an Emotional Compass: new ideas for wayfinding in cities

Why would we need an Emotional Compass?

And, first of all, what is an Emotional Compass?


“The map is not the territory.” – A. Korzybski


“The map is not the thing mapped.” – E.T. Bell


“The tale is the map that is the territory.” – N. Gaiman


“We say the map is different from the territory. But what is the territory? The territory never gets in at all. […] Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum.” – G. Bateson

When we experience territories, we create stories.

We model these stories using mental maps. These maps have seldom anything to do with what actually lies within the territories themselves. A mental map refers to one person’s point of view perception of their own world, and is influenced by that person’s culture, background, mood and emotional state, instantaneous goals and objectives.

If we move along the streets of my city in a rush, trying to find a certain type of shop or building, our experience will be different than the one we would have had if we were searching for something else.

Focus will change.

We will see certain things and not notice other ones which we would have noticed otherwise.

Some things we will notice because they are familiar, common, or because associate them to memories and narratives. Some will stand out because they react with some element of our culture or background.

All this process continuously goes on as our feelings, emotions, objectives and daily activities change, creating the tactics according to which we traverse places and spaces, to do the things we do.

In the density of cities, this process happens for potentially millions of people at the same time.

In his “the Image of the City”, Kevin Lynch described cities as complex time-based media, symphonies produced by millions of people at the same time in their polyphonic way of acting, moving, interpreting, perceiving and transforming the ambient around themselves: a massive, emergent, real-time, dissonant and randomly harmonic, work of time-based art with millions of authors that change all the time.

In this, our mental maps – the personal representations of the city which we build in our minds to navigate them to fulfil our needs and desires – live a complex life as our perception joins into the great performance of the city.

Dissonance is the essence of the city itself, and represents its complexity, density and opportunities for interaction.

Harmony represents affordances, the things which are recognised and shared by different cultures.

Those elements of the perceptive landscape onto which we can agree upon, which we recognise and attribute compatible meanings, allowing us to collaborate, meet, do things together.

For example, Haken and Portugali have suggested a broad definition of landmarks to refer to any distinguished city elements that shape our mental map. Or as Appleyard, Golledge and Spector who have conducted studies about the imageability of urban elements not because of their visual stimulus but because they possess some personal, historical, or cultural meaning.

These features found within our mental maps enable the possibility to design the affordances of places and spaces. We can use the understanding of what is consistently recognized and understood to design the elements of space/time which will be able to describe to people what is allowed or prohibited, suggested or advised against, possible or imaginable.

Lynch’s concepts of legibility and imageability are closely related to James J. Gibson’s notion of affordances developed in his direct perception theory, according to which the objects of the environment can afford different activities to various individuals and contexts. And, again, in Haken and Portugali, all elements of a city afford remembering, as they shape in the mental maps in human minds.

In a further step in the direction of citizen activation, we can also imagine to make this type of understanding widely known and usable, to enable people to express themselves (and their mental maps of how they perceive the world) more effectively and powerfully.

These possibilistic scenarios have become radically viable with the widespread of ubiquitous technologies. Nomadic devices (such as smartphones) and their applications we are able to merge our physical understanding of the world with the digital one: the two have, in fact, become so interweaved and interconnected as to form a new physicality, visuality and tactility which shape our everyday experiences of the world.

According to Mitchell’s “City of Bits”, McCullough’s Digital Ground, Zook’s and Graham’s DigiPlace we are constantly immersed in emergent networks of interconnected data, information and knowledge which is produced by millions of different sources and subjects in the course of their daily lives.

This data and information radically shapes the ways in which we have learned to work, learn, collaborate, relate, consume and perceive our environment.

If we are strolling in a park and we receive a notification of some sort on our smartphone, the natural environment could instantly transform into an ubiquitous, temporary office.

If we want to make a decision about a certain thing we would like to purchase while in a shop, a quick look online will help define our opinion in ways that can be very powerful.

If we receive a message on our smartphone, our mood could change for the rest of the day.

Situated and ubiquitous information is able to powerfully transform, in real-time, the ways in which we experience places, objects and services, by providing the wide accessibility of other people’s stories, emotions, expectations and visions.

This scenario is the one we have tried to address in our research: the conceptualisation, design and implementation of a tool for urban navigation, in which the emotional, narratives expressed by people while inhabiting and using urban places, spaces and objects become instantly and radically available, accessible and usable.

We used this approach to define a novel vision on the opportunity to design new types of affordances for our cities.

We have decided to start from the idea of a Compass.

You can find a first result of our research here at the following link:

An Emotional Compass Harvesting Geo-located Emotional States from User Generated Content on Social Networks and Using them to Create a Novel Experience of Cities

An Emotional Compass harvesting emotions from social networks

An Emotional Compass harvesting emotions from social networks

The Mirror and The Source @ Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series


AOS in Detroit

AOS in Detroit

AOS will be in Ann Arbor (Detroit) on October 17, 2013, for the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater with “The Mirror and the Source“, a talk/performance exploring the transformation of human beings, and the new rituals, emotions, new intimacies and public spaces of our augmented lives in the digital era.

“The Mirror and the Source” will be an exploration of contemporary life with Art is Open Source, an international network of artists, researchers, technologists, architects, designers and activists interweaving disciplines and practices to understand the current mutation of human societies through the wide availability and accessibility of ubiquitous technologies.

A visual, sonic journey through the new rituals and emergent ways in which we have radically changed the ways in which we work, relate, consume, feel emotions, have sex and entertain ourselves.

The first Open Source Cure for Cancer, the real-time digital life of cities, the story of a baby artificial intelligence called Angel_F going to the United Nations to defend its digital rights, a very dangerous videogame, human tamagotchis and a fictional company using a very naughty business model will be among the many performances, artworks and researches which we will encounter along the journey.

Come and meet us here:

Art is Open Source and the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series
“The Mirror and the Source”
Thursday October 17th 2013
at 5:10pm at the historic Michigan Theater
603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor,
(free of charge and open to the public)

more info:

Love VS Turin at MAC, the Contemporary Art Museum of Lissone

Versus, the Realtime lives of cities: love VS Turin

Versus, the Realtime lives of cities: love VS Turin

Versus, Love VS Turin, will be presented at MAC, Contemporary Art Museum of Lissone.

Selected by curator Cecilia Guida from the ArtHub archives for the exhibit “C’è una piccola radice che, se la masticate, vi spuntano le ali immediatamente”, the video will be on show in the video-room at MAC – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Lissone, from the 4th to the 28th of July 2013.

The Opening will take place on July 4th starting at 9pm.

The exhibit is part of the “Off site / Not in place” project, a collaboration between MAC and Viafarini DOCVA, a selection of video art taken from the ArtHub archives.

More information here:

and HERE is the invitation for the opening.

the Electronic Man at Arteractive in Turin

The Electronic Man will be featured in Turin at Arteractive, November 2-6 2011.

Arteractive in Turin

Arteractive in Turin

The project unites a group of artists who have been working with new digital technologies and with specific focus on the research about novel forms of establishing relations with the audience.

Arteractive is an exhibit whose aim is to investigate these the effects of these researches and the potential for innovation of these forms of art and iconographies, which inject a direct possibility for action and reaction for people, creating explicit mutations at aesthetic and social levels.

The exhibit will feature a set of different metaphors and techniques, assessing the virtual domains and activating emotions and sensations in visitors and interactors, establishing multiple types of connections with social media, networks and virtual technologies.

The opening of the exhibit will take place on Thursday November 3rd starting at 6pm.

There will be a preview event on November 2nd at 7pm.

The exhibit will be open to the public on November 3rd, 4th and 5th from 11am to midnight, and on November 6th from 11am up to 8pm.

The address is:

Parcheggio Residence Cristina, 52, Turin
(access is from via Principe Tommaso, at the corner with via Oddino Morgari)

The concept and exhibit is curated by Chiara Canali.

Invited artists are

Alessandro Biagetti, Mirko Canesi, Umberto Ciceri, Davide Coltro, Giuliana Cuneaz, Nicola Evangelisti, Daniele Girardi, Glaser/Kunz, Vincenzo Marsiglia, Gabriele Pesci, Gianfranco Pulitano.

We (Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico) will be featured in the exhibit with the Electronic Man, our global performance created in occasion of Marshall McLuhan’s Centennial celebrations, with the partnership of MediaDuemila under the scientific direction of prof. Derrick de Kerckhove.



The Electronic Man on Furtherfield

Check out our interview on about the Electronic Man. Here is the info:

the Electronic Man

the Electronic Man

The Electronic Man: A Global Performance.

Renee Carmichael interviews Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico from,
Art is Open Source (AOS) and the international think-tank FakePress,
about their recent project The Electronic Man.


“You Are Now the Electronic Man” are the words that appear before even
opening the website for The Electronic Man, a project initiated by
Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico of Art is Open Source (AOS) and
FakePress. And by becoming part of The Electronic Man, sharing your
emotions as they become linked through QR Codes and help to build the
frame of The Electronic Man, you are participating in a real time global
performance. We discuss AOS’s ideas and intentions, regarding their
activities of performance and use of technology, and methods of
engagement with anthropology and biology.

This real time global performance relates to conceptual experiments in
remixing reality and creating new sensual experiences with technology.
The email interview took place after their recent exhibition at
Furtherfield’s gallery in London, REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT
REALITY! (, February, March 2011, and during
their current project The Electronic Man, part of the ADD Festival in
Italy 2011 (

Renee graduated from Goldsmiths with a Masters in Interactive Media:
Critical Theory and Practice. Her most recent work arose from working
with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) support groups to intrepret
their perception of objects within the home alongside theories of
discreteness and technology. She is currently interested in exploring
relationships between food, data and technology.

Other Info:

A living – breathing – thriving networked neighbourhood – art,
technology & social change – claiming it with others ;)

Other reviews,articles,interviews

Furtherfield – online arts community, platforms for creating, viewing,
discussing and learning about experimental practices at the
intersections of art, technology and social change.

Furtherfield Gallery – physical media arts Gallery (London).

Netbehaviour – Networked Artists List Community.