</Representing spatialty>
author: Katya Ceppel
Nowadays space researchers and modern artists no longer seek to change city space in a political way, as Guy Debord and French Situationists did in 1950s. It was a movement of activists who explored city space, created new maps based on emotions, opened new routes and tried to change city space practically, developing a theoretical framework at the same time. However, favorite Situationists' practice of exploring and interpreting cities psychogeography is still used but with different intentions. It has acquired new goals in the digital age and in this essay we will turn to the experience of Russian artists and look at these new goals and techniques, considering philosophical theories.

New spatial practices emerged as a result of changes in the very space and time in which we live. Space of modern big cities is characterized by a dynamic and turbulent condition, so the aim of exploring space has been transformed into an attempt to capture details and make sense of it. At the end of 20th century, French anthropologist Marc Augé called our era 'supermodernity', determined by universal redundancy and acceleration. He also offered a concept of non-places that we come across in our everyday life. Non-place is a public place wherehuman beings remain anonymous and this is not an anthropological place in the usual sense.

The major factor of a renewed perception of space is technological development. Technology itself has become a participant in the exploration and representation of spatiality. French cultural theorist, urbanist and aesthetic philosopher Paul Virilio problematised technological perception by calling it ‘vision machine’. He problematized automated perception and developed the idea of merging the actual and the virtual. The attempt to capture the environment and the self in it involves a material space expanding into a virtual one. Real and virtual space have now finally merged. American urbanist and space researcher EdwardSoja introduced the concept of 'the third space' that is neither virtual nor real at the same time. Therefore spatial practices have been extended to virtual worlds, which digital artists propose to explore like physical places and use new instruments and strategies.

Digital artists and researchers apply spatial practices in close connection with data processing: information about space is recorded on special devices, further processed, presented and stored. Thus, all cycles of exploring and perception of space involve working with data. As a result, it can be represented as a map, for example, or information about geolocation, attitude and emotional feelings of pedestrians in public places, photos or videos taken while dérive (from French.; a common Situationists' practice, which means walking spontaneously without a set route) and many other forms technology-mediated.

This diversity and the possibility of creating new software and algorithms to capture and process data leads to a variety of ways of representing spatiality in digital art, among them are psychogeographic maps, soundscapes, computer models of cities, photo and video documentation, applications for exploring the city space and other hybrid art forms. Digital artists are no longer limited by dérive and creating psychogeographic maps, although this can be a part of their practice.
For example, Russian artist Anastasia Ryabova in her project 'Star avenue' (pic. 1) applies the method of dérive, then adding new forms and creating hybrid works. She explores cities trying to find the points of bureaucratic resistance. With a group of people, she starts to move around the city and change the direction after police or other city structures intervene in the process. After this performance, she creates maps that show hot spots of city obstacles.

By the way, in Moscow she had to stop dérive because of bureaucratic intervention. But during city laboratories and research she documented 'Aesthetic tools', a series of objects which became objects of aesthetic reflection after losing their functionality. Among them there were such details as a work hut set up at the back of the shopping center; a construction passport that became a part of the 'Throne' set up on the roof; a fencing strip of the territory with the text of a 'threatening' letter from the anonymous person, received by the artist via email.

Other Russian artists Roman Golovko and Mikhail Myasoedov created a psychogeographic map that is supplemented by a soundscape. Materials for their project DRIFT (pic. 2) were recorded on a 1000 km route, then converted by Max/MSP/Jitter into image and character models mapping the space. This work is available in two forms: an audiovisual installation and an audio album. So, the space is presented here in the form of intermingling elements of the urban environment, natural landscapes, traces of human presence, feelings and emotions.
Сontemporary artists who use spatial practices and explore space are interested in the phenomena of fusion of material and virtual spaces. What is virtuality? It is primarily information and databases that form a virtual space, representative through the interface. Russian-American New Media and Computer Science researcher Lev Manovich focuses on the interface and databases, exploring the language of new media in relation to the visual and media culture of recent years. Manovich emphasizes the new role of the visitor/explorer, 'This fact of cutting reality into a sign and nothingness simultaneously doubles the viewing subject who now exists in two spaces: the familiar physical space of his/her real body and the virtual space of an image within the screen.' [5] And what is important, 'virtual space is rotated, scaled and zoomed to always give the spectator the best viewpoint' that is not always possible in physical environment.

Another specific term for the virtual space is compositing as a process of creating a single image from separate sources. Like in a physical environment, where all the elements are combined by the gaze of the beholder, a virtual space connects the separate elements into a single visual structure. According to Lev Manovich, 'Digital compositing in which different spaces are combined into a single seamless virtual space is a good example of the alternative aesthetics of continuity; however, compositing in general can be understood as a counterpart of montage aesthetics.' [6]

Stas Shuripa is one of the main Russian artists and theorist who works with the theme of virtuality. In his practice, the artist is interested in a virtual transformation of the world in which ideas and images come to the fore, and things and objects remain less significant.

In 2012, he created 'Urban Landscapes', a series of urban constructions united by their own visual grammar and syntax (pic. 3). Among digital visual effects there are video game aesthetics, software interfaces, 3D architectural sketches and everything that exists only in a virtual environment, but not materialized. For Shuripa, the urban landscape is more than just geometric constructions; it is a system of social relations, the sum of fluctuations between the singular and the plural, between presence and absence, between phenomenon and meaning. Art critic Olga Danilkina writes about this artwork, 'Not only public spaces, but also their images bear the imprints of behavioral strategies in a particular time and place. The image of space turns from an illusion of the physical world into a chain of signs, into a flow of information that must be deciphered as a message.' [9]
The next project OVERSEAS (pic. 4) is also dedicated to the virtual space. It was made by Yuliya Kozhemyako (SUPR) and Margarita Skomorokh (RKKTKK) in 2019 and now is available at the Art for the Future International Biennale in Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow (till April, 3). It is a collection of short art games or, as authors say, digital poems, united by a strange virtual space.

This game doesn’t have tasks or plot in the traditional sense, but offers to take a trip through multiple worlds in order to capture the associative links between them and unlock the mysterious meaning of what is happening. Details here are connected with each other - a dancing plastic bag, a quote from Heraclitus, throat singing - one is subordinate to the other, that’s why artists call the game a digital poem.

  1. Debord G. Theory of Dérive / Visual Culture: Spaces of visual culture. Vol. 3. New York. 2006. – P. 77-82.
  2. Augé M. Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermpdernity / Marc Augé. Verso, 1995.
  3. Virilio P. The Vision machine / Paul Virilio. Indiana University Press, 1994.
  4. Soja, E. W. Thirdspace, Postmetropolis, and Social Theory / Edward W. Soja – distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 2011. – P. 113-120.
  5. Manovich L., The Language of New Media, p. 106.
  6. Ibid., p. 136.
  7. City (without) aesthetic discrimination, March Blog (in Russian), link.
  8. Roman Golovko and Mikhail Myasoedov, DRIFT, 2020, link.
  9. Unfinished History: Contemporary Russian Art in Faces / edited by Andrei Kovalev. GARAGE Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2021, p. 251 (in Russian).
  10. Art for the Future International Biennale, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, 2021, link.