BEING HERE.
MAPPING THE CONTEMPORARY

Jan-Erik Lundström & Johan Sjöström

Never perfect, never complete or altogether comprehensive, never final, but always tentative, wanting, deficient, incomplete, unnerving – representation is failure, representation is loss - and yet capable, versatile, illuminating, productive, and life-saving. The map1 (let’s say, in order to have some kind of definition, that maps are graphic representations which facilitate a spatial understanding of objects, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world) consistently and insistently makes us aware of that unrepresentable and unreachable whole. Each and every map is pursuing its particular job, its specific incremental addition to the world, its reading of specific elements, components, details, of the world, its undoing of those same elements, specificities, particulars; while, simultaneously, pointing – insidiously and exuberantly – to that always over-determined totality of all measures and things, that which we like to call reality.

In fact, maps are keen on upsetting or unsettling our faith in representations, stoutly declaring the intractable and inexorable fact that each map is a fragment, an exclusive and limited narrative, a small piece of the puzzle, a singular choice out of infinite possibilities of how to perform the task of mapping. Maps construct and deconstruct realities, they are propositions, suggesting certain paths, some possibilities, some particular options, within and about that vast glassy jumbled field which is our present (even if the topic at hand is historical).

Indeed, we still like to believe that mapping is a mimetic exercise, a process of analogue imitation which by way of reduction and abstraction mimics supposed worlds, and thereby acts as gatekeeper and host towards the splendid and refractory lives of copies and reproductions. However, mapping is not the road to mimesis, is not resemblance, not imitation or copy. Maps are parallel worlds, rich and powerful out of their own specific properties, producers of new and other spaces, of alternative and unprecedented geographies. Exactly because of this: resourceful, productive and beautiful instrumentalities for the contemporary moment, for navigation – or withdrawal - in these strange times in the midst of the landscapes of terror, fear and loss, of the territories of restricted movement, control and surveillance, of borders which are walls, of globalization with its promises and defeats. Maps and cartographic practices are perhaps more correctly rendered as heterotopic projects, dealing with or seeking or suggesting counter-worlds, other territories, new spaces. Contemporary geography and cartography knows that maps create space, that maps generate the territory, that maps produce or generate the real; this is the precise modality of contemporary cartography. Gilles Deleuze asks2 for a mode of investigation or of writing, which seeks not to trace representations of the real, but to produce maps and mappings that refigure the real, that configure relations in ways that make alternative worlds possible. The map creates the territory; this is equal to the starting point for a critical contemporary geography.3

However, significantly, each map is also a kind of novel representational or methodological proposal. Let us view the world this way and not that.  Let us propose such a particular construction; every map is self-representational, self-reflexive; it clarifies its own properties, conditions, qualities and method. While attending to a map we do not only approach its data, we also venture to its own equation of knowledge, its set-up and its infrastructure, its methodology towards producing new knowledge, even its epistemology and ontology. The map collates method and result…and thus we learn not only to ask: What new world is it that each map creates? What is being produced as we engage with this particular map? Who is the human being introduced to this specific map? Also: What is the way of knowing the world suggested by this map? What is the method of creation proposed here? What are the productive and generative powers of this particular cartographic practice?

Current issues regarding mobility, territoriality, borders, and the seemingly infinite production of exiled populations across the globe, the flux of peoples in permanent transit, overall variations on a spatial problematic, are all indicators of a surge of thinking, practicing, engaging with geography, cartography, processes and methods of mapping. The metaphors of globalization, in these early years of the 21st century, have often spoken of a borderless world of free movement of goods, capital and people, of flows of people and goods travelling incessantly across regions and nations, of networks reaching more and more of the entire globe. While these metaphors have many elements of truth, it has become increasingly clear today that ‘globalization’ is as much about erecting borders, monitoring or restricting movement as it is about a borderless world. Whether it be the international phenomena of gated communities, or the deepening militarization of North-South borders such as EU-Africa or US-Mexico, to the walled and policed border of Israel-Palestine, it is obvious that there is a global map of entrenched borders to observe – or make.

Without simplifying or suggesting some kind of grand single answer, we would like to claim that issues, problems and questions facing us in this present rushing forward are increasingly narrated or conceived or dealt with within a framework of critical cartography. It is, in other words, not a coincidence that many artists, activists, researchers, and thinkers today are engaged in cartographic projects, are turning towards maps and mapping as central means and methods. Towards critically cartographic practices in search of proposals or propositions in terms of understanding or intervening in the constantly mutating forces of global capitalism, as of now so enmeshed in spatial and border and territory issues. Could we even suggest a geographical or spatial turn in contemporary thought, parallel to the two previous and decisive turns in 20th century thought, the linguistic turn and, then, the visual turn? In any case, no history of the 20th and 21st centuries can ignore geography and cartography, the map, the map-makers and the map-readers.

In this context, it is then also crucial to note that mapping, cartographic production, processes of mapmaking, is in our present no longer an exclusive practice of territorial or institutional platforms. Given developments such as the availability of GPS data or Internet-based map archives such as Google Earth, as well as on-line cartographic tools, it is a central crucial feature of the present that cartography and mapmaking is no longer strictly an expert or disciplinary issue. It exists and is possible through much more popular or vernacular platforms and is available and accessible on a broader scale than ever. This is altogether a decisive shift regarding the conditions of mapmaking and cartography.

BB3, the 3rd Bucharest Biennial, under the theme of "Being Here. Mapping the Contemporary", attends to this geographical turn in contemporary creativity and representational practices. Promoting cartographic literacy, imagining the map as a problematic, unpredictable, productive, liberating instrument and tool for the present. BB3 invites map-makers, cartographers and map-readers of all varieties to what might with equal validity be described as an exhibition, a project, a resource centre and a statement. Given the map as the axis of concentration, BB3 offers a consistently trans- or cross- interdisciplinary approach to its subject matter. The presented selection is not dependent on a particular medium or discipline, but engages instead in the act of re-presenting projects found in a powerful interface between contemporary culture and contemporary creativity, works that chart and address the contemporary moment. Thus artistic practices are encountered alongside with the work of alternative cartographers, geographers, political scientists, artists standing in as cartographers, and so forth. Contemporary artists are re-contextualised as original mapmakers, remapping the discipline of cartography itself from the inside. Other projects apply cartography and maps towards resisting particular policies and oppressive systems. Or towards redrawing the given and known maps, inventing alternative cartographies, acknowledging fully that mapping is also a politics of knowledge. 

(Extras from Pavilion no. 12 vol. 1 - Text book of BB3)

Notes

1.The map is – in order to have some kind of definition – a graphic representation which suggest or facilitate a spatial understanding of objects, concepts, processes or events in the (human) world.

2. Capitalisme et schizophrénie.  By Deleuze and Félix Guattari.   Paris: Minuit, Mille plateaux.  Vol. 2.  1980.  (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.)

3."A critical philosophy is one in which people constantly and restlessly strive to know and to challenge authority." Immanuel Kant.