Hundekopf

Loving Berlin Festival, Berlin, Germany
2005 June

Palácio das Artes, Belo Horizonte, Brasil
2007 Novemeber
About

Hundekopf In Berlin, the S41 and S42 routes of the S-Bahn train are known as the "Ringbahn" because they encircle the central city. From an aerial view the Ringbahn has the shape of a dog's head, and so it is colloquially known as "Hundekopf", German for "dog's head". The Ringbahn is an integral component of the city's transportation network, and its restoration into a complete circle after the fall of the Berlin Wall has given it symbolic significance among Berliners. From the Ringbahn windows riders can gain an incomplete perspective of the city as a whole, and Berlin's TV tower (the city's most iconic landmark) is always within sight.

Knifeandfork uses the Ringbahn as a literal vehicle for moving through a text-message based narrative that investigates the nature of private experience in public space. The piece begins with flyers, distributed throughout Berlin, that contain the emblem of a resistance organization and instructions on how to join it. After text-messaging the name of a Ringbahn station to the phone number printed on the flyer, the participant receives a message with instructions to board a specific train which will be arriving in the next few minutes.

Hundekopf has a unique approach to location awareness. Individual trains are tracked via the station arrival times published in realtime on the the BVG (Berlin's transit authority) website. Once the participant is on a train, his or her location can therefore be determined without the use of advanced locative technology. Using a GSM modem, the Hundekopf system delivers a message to participants after each station they pass on their way around the Ringbahn. This message is place-specific, and there is a certain cinematic quality to the piece as the ordinarily passive features of the landscape are put into a new context.

One of Hundekopf's primary goals was to build a narrative structure derived from the specific physical structure of the environment. What emerged was dubbed a 'hub narrative' because it is not tied together by a series of events; instead it is anchored by the central axis of the TV tower. There is no beginning and no end, so the messages remain coherent regardless of where the participant enters the narrative.

Additionally, the theme of resistance was central to the piece, a resistance against de facto modes of inhabiting public space. The messages sent to the participant outlined a Situationist-inspired manifesto, tactics for experiencing the environment within and without of the train in a novel and provocative light.

This theme was mirrored by the process of creating the piece. Knifeandfork incorporated as many publicly available resources as possible: for example, the entire piece was conceptualized and programmed in Berlin's cafes using public Wi-Fi. Furthermore, however, Hundekopf hacks the BVG website and the Berlin transit system itself — which are of course open to the public — and in doing so the piece acts in a way that is both performative and subversive.

With Hundekopf, Knifeandfork invites us to experience the city as verbs, not nouns. A feature of the cityscape, rather than a subject for a postcard, is an opportunity to act and imagine. By teasing out the narrative structures latent in the urban fabric, the actively creative mode of consciousness required by the piece drifts permanently into our everyday motions through the city.
Credits

Concept, engineering, writing, and production
Brian House
Sue Huang
Documentary
David Feinberg
Thanks to
Jesse Shapins
Carl Johan-Kjellander
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Press

Walk This Way: Mobile Narrative as Composed Experience
chapter in Beyond the Screen by Rita Raley

Vague Terrain
2007 Spring (Issue 06)

Hundekopf
2005 Summer (Issue 09)

Smart Mobs / Howard Rheingold
2005 June 16

Turbulence: networked_performance
2005 June 16