mapping

Explorers, the historian Aaron Sachs wrote me in answer to a question, ’were always lost, because they’d never been to these places before. They never expected to know exactly where they were. Yet, at the same time, many of them knew their instruments pretty well and understood their trajectories within a reasonable degree of accuracy. In my opinion, their most important skill was simply a sense of optimism about surviving and finding their way.’[1]

Research of all kinds inevitably involves some kind of organisation to make sense of being lost, even if the focus of one’s research is systems or states of disorganisation. Not surprisingly, and like other research forms, it is common in practice-as-research to work with mapping processes and metaphors to help navigate materials, processes, ideas, and possibilities. We want to know how and where to place our work in relation to others, and mapping as a metaphor seems like a useful tool for us to find our work. See for example Performance Research: On Maps and Mapping from 2001.

Cartographers call the process whereby the world is reduced to a map, or a complex map reduced to a simpler map, cartographic generalization

As a representation of objects in space, any geographical map can be generalized in a number of different ways. We could take a detailed map of San Francisco and generalize it into a map showing only the subway lines, or only the railroads, or only the public streets and nothing else. Similarly, any given representation of events in time, such as an evolutionary tree, can also be generalized in a number of different ways (O’Hara, 1993). And just as different generalizations of a map may give the viewer different senses of a particular territory—one that showed all the parks might give a different impression from one that showed only highways and railroad tracks (Monmonier, 1991)—so also different generalizations of a detailed sequence of events in time may give the viewer different senses of what took place within a particular temporal space. Different generalizations of the history of life, for example, may give the impression that evolution is either directed or diversifying (O’Hara, 1992, 1993). [2]

We have temporal mapping, mind-mapping, and all types of data visualisation techniques that rely to a greater or lesser extent on geometric locations in space. It seems we are destined to fall into spatial metaphors and they are oh so seductive.

Yet, what other ways or metaphors are there to conceive of — and organise — our work in relationship to the work of others? If it is next to, within, amongst, around, etc, then we are spatially connected to others. And what possibilities might an alternate kind of being-in-relation afford us as artist-scholars seeking to understand the work we do in dialogue with others?


  1. Solnit, Rebecca. 2010. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Canongate Books, p.13  ↩
  2. http://rjohara.net/cv/1996-cas  ↩
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