Public Lab River Rat Pack

  • Node A: River Rat Pack
  • Node B: River Rat Pack
  • Node C: River Rat Pack
  • Node D: River Rat Pack
  • Node E: River Rat Pack
  • Node F: River Rat Pack

Undergraduate and graduate students in the spring 2016 seminar Public Lab River Rat Pack joined assistant professor Derek Hoeferlin on a series of anti-drone expeditions along the Mississippi River, conducting radical fieldwork that exposed the complicated relationship of the St. Louis region to the river. Braving the fickle St. Louis spring weather, students took multiple trips into the field to document the conditions of the river, from flood stage at the start of the semester through the transitions that occurred over the course of the next three months.

Connecting with representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Audubon Center at Riverlands for access to remote and secured sites, students developed a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of site from natural and man-made perspectives. The team utilized Public Lab's DIY Balloon Mapping Kits, which consist of a weather balloon, kite line, and other necessary pieces for creating an airborne camera rig. The cameras documented political graffiti, the delicate interfaces between the river and industrial zones, and a subtle shaping of the land.

The team took over 28,000 photographs of nine sites along the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and the River des Peres. Some mappings document the difference between high and low river stages; others show the intensity of industrial uses along the rivers; still others chart more ecological areas. All question the profound lack of public access to the rivers.

In addition to the issues raised by the river itself, the methods for the seminar raised critical questions related to documentation, surveillance, access to data, and privacy. Utilizing the moniker "anti-drone," students participated in conversations related to the Kemper Art Museum exhibition To See Without Being Seen: Contemporary Art and Drone Warfare, challenging the idea of aerial data collection through the use of big red balloons.

The semester culminated with a Givens Hall exhibition of photography and mapping produced from the fieldwork. The collected images and materials will also be added to Public Lab's open-source geo-spatial research wiki, providing a resource accessible to the public.

This seminar was supported by a Sam Fox School Creative Activity Research Grant.

The following students participated in this course: Xiaoxin Cao, Molly Chaney, Nicholas Gentile, Katheryn Haas, Nina Lang, Rachel LeFevre, Amanda Malone, Xiaoqing Qin, Jinghan Shi, Micah Stanek, Rory Thibault, and Jessica Vanecek.

Additional team members included: Emily Chen (MArch/MLA15), Allison Mendez (MArch12), Elise Novak (MArch14), lecturer Jonathan Stitelman (MArch/MUD11), Fred Stivers (MArch05), Tiffin Thompson (MArch14), and assistant professor Natalie Yates.


Images on Instagram 

Blog post on exhibition by assistant Professor Derek Hoeferlin 

All blog posts covering the content of the seminar


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