REALTIME installationIn our everyday life, we usually follow fixed paths and trajectories throughout the day: from our home to work or school, to family, to familiar stores and to places where we spend our free time. We all have invisible maps in our head: of our immediate surroundings and of the roads we take every day. The way we move around in the city, and the choices we make in this process, are determined by this mental map.

In collaboration with Waag Society, Jeroen Kee and the Amsterdam Archive


For the exhibition ‘Maps of Amsterdam 1866-2000’, Waag Society and Esther Polak together with Jeroen Kee were invited by the Amsterdam City Archive to produce a work about mental maps in that city: ‘Amsterdam RealTime’. During two months, 75 volunteers were tracked by GPS in their everyday movements and routines around the city. These traces were then drawn as white lines over a black background. The resulting, animated map has a distinct look and feel of psychogeographic experience: it is not precise or rational, but expresses the intuitive and personal aspects of geography. It shows a city that does not consist of buildings, roads and water, but of the movement of its inhabitants. Thicker and brighter lines indicate greater frequency of travel. The map also was influenced by the variety of means of transportation: a cyclist will produce completely different traces than someone who drives a car. Once the participants became aware of their mapping outcomes, some even attempted to create artful GPS drawings. Interestingly, the final, combined map of all individual traces resembles an objective city map again.

‘Amsterdam RealTime’ is a pioneering and seminal project that demonstrates intuitive, spatial relationships between urban residents and their city. It allowed the tracked participants to become more aware of their whereabouts and reveals a new form of shared experience. Viewers of the map get involved in a mixture of aesthetic experience, identification and participation – but also a bit of voyeurism. In the installation and on the Amsterdam RealTime website, visitors can choose to browse and explore individual participants’ maps or to see the combined map as a whole.

Artistic motivation
The starting point for this work was our curiosity to find out if it was possible to make a map of Amsterdam emerge from authentic route data. We wanted the city to draw itself. Also we wanted the audience that witnessed the realtime emergence of the tracks to identify with the participants rather than taking a voyeuristic position.

Practical information
AmsterdamREALTIME 2002; Esther Polak, Jeroen Kee and Waag Society.
The project is available for exhibition purposes in the form of a looping, projected flash animation (20 min.) and (optional) a series of prints.
Distribution via LIMA Amsterdam

Archiving video showing the original flash-website:


Interview with Esther Polak in Neural Issue 33 summer 2009

Amsterdam Realtime project credits 2002/2003
Esther Polak  – initial concept / artist
Jeroen Kee – design exhibition installation / artist
Waag Society – research, development and project production
Tom Demeyer – software development, technical lead
Aske Hopman – concept and project management, tech research, website
Marleen Stikker, Floor van Spaendonck – concept advice
Kari Anne Bakker (intern) – producer
Bente van Bourgondiën – postproduced CD animation/interaction development
Lies Ros- flyer and website header design
Ina Arends – protective portapack design and production
Amsterdam Realtime website version 2009 credits
Esther Polak
Aske Hopman /
Bente van Bourgondiën /