Bio Mapping is an ongoing, multimodal mapping project created and headed by artist and designer Christian Nold. In what began in 2004, the project has involved, according to Nold, thousands of subjects across 16 different countries, using the Situationist concept of psychogeography and marrying it to pervasive computing, resulting in a reflexive and participatory methodology that, it was hoped, would reveal the city as it is experienced by its inhabitants and put it on display. For the purposes of the experiment, Nold created what he calls the Bio Mapping device, “which is a portable and wearable tool [for] recording data from two technologies: a simple biometric sensor measuring Galvanic Skin Response and a Global Positioning System (GPS) .” The Galvanic Skin Response monitor functions in the same way a lie-detector would, but its readings would be used rather to indicate intensity of emotion in a given geographical location. In addition, participants were invited to trace their routes through their cities in order to tease out the trajectory of their emotional journey and look for synchronicities between theirs and others emotional responses. In this way, the map would serve to portray how people feel about the urban landscape rather than just seeing it.


To date, the project has begotten emotion maps of such cities as San Francisco, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro just to name a few, and each one uses a unique style in terms of its basemap, iconography, and the questions they ask. For the purposes of this critique, I’ll be using the San Francisco Emotion Map, but I immediately concede to this critique’s limitations as one particular map within this project may or may not achieve its goals better than others. Here, 98 participants working with the artist-run organization Southern Exposure documented hour-long walks through the Mission District of San Francisco over the course of five weeks. The resultant map shows the participants’ pathways and their rising and falling emotional responses from everyday occurrences like a crowded intersection to memories of the Jonestown massacre. Their emotional crests and valleys are denoted by the brightness of red dots, and the redder the dot the more “aroused” the subject became from moment to moment and place to place. Also, each participant would make annotations of the things they experienced as they saw fit.


Upon examining the map, one can gather to some extent that the individuals involved are moving through space and time. The map does, I feel, effectively present the city in such a way that it escapes the dominant basemap that one might come across in Google Maps while at the same time showing the city spacially, only here in terms of human experience. The shifts in color add a third dimension to the map as a whole as they indicate emotional intensity. Perhaps most interesting is how all the trajectories and color converge to show places of total interaction and emotional involvement, not only in the encircled area but in the outer reaches of the studied area, serving to paint a picture of a busy city center versus its calmer outskirts. Also, the text accompanying certain conspicuous dots can also converge to perhaps show different angles of urban geography and events.

However, certain aspects of the map itself were somewhat wanting. I feel it creates a wall between the reader and the participant when the project lauds itself as one built on a participatory methodology. As presented, the map itself exemplifies art in practice; it stands on its own in its revealing the database of memories and experiences felt in a section of San Francisco. However, the map could push things further by making use of narrative to engage the reader in its creation process. As far as the dots themselves are concerned, there is always the question of what the subject is feeling exactly – be it “kind of happy” or even “really annoyed” — but no indication is ever made save for that the participant has become more “aroused.” Also, the map can run the risk of overwhelming the reader in dots and text that are at times hard to place, if the placement of said text even really matters. What I find particularly lacking is the lack of some way to determine the origin and direction of all the intersecting vectors that the reader is confronted with. This I find vitally important because, although the participants themselves were invited to recall their journey through the Mission District, no such invitation is made to the reader holding the map in their hands or viewing it on their computer. Finally, the map could benefit greatly from a richer multimedia experience that could reach that end. This would include sound and video to identify the people involved and the character of the city they move through.


Taking cues from this project, both in what it does well and in the ways I think it can be improved, as well as from others presented in class, I’d like to see my map spacialized in such a way that it focuses on the individual as he or she negotiates both time and space in New York City. My project is attempting to map out the relationship between the speakeasies of the Prohibition era to the speakeasies of the present as the evolution of the public space into an idea that exists in urban memory. To do this, I would first map out a small sample of speakeasies in past and in present, linking to pictures, video, and research about that particular location. Then, I could possibly identify those interested in participating in my project at a popular faux speak and ask them questions about what is attractive about the speakeasy as a mediated space, recording their responses and mapping them according to their location. After our talk, we would then go on a walking tour of sorts from their faux speak to a speakeasy of the past like the Cotton Club, along bootlegging routes like Broadway as they were traveled by figures like Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello in the Broadway Mob, where we could talk and see in the form of audio, video, and text what happened there. In this way, the people involved in the project serve as the lever between the past and the present.