has many in-built features to ensure variability; to map a route the user must select a centre point of the city and the route is generated in relation to this centre point, the points of the walk are draggable and repositionable, there is no snapping to the line of streets, points are joined by straight lines, taking them though buildings and obstacles which the walkers must negotiate at street level increasing the routes' contingency on local conditions.

The mechanisms and code behind Joyce Walks are extensible and it is proposed that future development will allow the user/participant to create and customise their own routes using GPS tracklogs or by importing routes created with Google Earth/Maps. The option of downloading your route to a GPS enabled device will also be added shortly, this feature was deliberately left out of the first version to emphasise the traditional experience of trying to find your way with a map, a familiar locative experience and one very different in character to using the latest locative technologies to navigate the city.

Knowing your tools

Joyce Walks adopts the form of the Google Maps Mashup, a form that has quickly become familiar to us but one that is not without it's problems. I adopt the mashup with an awareness that maps are not neutral, objective documents, but are subjective and political with an inherent logic that needs to be decoded. Google Maps is in an unusual position because while not immune to these criticisms, as illustrated by it's blurring out of military installations1 or by the vast inequality of it's coverage, it also offers users an extensive set of tools within it's API with which to overlay the maps with users' own re-encoding of the space. While this goes some ways toward deflecting this criticism it's not a panacea. Indeed there remains a persistent doubt over whether the format of the mashup itself really lends itself to criticality or is there, to invoke Lev Manovich, an inbuilt logic of selection favouring mashups which locate Starbucks or crime rather than expose systems of surveillance and control or critique the medium itself.

The Joyce Walks approach differs in that whereas most mashups are informative in intent, mapping practical data or revealing hidden histories, Joyce Walks allows users to map out an imaginary landscape. It overlays the physical space of the city with a conceptual remapping allowing the user to navigate familiar streets as if they were the Joycean streets of 1904 Dublin, allowing the participant to re-enact the (fictional) footsteps of Leopold Bloom wherever they may be. This re-encoding is designed to interfere with and disrupt the existing encoding of the space allowing for the temporary insertion of a space produced through the actions of it's participants. Joyce and Ulysses are just a catalyst to reconsider urban space.

Bloomsday 2008: Walking in the City

Michel De Certeau famously called pedestrian movements "one of those real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city".2 His influence is evident in the resurgence of interest in walking as tactical action, a development particularly evident in the burgeoning locative media movement. Joyce Walks sets out to provide a set of developing procedures to facilitate urban interventions which explore, reveal and disrupt urban space producing temporary spaces which 'co-exist, overlap and interfere'3 with the spaces of the city. In many ways it is a hybrid work informed by situationist practice (and mindful of calls of 'recuperation'), by locative media and by the tradition of the walking artist to develop a critical spatial practice that is participatory in nature and open ended.

Each June 16th, the date on which the fictional events of Ulysses took place in 1904, Bloomsday is celebrated in Dublin with re-enactments of key events from the book. For Bloomsday 2008 I put out a call out for participants to plan and enact a Bloomsday Joyce Walk as part of 24 hours of psychogeographical action. The call was straightforward; use the Joyce Walks site to generate a walking map for whatever city you will be in for June 16th and walk that walk. If you were so inclined you could also document your walk with photographs and videos and create a Google Maps mashup using the Joyce Walks mashup generator. The call resulted in 80 walks taking place in 39 cities around the world with each walk being saved as a map in the searchable project database.

Some walks were organised as group outings, some as solo strolls, while others were undertaken by artists already involved with psychogeographical projects such as those in Mexico City by Laboratorio de Situaciones or in Jundiai, Brazil by Quadrafónica Urbana. While some were extensively documented, others exist only as ephemeral events documented only by a trace on a map. I know of at least one walk planned for Marrakesh which was abandoned when the walkers discovered that the Google Map bore no relation to the actuality at street level.

Did someone say participate?

The Bloomsday event was most importantly a participant led intervention. The event was organised with a minimal set of instructions or guidelines other then the basic instructions for mapping a route and walking that route on the 16th of June. For the project to succeed it needed to retain an essential openness, to be non prescriptive so that participants would determine their own mode of operation. Bloomsday was conceived primarily as a participatory project. I would suggest that for a work to be participatory in any meaningful sense the work must be significantly (re)created by the actions of the participants.

In considering whether the project is effective, or indeed even a success, I consider the role of Joyce Walks as that of a catalyst. It facilitates and allows for work to be made, for interventions to occur which would not have happened without it. These actions thus catalysed go beyond the confines of Joyce Walks and establish their own way of being, their own mode of operation independently of the project. Even though this is my aim I have to confess that sometimes I wish that every participant would document their walk extensively so that even though I can't be there I can live vicariously through these documents. I am invested in the contemporary impulse to document everything in exhaustive detail, yet have to recognise that there is another way. One of my favourite works of art is Richard Long's 1967 Line Made by Walking, an evocative line in a photo, tantalisingly out of reach, suggestive but ultimately unknowable. Long describes it as a 'distillation of experience',4 one which can never compete with that experience. These documents of experiences, to paraphrase de Certeau,5 can only ever refer to the absence of what has passed but miss the act of passing itself. Joyce Walks begins with the act of passing, it's documentation, like the experience itself is left to the participants. The important thing for me as the artist is knowing when to let go.