Gísli Pálsson & Oscar Aldred
The themes that we are focused on are associated with maps, mappings and map work. In general maps structure our understanding of the reality that they purport to represent, yet the materiality of that reality also determines their form. Thus, a map is an access point between different realities. One beyond our reach – abstract and virtual versions of what we imagine the world to be – and another that we know intimately – the familiar, the place where we live, our home. But is this really how we envisage the world, as a tension between what we imagine and what we know, between the virtual and the real? What takes us away and what grounds us is precisely what constitutes the map as an object that is both a representation but also a device for enacting on the world; a way in which reality is constituted through the interactions that occur with the map.
Maps as representational-objects are often two-dimensional printed paper and encoded in particular ways; they are meant to be seen from above but used in a dialogue between ourselves and the world. They also mediate the relations that we have in ourselves, such as our imaginations or what we make of the material world itself. At the same time maps are also things that soak up and contain information while acting back by changing the nature of the reality through the knowledge that they convey. And in a sense maps are also metaphors for life that are a part of this indeterminable struggle in the everyday; a language expressing the enigma of arrival, orientation, destination, passage or simply movement.
As archaeologists our bodies are trained in particular ways to recognize maps not only as representations that are used to convey the new entities we discover through our excavations or field surveys. But we also recognize the value that maps have to alter how we act on the material world; that what we know about the past and how it is represented has a profound affect on how and what we do in our work. Maps have an agential realism. An excavation is partitioned into a grid, and this is then used for planning and recording what is found. In a similar way a landscape is partitioned into a series of fixed locations; places that are networked together on a flat and uninterrupted surface where there are no textures only smoothness. Yet this process of abstraction from the material world to the map and back again reduces the actual experience of Being in the world; the consequences are that each feature on a site, and each place in a landscape is not differentiated by our experiences of them. So while the grid act as anchors in a Cartesian space representing a kind of order, it belies the Other types of connections that constitute a more profound, sensual and intimate ‘geography’.
And we draw inspiration from maps because they are generally thought of as Cartesian representations. But what we hope to achieve through our collaborative art is to challenge this assertion of order and bring about something more chaotic and in a process of becoming. And this applies to other kinds of knowledge such as the Thule Inuit groups that makes maps that were carved wooden shapes and meant to be felt; not drawn and fixed representations, but real tangible objects that convey a negotiable meaning through their use. Or for example, Polynesian navigators who built maps using sticks, twine and shells, that were mnemonic objects for remembering wave patterns and islands. Or Australian Aborigine groups whose maps were sung and painted as performed stories about landscape and ancestral beings. In a similar fashion what we aim to have expressed is this greater sense of entanglement with the world, that maps are more than just representations, metaphors or representing a highly ordered space/place dichotomy, but that they are also access points that create Other kinds of worlds. Not just the ones we know but also the ones we want to and perhaps have already known.
And through this process of defamiliarizing the Cartesian map what we also aim to convey is the messiness and chaotic relations that constitute the realities we live in and through. For us as archaeologists, these not only exits here and now, but also in the past; and our Modern world view should not purify and order so much as leave the threads open to negotiation and interpretation. These series of en-counter -maps are translations of our images and our relations, whether this is moving beyond the frame, bending the straight line, reconfiguring symbols or simply demonstrating the messiness of Being in the world and the variable speeds and rhythms that we all partake within them.
Text by Gísli Pálsson & Oscar Aldred