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The All-Natural Art Inspiration App

Have you ever tried taking a walk to loosen up your creative juices? Indeterminate Hikes+ (IH+) is an app that takes your walk to the next level. You simply type in your location and walking route, and the app will show you all the artistic wonders of your location to boost your inspiration.

Leila Nadir, co-founder of ecoarttech and a lecturer in Sustainability and Digital Studies Programs at the University of Rochester, and her collaborator, Cary Peppermint, are the creators of IH+. Thalo had a chat with Nadir to learn more about this art inspiring app (as seen in photos 1 – 2).

When Inspiration Hit

thalo: How did you come up with the idea for a nature/art app?

Leila Nadir: We have a deep appreciation for the environment. But we don't think of the environment as some place faraway and distant. We believe that humans literally are the environment. We drink it, eat it, and depend on it for our very survival.

At the same time, we have always been very interested in digital technologies of all sorts. (Cary, in fact, has been a digital artist for decades.) We made Indeterminate Hikes+ to see if we could merge those two loves and to see if those two areas could influence one another. Our culture usually thinks of technology and nature as totally separate entities. We were inspired by the question of whether nature experiences could help us rethinking the way we use our mobile media. When we are in a national park or on a nature trail, we tend to move more slowly, we tend to look around, notice animals and plant life, yet in cities we tend to move so fast and increasingly do so with our eyes on our mobile screens. Was there a way to make nature and technology work together? If we are so dependent on our phones, could we make the phones do something they are not supposed to do. Instead of making us go faster, can they help us change our behavior and slow down?

Slow Down and Notice

th: Why do you think it is important for artists to slow down and connect with nature?

LN: We think it's important for everyone, not only artists, to slow down and notice the world around them. In modern life, we have been conditioned to see space as an obstacle. We try to move across landscapes as quickly as possible, driving gas-powered cars, walking briskly and we tend to use our mobile media, such as smartphones, for the same purposes, to get where we want and what we want as fast as possible.

This harried lifestyle doesn't allow us to notice, for example, that there are sparrows nesting in the shrubs outside our houses or that the rainwater falling onto asphalt becomes contaminated with the oil dripping from cars and then the oil and water flow together into our lakes and streams. There is nature all around us, in our backyards and on our sidewalks and it is important for us to realize that ecological issues are at play everywhere. Environmentalism has traditionally focused on wilderness areas, on pristine, untouched tracts of wilderness with sublime views, but we believe that we need to have environmentalism in everyday places. We can't save the environment in one area while we trash it in another. Everything is interconnected, and opening our eyes to that is the first step toward a sustainability society.

Clever Prompts

th: The first thing the app told me to do was, "Turn your nose to the air and sniff the WiFi. Text your friend and tell her what the WiFi smells like." Did you write these prompts or did you hire someone to write them for you?

LN: We write the prompts ourselves and sometimes we take suggestions from users of the app. They are inspired by mixing traditional wilderness ideas with urban locales. In nature we are taught to notice our surroundings, what if we were to adopt the same sort of meditative attentiveness in cities? What would be revealed?

The app works by importing the rhetoric of wilderness into virtually any place accessible by Google Maps and encouraging its users to treat these locales as spaces worthy of the attention accorded to sublime landscapes, such as canyons and waterfalls.

The inspiration also came from our experiences doing walking meditations and realizing how healing it is to slow down and realize where we are located.

App Lessons

th: Do you use the app on a regular basis with your students?

LN: The amazing part of making an app as an artwork is that virtually anyone with the technology can take their own personal excursion anywhere in the world, and we also lead many hikes at galleries, festival, and art exhibitions.

Our students definitely get to go on a lot of Indeterminate Hikes! We both teach classes about media and the environment, and the app is a great way for our students to think about new ways in which mobile phones can interact with local places. It makes for great classes! How many professors can say that going for a walk outdoors is an integral part of their class's learning experience?

All photos courtesy of Ecoarttech.