Mapping The Territory - PAMPRAXIS
A guest post from one of the Disappear Here artists - Cormac Faulkner
A paper map is a thing of beauty. I have one framed on my living-room wall and can get lost staring at the fine lines of incredible detail and names of places that I didn’t know had names. A perfect distillation of research, precision and aesthetics. It is, though, by it’s very nature a delineation of the permanent: a diagram of fields, forests, coastlines, rivers, lakes, buildings and roads that will not and have not changed dramatically for a long time. That is how it works, it’s entire purpose is to aid navigation and to determine location by comparing what you experience around you to what you see on the map. There is a sense in which the map is attempting to achieve a kind of eternity of place or at least the illusion of concreteness in our surroundings. This dehumanised, immortal depiction of the world troubles me yet I can’t help admiring and lusting after them and maybe it is their bizarre depiction of a permanence that inspires this reverie.
As a deliberately contrary exercise I wanted to explore a kind of transient mapping. I would map Coventry’s ring road over two days. One day recording visual elements and one day documenting sonic features and then compare them with a map of the same area. Coventry ring road is a space that I am relatively familiar with on a practical level but I had never explored it in it’s own right or indeed ever walked it’s entire circumference. It struck me as ironic that the ring is a symbol of eternity yet was on this occasion delineating a finite period of time and space. As I had no purpose other than reaching my starting point on my dérive I instinctively focused my attention away from the “eternal” structures that would appear on a map and noticed the temporary objects and sounds that did not hold any permanence. I began listening to conversations of passers by and how their voices merged and accented the sound of traffic and construction work. I examined the unexpected flora and fauna claiming it’s space amongst the paving slabs and in disused places. I enjoyed the sky and how the trees and buildings framed it. I inspected numerous discarded items; a typed essay on terrorism, a pack of playing cards, cigarette boxes, a bottle of nail polish, hair curlers. I contemplated graffiti, the wabi-sabi of worn signs and dripping rust and I listened to the vibrating sign posts and hum of electrical boxes. I sat and spent time in places where no one else was still. I found areas of great beauty and intrigue, places that felt secret, places that were ignored, places of history and places that felt alive.
While reflecting on my experience I have been inspired by a number of writers, thinkers and philosophies. I was already well aware of Jean Baudrillard’s writings on hyperreality and the difference in our understanding of what a place is like compared to our actual experience.
“Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map.”
Paul Hegarty, Jean Baudrillard: live theory. (2004)
This of course echoes Alfred Korzybski’s famous quote:
“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.”
Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933)
This lead me to a an examination of the map as an object striving for immortality and that my studywas therefore examining our mortality. A confluence of thought that is well summed up by Laura Riding:
“The map of places passes.
The reality of paper tears.
Land and water where they are
Are only where they were
When words read “here” and “here”
Before ships happened there.
Now on naked names feet stand,
No geographies in the hand,
And paper reads anciently,
And ships at sea
Turn round and round
All is known, all is found.
Death meets itself everywhere.
Holes in maps look through to nowhere.”
Laura Riding, The Map of Places (1928)