24 June 2002. Thanks to B.



With GPS, World Is Your Canvas
By Lakshmi Sandhana Wired News
2:00 a.m. June 22, 2002 PDT

"Let's drive down the elephant this evening."

That could be one of the things you might be saying the next time you're visiting England. And it wouldn't be a gimmick.

While sculptors over the ages have used many different tools to reveal the beautiful in the ordinary, two digital artists with the help of a Global Positioning System are walking, driving and cycling down the world's roads to trace out enormous works of art.

Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor are part of a new breed of artists crisscrossing the planet, creating artwork on a par with the ancient Nazca line drawings of Peru. With the help of GPS, these artists have discovered a fish in Wallingford, an elephant in Brighton, not to mention a huge spider lurking in Oxford.

Employing satellite technology for a colossal connect-the-dots puzzle, their virtual drawings are created by using the GPS receiver like a geodesic pencil to map out their journeys across roads, bridges and streets.

"GPS drawing is about recording lines using one's journey as a mark-making medium," says Wood. "Most GPS receivers record your whereabouts as a track, like a dot-to-dot or a digital 'breadcrumb trail.' This is often displayed on liquid crystal display on the device, and the track is updated as you move about. When the line is viewed on its own, you have a GPS drawing."

With the help of software created by Pryor, the raw logistical data spanning miles of road is sized down into a smaller digital image that can be shown on a screen-size canvas. Most of their drawings can be seen online at their website where they also welcome contributions from GPS artists the world over.

It all started when the pair were studying photocopies of local maps, looking for familiar shapes formed by roads and streets, that they could color with felt-tip markers. That's when they spotted a fish around the village of Wallingford. After plotting the journey they jumped into a car with a GPS handset, and three hours and 108 kilometers later, finished from where they had started. When the data from the GPS receiver revealed that they had indeed traveled in a fish-shaped squiggle across the countryside, they were hooked.

Further searching of the road maps led to the Nottingham Butterfly and the Oxford Don.

While some of their drawings are pre-planned and done in stages, others are totally freestyle and conducted on the spur of the moment.

"It's very satisfactory drawing freestyle with a GPS receiver," says Pryor, "because it's similar to when you find you can draw with a pencil for the first time -- you are quite literally taking a line for a walk."

The pair have received some outstanding GPS art from people engaged in all kinds of professions from skydiving and paragliding to boating. One of their most interesting contributions was a bloodhound submitted by a biker cycling across a cemetery in New York.

Wood, who intends to graffiti over the planet as much as possible, says that their latest endeavor is to produce a series of illustrated instructions that will guide people along seemingly random streets and pathways.

"These 'pictorial walks' will be graphic journeys that will reveal a word or a shape," he says.

Meanwhile, Boris, a hyperactive thunder-pawed border collie aspiring to be a GPS artist, is creating artwork in the free-form category and recently drew what appears to be the head of a dog itself.

Laura Kurgan, a New York architect who created an artwork based on GPS in 1995, says she is amazed by the popularity of the system. She thinks that the appeal lies in the fact that it is a kind of performance art.

"My favorite aspect of the system," she says, "is that the most accurate positioning system of all incorporates in its architecture a fundamental inaccuracy, it does not pinpoint anything -- it just keeps drawing one point per second."

The duo will soon be presenting the world's biggest "If" -- a journey from Ifley in Oxford to Ifold in West Sussex. Approximately 460 kilometers long, the drawing is being completed in two stages. And their next drawing after "If"? "What do you think?" asks Pryor with a grin, but -- "Only."