G.P.S. Dog Art

The Earth itself has long been one of man’s favorite canvases for expressions of art. The most permanent and lasting works are almost universally painted on cave walls, carved into stone, or man-made mountains such as the Chinese and Egyptian and South American pyramids. The large scale molding and carving of the earth into animal shapes also has a rich history across every continent. Britons of the Bronze Age carved out the Uffington White Horse (above), and Native Americans constructed animal shaped earth mounds (below) evoking a powerful connection between the Earth, Animals, Man and Art.

So how do two guys, their dogs, and a couple of GPS units warrant a full page write up in the New York Times Art Review? If you consider tracking the lines and patterns that people and dogs make via GPS a modern (and often abstract) version of the Nazca Lines; then Hugh Pryor, Jeremy Woods, and their dogs Boris and Jemma are modern artists drawing on the same artistic tradition.

Long ago came the ancient Nazca lines in Peru. More recently, in the 1960’s and 70’s, came Earth artists like Michael Heizer, making tracks in the Nevada desert with a motorcycle; Robert Smithson, building his spiral jetty in Utah; and Richard Long, turning walks in the English countryside into conceptual drawings through space.

Now come Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor, a young British duo who use the Global Positioning System’s network of 24 satellites, which can track a person’s location on the planet to within a few yards, to produce virtual art on the Internet.

As G.P.S. receivers have become smaller and cheaper, a growing number of digital artists are exploiting the technology. Like much digital art, the ideas are often spiffier than the visuals. Wood and Pryor tend toward cartoonish shapes that look as if they’re drawn by an Etch-a-Sketch. But they lately have also managed a few artfully nervous abstractions, made by strapping a G.P.S. device to a poodle, a border collie and a Jack Russell terrier, which betray a certain perhaps unwitting animal attraction to the work of Giacometti. Their basic concept is, in the end, inspired: that the technology of surveillance may produce a poetry of form, and that there is art to the way we move through the world, if we are just alert enough to it.
Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times – December 14, 2003

Any spectator at a sheep trial will tell you that there is beauty in how a Border Collie moves. The eye, the crouch, the swift and stable outrun, so smooth that you wonder if the dog is hovering instead of running. The conservation of motion, a swift stop and stare almost frozen in space, a tilt of the head and the flock moves.

A spectator at a Frisbee competition will tell you the same thing. A grace in movement, effortless leaps and stalls, helicopter spins and gravity defying vaults. Or in Agility, when a well trained dog finds the perfect line through the course, as if the obstacles only exist to aid the dog in a luge-smooth series of arcs and turns. The fastest flyball teams run the course as gracefully as an Olympic swimmer, the jumps and the box which evoke a lumbering and awkward hop-hop-hop-and-slam in a novice dog become mere pebbles in the stream to the trained dogs.

So it’s no wonder that two forward thinking men wanted to capture that ephemeral experience by using GPS; heck, even some sheep trial judges have joked that they could GPS the dog and the sheep and judge trials remotely from anywhere in the world with a computer.

Wood and Pryor have an interesting and growing portfolio of GPS graffiti, some planned out meticulously like reproductions of ancient earth-art, self referential works like the word “WATER” spelled out using a speed boat on a lake, and some organic works like tracking a lawnmowers path over a lawn or the movements of traffic through a city.

The technique creates an effect like time lapse photos of car lights in the dark, long streaking and jerky lines that are a record of motion.

Now, just to prove how brilliant Border Collies are, and not to be outdone by artistic Elephants or other animal artists, precocious Boris the Border Collie used his GPS “brush” to paint a doggy self portrait across the fields of Cutteslowe Park, Oxford:
The two men are also integrating the concept of tracking a point through space and time with live video and new advances in point tracking algorithms. Below, they track a tennis ball and the tip of a dog’s tail with video at the same time they track the dog using GPS. The two smaller videos at the top of the frame show how effective a potential image stabilization process would be using the tracking information.

Explore further at the GPS Drawing website.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.