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Invited Demo: PigeonBlog

Pigeonblog: A Project by Beatriz da Costa with Cina Hazegh and Kevin Ponto

Release of the pigeons to be held live on Tuesday, 19, at around 10:40am, around the hotel. Specific place to be announced.

PigeonBlog enlists homing pigeons to participate in a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative designed to collect and distribute information about air quality conditions to the general public. Pigeons are equipped with custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices enabled to send the collected localized information to an online server without delay. Pollution levels are visualized and plotted in real-time over Google’s mapping environment, thus allowing immediate access to the collected information to anyone with connection to the Internet.

By using homing pigeons as the “reporters” of current air pollution levels we are hoping to achieve two main goals: 1) to re-invoke urgency around a topic that has serious health, environmental and political consequences, but lacks public action and commitment to change; and 2) to broaden the notion of grassroots scientific data gathering while building bridges between scientific research agendas and activist oriented citizen concerns.

Pigeonblog was inspired by a famous famous photograph of a pigeon carrying a camera around its neck taken at the turn of the last century. This technology, developed by German engineer Julius Neubronner for military applications, allowed photographs to be taken by pigeons during flight time. This early example of using living animals as participants in early surveillance technology systems made us pause. What would the 21st century version of this combination look like? What types of civilian and activist applications could it be used for?

With PigeonBlog we hope to make a contribution to the atmospheric and health sciences by introducing a low cost model of obtaining data that would compliment data obtained by the fixed monitoring sites, and would validate urban air shed models of pollution dispersion in areas where fixed monitoring site data are not available.

However, the project's main concern lies is in addressing the following questions: How can a non-academic public become involved in scientific data gathering? How can an “old topic” such as air pollution be addressed through artistic means in an effort to increase public interest and support for solutions to these problems? How can real-time information about current localized pollution levels be made public? How can a mutual beneficial human and non-human relationship be developed in an urban context inhabited by both beings? How can we "re-script" our relationship to technology and the city, and build our own hardware and sensing devices?

And finally, how can we contribute to a techno-scientific discourse that takes political, research and artistic concerns into account on an equal footing?

Beatriz da Costa is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher. She is dedicated to a participatory practice and interactions with non-academic publics represent a key component of her work. She is a former collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble and a co-founder of Preemptive Media, an arts, activism and technology group. Current projects include, Pigeonblog (www.pigeonblog.mapyourcity.net), AIR (www.pm-air.net), and Delocator.Mapyourcity.net (www.delocator.mapyourcity.net).

Beatriz is an Assistant Professor of Arts, Computation, Engineering at the University of California, Irvine.