Author: Ivar van Bekkum

Press Presence

“In a McDonald’s on Germantown Avenue, as parents plied small children with Happy Meals and packs of teenagers swaggered in, Dutch artist Ivar van Bekkum went unnoticed as he equipped a volunteer, Richard “Ram” Ramson, with microphones, recorders, a GPS tracker, and an iPod, and sent him to wander the area.”
Read the full interview we had with the Philadelphia Inquirer here


And because the above mentioned Richard “Ram” Ramson is not in the pictures, this is him and this is the blog post we wrote about him

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Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum in conversation with Edward Shanken and Yolande Harris.
The conversation was recorded in September 2014  during the development of 250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia, and discusses the different outcomes of the project: an interactive website, the documentary film, the installation version “The Mailman’s Bag” and “The Beagle” .

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Sensorial Awareness

  By Robert Blackson

When Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum first approached me about their mapping project “250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia” I was pretty confused about what it was they were actually proposing.  They talked with me a lot about their interests in Google Street View, Google Earth and GPS as it had been applied to their earlier works such as “Amsterdam REALTIME” (2002) – but I had little understanding of how these interests in Google Street View and GPS would inform and perhaps even become the material of a participatory artwork based on walking through the streets of Philadelphia.

Most of my previous awareness for walking as a form of artistic practice has focused on Western European artists such as Alison Lloyd, Hamish Fulton, Tim Brennan and Richard Long.  All (with the exception of Brennan) are fairly introspective artists working from an austere, almost reverent, appreciation of the landscape and its immediate connection to our bipedalled selves. What Ivar and Esther were proposing was something completely different –situating us directly in the urban environment and heightening our sensorial awareness of the manmade world around us.  However, they were also introducing a baffle to the process.  To perhaps mediate the immediacy of walking through the city, Ivar and Esther have added a layer of technological abstraction with the application of Google Earth and Google Street View to this participatory process.

To get started Esther showed me a video of others navigating the distance between the real world and the abstracted prompts that have been recorded to guide my hour-long walk that cumulatively, one participant at a time, becomes “250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia”.  I then donned a sling bag nicknamed “the Beagle” filled with synchronized GPS gizmos, audio recorders, and microphone.  The Beagle was, in essence, my steering wheel and with it I began walking around north Philadelphia, doing as I was told from its recorded instructions.  I found something Acconcian in 250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia.  Like Acconci’s 1969 “Following Piece” I attributed a certain level of menace to my walk.  I felt the whole time as though I was being trailed by a virtual voyeur who was tracking my every move.  This big brotheresque dynamic of 250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia aligned it with many of the technological advancements (powered by Google, of course) that crowd and guide our daily lives.  It all felt very 2014.  There was something in this mutual reliance between artistic and technological advancement that I suspect must have also played a part in earlier efforts of a similar stripe such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago’s 1969 exhibition Art by Telephone (in which instructions for the public to make art works were given over the phone) or the famous Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) projects designed to merge artists with engineers sponsored by Bell Telephone that began in1967.  The efforts and successes of these earlier projects as well as 250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia are indebted not only, of course, to Duchamp, but also to the work of curator and museum director Alexander Dorner. Dorner introduced the first museum audio guide at The Rhode Island School of Design Museum in the late 1930s and attempted in various ways to connect a total sensorial experience with the transformative power of merging the habits of everyday life with art.  And as I walked through the streets of Philly with my virtual audio guide encouraging me to appreciate the city as one might an aesthetic experience – I couldn’t help but think of Dorner and the hopeful directive implied by the title of his last book, “The Way Beyond Art.”

Robert Blackson is a curator, writer, artist and Director of Exhibitions at Tyler School of Art’s in Philadelphia.

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Making the Mural Image

  For us this wrinkly wrapped orange is the rabbit hole that leads into the duplicate world of Google Earth in which the protagonists of our project live. For Simone Evanson, who reaches elegantly for this miniature world, it is in fact the end of the street where she lives. So she is in two ways related to this image now.


Thanks to Lance Evanson for making pictures as well!

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Trolley’s listening

The life of a trolley in Philadelphia is that of the most regular commuter in town. It’s tracks don’t allow for much distraction and neither it is easily stopped as its looks gently but firm demands passage. On it’s way it provides place for humans who prefer to sit and move, and puts them on the streets again. The driver of this mastodon of urban traffic hits the gong whenever it needs attention, as a friendly reminder or a firm warning and greets everyone with the brightest smile.

But how would it feel like to be a trolley. What would a trolley hear? Would it be distracted by the squeaking of it’s own doors, is it scared when a truck comes to close and does it groan under the weight of a body filled with travellers.

We gave trolley 15 a pair of ears and listened in.

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Three Dimensional Live

Richard Ramson aka Ram, rapper and performer, walks through Germantown with the Beagle. Ram and I met in front of Trader Joes and came to talk about art and performing a few times. He sells One Step Away magazines there*. I bought his cd (and the newspaper of course) and he’s commenting Germantown Avenue for us. Wandering through the area Ram gives us a view of what he calls the 3 dimensional life as opposed to the 4 dimensional life related to the things he observes in the street. An interesting thought when you realise we will be listening and looking at his trajectory in the replica world of Goolge Earth. So walk with him* as he reveals his view on living a good life and buys a tuna hoagie. That does sound tasty.

* Tracks will be online in the months following  november 23rd.

* although TJ made it’s properties private so he had to leave this great selling spot in front of the door – bad decision TJ)


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