Of sweat and shops: a project in Longbridge

I’m just getting started on a commission from E-C Arts as one of the cohort of artists contributing to their public art project in response to the regeneration in Longbridge, Birmingham.

This area has begun to see regenerational changes in the wake of the collapse of MG Rover and the demolition of most of the car manufacturing plant that previously dominated the landscape.

Map of a small section of Longbridge – the brown bits are mostly that colour in real life as former factory land waits to be built on

My brief is to investigate movement in and around the area so naturally I started off by going for a walk…

I mostly only have prior experience of the area from driving through it on the A38 (the big green road in the map above) so I took the opportunity to explore off to the East and experience different types of landscapes.

After being involved in the BMW Guggenheim Lab project in New York a few years ago, I’ve become increasingly interested in aspects of urbanism and, in particular, the ways in which design and planning decisions impact back on our experience of a place.

So the following day I returned wearing this:

A simple skin conductance meter, with GPS and logging modules

This is a device that measures Galvanic Skin Response:

A change in the ability of the skin to conduct electricity, caused by an emotional stimulus, such as fright.

If you experience a strong emotion such as fear, pain, curiosity or joy, this has an effect on micro amounts of sweat your skin produces and this can be measured by its effect on conductivity.

Those two velcro straps around my fingers are holding tin-foil electrodes against my skin. When I feel, for example, pain, this increases the amount of sweat on my skin and this means that electricity can move more easily between the two contacts. This difference can be detected by the small circuit and this in turn is logged by a small computer chip (an Arduino).

I’m interested in how this effect varies as a move around a place, so I also added in a GPS module so I can log my position. I’ve never done this myself before, but I once took part in a bio-mapping workshop led by Christian Nold where he did much the same thing, so I thought it might give some interesting results.

On Sunday I walked for a couple of hours, seeking different types of space: the residential area of Austin Village and the tower blocks; busy roads and junctions, road crossings, car parks and a small section of cycle path.

As I walked I tried to pay attention to being wherever I was. You know how, quite often we filter out a lot of what’s going on around us as we move between A and B? Well I tried not to do that.

When I got home I mapped the data according to the GPS co-ordinates and colour-coded it according to the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) data. Lighter colours relate to greater skin conductance. Triangles show the direction of movement.

There’s a lot of ‘noise’ because of the nature of the equipment and also because my hand wasn’t being held entirely still, but here’s the bit where I was walking around Austin Village and decided to explore down an alleyway (the spur to the right). Halfway down the alleyway a man came out of a side gate to unload his car, causing me to startle.

Walking from the top of the image, feeling quite relaxed, then turning left (right as you look at the image) down an unknown alleyway

Here is an overview of all of the data:

Galvanic Skin Response and GPS data combined into a map

Can you guess at what types of space I was walking through at each point, and how I was feeling in response to my immediate environment?

A trace of the Traverse Me walking and talking

On a whim I left some GPS modules in my bag, logging for the duration of yesterday’s Traverse Me walk and talk event at Warwick University.

I wasn’t expecting to get much of a trace off them, but it turns out that it worked quite well! Here are a few shots of the data I got overlaid onto Google Earth. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer you can download the .kml file and have a zoom around for yourself.


Jack Martin and Tocil halls of residence, with a few pauses along the way


Walking up Library Road and then walking alongside the WBS Teaching Centre. Is it the trees making the GPS lines longer, or the bricks?


Walking across the fields on the hill, the lines are much shorter as both modules agree more closely in their calculated positions.


A diversion around the lake


Back to civilisation and once again the scattering effect of the buildings can be seen.

I’m still fascinated by how the quality of the lines are affected by the fabric of the landscape and, as shown by the images above, the walk we did covered several different terrains so the resultant drawing has several different characters in different places.

Until yesterday I’d never seen much more of the campus than the Arts Centre, so I found it very difficult to try and relate where I was to Wood’s map of walkable space (with the buildings left as empty space). I’m really pleased that the GPS logging worked so well and I can now figure out where we went and link that back to Traverse Me.

I also like the little clusters of lines that show where we paused and had little conversations. Now I can link thoughts back to where we were when they bubbled up.

Traverse Me and me

Today I was completely fortuitous in stumbling across Jeremy Wood‘s Traverse Me GPS drawing project at Warwick University and the walk and talk event being run this afternoon.

Detail from Traverse Me

Detail from Traverse Me

I hit send on the email I had been writing, jumped in the car …and managed to get to the Mead Gallery minutes after the group had departed! Luckily though, I located a “tall man with a beard” just outside and managed to join the walk. It’s safe to say that if I hadn’t have spotted them then, then I would never have found them.

Jeremy’s walk took us behind carparks, through hedges and across fields, revealing both the hidden-away secret places and the huge extent of the land owned by the university.

Having spent the last week or two working on another round of walking Eastside using GPS data to map the extent to which the landscape has been built upon, Wood’s work and the discussion around it was great for making me consider my own work.

A central concern of his project (238 miles walked over 17 days) seems to have been to fill in space; casting a network of lines over that which could be walked. Wood says he “responded to the structure of each location and avoided walking along roads and paths when possible”. The resulting mapdrawing – complete with scale mark, title and signature – is covered in swirls, contour-like lines, pictures and spirals.

The white tooth sticking out from the heavier line in the top left of the map corresponds to the copse. The spiral just below it and to the left originates from the highest point and spreads out over the field.

The white "tooth" sticking out from the heavier line on the top left of the map corresponds to the copse. The spiral just below it and to the left originates from the highest point - to the left of where I am stood - and spreads out over the fields.

By contrast, the Eastside walks I’m doing are very much dictated by road layout. As previously observed, Birmingham’s regeneration zone is very much defined by the road boundaries around its edges (c.f. Southampton‘s cluster of relevant cultural organisations).

The more recent work I’ve done to document the development in the Curzon Street area is also very road-centric, using them as a natural (man-made) grid by which to, well, traverse the area I’m investigating. Since I’m interested in measuring change, I need a certain amount of consistency so I can walk the same route in the years to come. Changes in my route have to come from changes in the built environment.


It was nice to hear of similarities in Wood’s experience of recording GPS trails to mine. The way you balance confidence as you stride about an area with deference to the possible intrusions you are causing to the people living and working there; the way you can be intent on following a predetermined route, but can savour the contrivances of circumstance that throw you off your course.

I asked Wood about his thoughts on how he felt the act of carrying a GPS receiver legitimised his erratic behaviour whilst out walking. I’m very aware of how in projects of mine such as Sites of Potentiality Guidebooks, Invigilator and Uncertain Eastside the objects I am carrying or wearing greatly add to my feeling that I have a right to behave a little bit strangely…

I may not want to draw a lot of attention to the fact that I’m holding two PDAs in my hands, but I want them to be visible so people know I am Doing An Art Project.

iPAQs and gum

Having recently also been working on the first Uncertain Eastside publication, I was also curious about the need for telling the stories of the things we see and encounter whilst out on our, largely solitary, walks. The traces from the GPS data are all well and good, but I also want people to know about the security guard at the halls of residence who jokingly asked me if I was counting my steps as I veered around outside his office, or the rain-heavy rhododendron bushes that cause particular squiggles on my drawings.

Today walking and talking events are seeming increasingly important to me as a means to transmit the story of the work.

Above is a slideshow of a few photos I took on the walk. This post includes some GPS traces I made too.

The making of Location Aware

Last Friday I was in Nottingham making a new piece of work as part of the Territorial Play event organised by Trampoline.

Using the same dual-GPS process as for Uncertain Eastside, I selected a route that took me through a variety of different urban environments including narrow streets, open wasteland, alongside large buildings and around the foot of the castle.

Wasteland with desire lines

Wasteland with desire lines

Each circuit of the route (2.2 miles) took approximately 45 minutes to complete and started and finished at the Broadway Media Centre where the event was hosted.

We had a ‘project room’ that we were using as a base for various tech + mapping activities. After each circuit I returned here, processed the data and turned it into a .pdf file that my glamorous assistant Russell would take to the printers whilst I set out walking again.

By the time I returned there would be a new print put up on the wall combining all the traces from all the previous walks.

Cumulative prints of the GPS traces

Cumulative prints of the GPS traces

I only had time for 3 circuits, but my shoes seemed to think that was plenty.

I’m really pleased with the results and had some great feedback and conversations with the other people at the event.

To share a little something of the resultant drawing – and how it relates to the landscape – I’ve added some details from the drawing to the Google Map of my route. Click on the yellow placemarkers to see the image and read the associated text.

Overview of the final route

Overview of the final route

Detail from the resultant drawing referenced to the part of the route it came from.

Detail from the resultant drawing referenced to the part of the route it came from.

So, head on over to the map: zoom in, zoom out, change views, click on things and have an explore!

Walking Route for Location Aware

I’m currently working on the route I will walk for my piece Location Aware at this Friday’s Territorial Play platform event in Nottingham.

The problem is, I don’t know Nottingham, so I’m crowd-sourcing some input on a route I’ve put together from Google Maps.

If you know Nottingham at all, then I’d be grateful for any feedback on this route (larger version here, or click though for zoom-able version on Google Maps):

My first proposed walking route - what do you think?

My first proposed walking route - what do you think?

I’m looking for the following qualities in the final route:

  • Safe for me to walk with a PDA visible in each hand.
  • Total walking length of about 45 mins (I think the current one is about an hour).
  • Passing through a range of different built environments and open spaces.
  • Starting and finishing at the Broadway Media Centre.
  • Some interesting places to see on the way. Several times during the course of the day!

I’ll be going to Nottingham on Thursday afternoon and will hopefully get a chance to investigate the route ahead of the first scheduled walk at 11am on Friday.

Prior to that though, if you can suggest any changes to make the route safer, more interesting or maybe just different, then I’d love to hear from you!

Location Aware at Territorial Play event in Nottingham

I’ll be in Nottingham this coming Friday and Saturday for the Territorial Play platform event and symposium as part of Tracing Mobility.

Detail from Uncertain Eastside - I will be using the same technique to explore Nottingham

Detail from Uncertain Eastside - I will be using the same technique to explore Nottingham

For Territorial play, Pugh will conduct a series of walks whilst carrying a satellite navigation device in each hand. Glitches in the technology and interference from the physical landscape result in anomalies in the data recorded by each device. As the journey is repeated and the resulting data overlaid, unique generative drawings are produced that reveal relationships between the fabric of the city and the behaviour of the technology.

My first walk will start at 11am and you are welcome to join me (free, there is a sign-up list at http://locationaware.eventbrite.com/), you can also join me on subsequent walks, through until the early evening, however these will be unscheduled.

The generated drawings will be on display at the Broadway Media Centre [Google map] and added to throughout the day as new layers of data are collected.



When I first went to Japan I had no concept of where I was geographically other than “somewhere to the left of Tokyo”.

When I went to Japan the second time, I had no concept of where I was geographically other than being slightly savvy with the metro map.

After going to Japan for a third time I decided to plot the places I had been on a map. See the full interactive version here: http://npugh.co.uk/jmap

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