Performative practices of mapping

On: May 19, 2010
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About Radmila Radojevic
I am a communications professional from Montreal, Canada. Much of my experience is in the cultural sector and community-driven initiatives. I worked and volunteered for various community and art groups in Montreal (CKUT, university and community radio station, Studio XX, a feminist digital arts organization, Maid in Cyberspace, an annual arts festival organized by Studio XX, Eyesteelfilm, a social documentary film company etc.) Currently doing my MA at UvA. My main interests are in data visualization and locative media.


“Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of . . . [a] map [is that it] has multiple entryways as opposed to the tracing, which always goes back “to the same.” The map has to do with performance”. (Deleuze and Guattari 1980/1987, 13-14)

According to Crampton “cartography should be understood as existence (becoming) rather than essence (fixed ontology)” (Crampton, 2009) — a perspective that allows for a better comprehension of how maps really work. Maps should therefore not be taken as ‘objects’, but as performative practices.

Take for example a simple case of map navigation – explaining it in terms of ‘mental reasoning’ is not sufficient. Getting lost does not imply we only have to rotate a ‘mental map’ in our heads until aligned with a given surrounding. It is an experience involving much more than that, inclusive of reading spatial cues or signs (road signs etc), or, interacting and moving within an environment (maybe talking to someone while negotiating directions etc.) These examples imply that mapping is a cultural and social practice rather than just a cognitive activity. “Cognitive map and the process of wayfinding are so prioritized [in conventional cartography] that at some points one could be forgiven for thinking that these activities occur in a vacuum or that persons drop all other activities to follow the map.” (Brown and Laurier, 2005). In order to illustrate that mapping is not only about “reading and navigation” these authors utilize a poem by Miroslav Holub describing an unusual incident that happened to a group of soldiers during military maneuvers in Switzerland: a young Hungarian officer sends reconnaissance unit out to the Alps but they get lost. One of the solders, luckily, finds a map in his pocket and after three days of wandering they finally find a way home. Upon arrival, the officer asks to see the map which had saved their lives only to realize that it is not a map of the Alps but of the Pyrenees. (Miroslav Holub, Brief Thoughts on Maps. TLS, Feb 4, ’77) It turned out that the ‘performative path of their rescue’ was not ‘driven’ by a map but by their own desire. Our imaginative patterns could actually inscribe reality.

The ‘incident’ recalls contemporary mapping practices of ‘dislocation’ — a digital mapping practices of locative media art involving deployment of a map featuring one city to navigate in another. It has especially gained popularity with ‘meta-touring’ or what is commonly referred to as ‘meta-tourism’ or ‘dislocative tourism’. “You Are Not Here (YANH)” has been described by its author Israeli artist Muchon Zer-Aviv as a “platform for urban tourism “offering virtual tours of conflicted city zones”. The project was first launched in 2006, allowing people in New York to virtually tour the city of Baghdad. Recently and in collaboration with a journalist from Gaza, Laila el-Haddan, a Tel Aviv-Gaza version was released. The users can download a double-sided map from the website, showing Gaza City on one side and Tel Aviv on the other. Some of the marked locations are Palestinian presidential residence, Saraya prison and the gold market. By dialing a free number on their mobiles, participants can get an audio-virtual tour of selected locations.
Tel Aviv/Gaza

The authors hope this experience might raise awareness of Israeli people about harsh reality and conditions of everyday life of people in the Gaza strip. Their aim is to ‘dislocate’ associations of violence from the territory of Gaza by diverting attention to everyday lives of its people – as they shop, eat, and wander around the city. “You do this tour and you see the difficult reality of Gaza, but you also are reminded that regardless of tragedy, people live and love just the same,” said Shimon in an interview with Reuters India.

Another, similar project, “Latino/a America, a Geophilosophy for Wanderers” (2006) by Alejandro de Lacosta features a map of the Americas with no boundaries. The map is a ‘record of wanderings’ (recorded traces of migrant journeys of the Mexico-U.S. border). While it is quite useless as a navigation tool, however, its value is in ‘dislocating’ a common perspective/experience of migration, mobility – by inscribing what has been absent from the conventional cartographies, a movement of migrants and refugees. The map is thus provoking a debate, on globalization and selective permeability of contemporary borders which are more open to the flow of goods yet remain closed to the flow of bodies.
Latino/a map

Both projects subvert the ‘cognitive model’ of mapping with its emphasis on ‘wayfinding’ and navigation’. In turn, these are being resituated within the cultural and social practices, providing an alternative mapping approach. Here, cartography becomes a method of reinscribing the power-relations.

Drew Hemment emphasizes the importance of a dynamic (performative) relationship between dataspace and the world in locative art practices. Locative media projects sometimes also reveal the ‘reductive understanding of spatiality’. Their reliance on GPS coordinate system, betrays its indebtedness to conventional cartography and GIS in its reduction of location to geo-coordinates. (Hemment, 2008) What she sees here as problematic is an emphasis on locating rather than on embodiment, physicality and context. By shifting this emphasis to body and performance, locative media art can engage participants in much more active readings of the space, transcending the constraints of GPS’ Cartesian system. Along the same lines, Lisa Parks explored performative possibilities of locative media and GPS mapping already since the beginning of 2000s suggesting a practice of self-navigation, were the user can ‘territorialize’ herself within “local, natural, regional or global boundaries.” According to Parks, GPS has a potential as ‘technology of the self’ while inscribing embedded practices into mapping discourse. It enables us to “actively read the landscape” by overlaying our personal trajectories on it.

An example of locative media art practice working from both frameworks (Hemment and Parks) is ‘Biomapping’ by Christian Nold. He measures the ‘galvanic skin response’ (emotional response) with a combination of GPS and a similar kind of device used in lie-detectors. While the body moves through the space, the device maps emotional trajectory (line drawings of GPS traces), providing an interface between the body and its physical environment. It charts the ‘arousal” of participants revealing their relationship with the place.

Relational and performative dimensions of space is apparent from analyses of “Running Stitch” by Sotelo-Castro. Castro has used the framework of what he calls ‘participation cartography’ to explain the artistic practice enabled by the piece, as a form of self-mapping “that positions the self in relation to a given performance space”. The project was an installation piece by Jen Southern. Walking performances of the participants were recorded live by the GPS, resulting in collaborative map — a digital tapestry (5m x 5m). The participants could exchange their ‘biographies’(performative narratives), thus producing a social space of an interaction within a given urban setting. Sotelo-Castro concludes that the resulting visualization (map) is a record of the performance more than it is a representation of the urban space (physical setting).

We can conclude that the space is always in the process of becoming (constituted by people and their discourses) and never ‘fixed’ or ‘static’. This has been clearly reflected in dynamic and performative mapping practices. Maps are ‘fleeting and without any ‘ontological security’ (Crampton, 2009). Understanding maps as practices, marks an important shift in the way they are deployed, made, studied and thought.

Brown, B. and Laurier, E. “Maps and journeys:an ethno-methodological investigation. Cartographica 40.2005

Crampton, J. “Cartography: Performative, participatory, political”. Progress in Human Geography. 2009

Crampton, J. “Cartography: Maps 2.0”. Progress in Human Geography. 2008

Hemment, D. “Locative Arts”. Leonardo Journal, Volume 39, Issue 4. 2006
Parks, L. “Plotting the personal: Global Positioning Satellites and interactive media”. Cultural Geographies.8. 2008

Sotelo-Castro, L. “ Participation Cartography: The Presentation of Self in Spatio-Temporal Terms.” M/C Journal. Volume 12, Issue 5. 2009

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