“Indeterminate Hikes” (IH) is an Android app that transforms everyday urban landscapes into sites of bio-cultural diversity and wild happenings. Generally devices of rapid communication and consumerism, smartphones are re-appropriated by IH as tools of environmental imagination and meditative wonder, renewing awareness of intertwining biological, cultural, and media ecologies and slowing us down at the same time. The app works by importing the rhetoric of wilderness into virtually any place accessible by Google Maps and encouraging its users to treat these locales as spaces worthy of the attention accorded to sublime landscapes, such as canyons and gorges. This project extends from ecoarttech’s belief that ecological awareness must be based in the places that humans actually live, not just in relatively uninhabited natural spaces. We also believe it is essential that conversations about environmental sustainability and ecological management be democratized through the arts, and not only considered within a scientific context.
After identifying participants’ location, IH provides a “hiking trail” with a series of randomly designated “Scenic Vistas,” where users are: (1) asked to contemplate “spectacular” views, much as they would on a mountaintop or at a waterfall, (2) encouraged to take 30 mindful breaths or a five-minute break, while (3) contemplating a directive, such as “Follow the path of falling water,” “Wander the caverns on the surface of the earth, “Discover humans’ primal etchings.” On city streets, where most IH performances take place, these directions inspire participants to slow down and notice the sublimity of seemingly anti-spectacular spaces. Thus the ecological wonder usually associated with “natural” spaces, such as national parks, is re-appropriated here to renew awareness of the often-disregarded spaces in our culture that also need attention, such as alleyways, highways, and garbage dumps.
IH can be performed in two ways: (1) as an interactive public event led by artist-guides (e.g., at festivals/exhibitions), or (2) as a self-guided excursion taken by a hiker equipped with an IH-enabled smartphone. When physical exhibition space is available, ecoarttech installs a mixed-media “Indeterminate Hikes Base Camp” in tandem with performances. This includes a tent with sleeping bags alongside a projection of the IH app and scattered traces of local environments. For our forthcoming solo show at Syracuse University’s Warehouse Gallery, concrete “rocks” from a nearby defunct dam, graffiti referencing the underpass across the street, and shipping palettes as markers of the city’s Erie-Canal shipping history are included. Together, the “Indeterminate Hike” and the “Base Camp” set the tone for reinvigorating experiences of local environments, to see them as spaces rich with historical, cultural, biological diversity, and worthy of emotional attachment and ecological protection.