If I were to map New York City based on significant memories instead of a grid plan, my metropolis would list fire escapes, street trees, stoops, and my grandmother’s dining room table as major historical landmarks. Poignant moments have a latitude and longitude, and in the age of open-source Google Maps API, it was only a matter of time until someone tried to pinpoint these locations on a mass scale.
Net artist and Pratt graduate student Eric Rieper’s new project, “It Happened Here,” only went live last weekend, but when I caught up with him three days later it already had 103 entries from folks geo-tagging their memories all over the globe. They range from the mundane (“This is where I was born”) to the romantic (“This is where I chased my lover’s ghost through the grey streets of Prague”) to the sinister (“This is where I learned to fear”). Rieper says that “It Happened Here” was intended as a quick, mostly throw-away experiment in a series he’s doing on exploring intimacy through functional devices–but suddenly he’s getting a lot of web traffic in Buenos Aires, Paris, and Toronto.
“There’s something interesting trying to explore these intangible, ephemeral moments and render them tangibly,” Rieper tells Co.Exist. “So I had this idea to build this system without any real pretext, giving people this opportunity to contribute their experiences and place them in space.”
In some ways, “It Happened Here” recalls artists Sep Kamvar’s and Jonathan Harris’s “We Feel Fine,” a project that mapped the temperature of human emotion across several thousand blog posts a day. But with “It Happened Here,” you can’t quite access the wider emotional angle. Instead, you can only travel through Rieper’s map by refreshing the page and isolating one memory at a time. “I sort of did that intentionally, because I didn’t want this site to be all this flashy functionality that would sort of devalue the contributions that people made,” Rieper explains.
It’ll be fascinating to see where this goes, and whether users of the tool will pick up on its implicit poetic instructions. It’s also worth checking out Rieper’s other work that focuses on “embracing” others through technology: His “Embrace Object 05” which will be displayed next week at the Galerie Project, uses an Arduino board to react to people who approach it. Similarly, Rieper’s itconnects.us tool connects viewers’ cursors in real time.