Scholarly Output

Sawchuk, Kim. Virtual Daylighting: mobile media and Montreal’s buried rivers Local and Mobile Conference 2012, Raleigh, North Carolina. March 16-18, 2012.

Abstract: Virtual Daylighting (V—Day) is a research-­‐creation project investigating the lost and buried rivers that once traversed the island of Montreal. Put simply, daylighting is the process in which the pavement is peeled back and a river that has been buried underground is returned to the surface to create new urban green spaces. One hundred and fifty years ago, as Canadian cities became industrialized, urban rivers were used as conduits for human and industrial waste. In the fight against very real epidemics, these waterways were buried. Using the capabilities of a 4G mobile phone, the V-­‐Day project gives users “virtual” access to the trajectories of five underground river systems, on the island of Montreal. In Virtual Daylighting, these routes are being ‘reseeded’ with robust multimedia content that draws attention to the absent, yet often still lively presence of these rivers and streams. Founded upon a custom-­‐built application for mobile devices (The Lost River Finder) the V-­‐Day application opens the door (or manhole cover) to a virtual museum or gallery-­‐without-­‐walls, potentially in synch with a local environment that unfolds as users move through the space, cell phone in hand. In this paper I will discuss the first iteration of the project, which will be presented at DHC Art (Montreal) in February of 2012. The research will be situated within the context of larger debates in mobility studies on the significance of the concept of “information territory” (Lemos, 2010), and the politics and aesthetics of locative media (Kalnins, 2004; Galloway & Ward, 2006; Tuters & Varnelis, 2006). I will also reflect on our use of the term “virtual”. In Virtual Daylighting, story is connected to place, with an understanding of place as an active and living interface that is integral to our practice of designing for a locative media experience that considers users in motion. In this sense, place functions as a territory for interaction, what we term “the volatile interface”. In Virtual Daylighting, our intention is to treat the physical territory of the earth’s surface and the lost river systems as an active inter-­‐actant in the assemblage of networked situations that come together when one stages a locative media event. The ephemeral quality of locative media is linked to the invisible overlay of information or layers of annotation in geographical space, what Terri Rueb has compared to “trails left in freshly fallen snow” (as quoted in Tuters & Varnelis, 2006, p. 2; see also Longford, 2006). Our deployment of mobile media technologies and our use of location-­‐based media practice intentionally blurs past and present moments. Historical fragments can be pieced together and accessed through the small screen by users who are invited to move through a particular place, and to overlay one location onto another, using the capabilities of augmented reality for the mobile phone. As such, the movement through place may create a temporal and spatial disjuncture in which the present is disrupted by the past, at the same time as the past is revivified into the present. In this sense, I take a page from the book of Walter Benjamin (1968) who suggested that “[t]o articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’”. It means to “seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger,” and to also ruminate that the past is infused by the present: “History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now”.

Benjamin, W. (1968). Theses on the philosophy of history. In H. Arendt (Ed.), Illuminations: Essays and reflections. Trans. Henry Zohn. (pp. 253-­‐264). New York: Schoken Books.