Mapping: An Essay for Mapping Thinking Spaces

As part of our decision to to take a professional approach to curating Mapping Thinking Spaces (which I blogged about yesterday), each curator wrote a 500-word essay for our intended catalogue/zine. Unfortunately, due to numerous printing issues and errors, we just could not get out the zine in time. Instead, I printed each essay on clear labels and pasted them on the table for the audience’s reading pleasure.

Regardless, I think we each wrote great essays that really tied the show together. Our concept was to write one essay on ‘Mapping,’ one essay on ‘Thinking,’ and one essay on ‘Spaces.’ What with my affinity with diagrams, I jumped on ‘Mapping’ immediately. My essay is reproduced below.

The realization of a more complex understanding of the act of mapping requires the liberation of mapping from its strictly physical, geographical framework. The act of mapping is synonymous with the act of locating oneself in relation to space, regardless of whether that space remains physical, or enters into the psychological or hypothetical spheres. The locating-act plays out both in the recording and navigation of a space (or even an object, thought, or experience) that already exists, as well as the planning of space (or object, thought, or experience) that one hopes will exist in future. As such, the act of mapping can not only be understood as a collapsed physicality — the arrangement of simplified representa- tions of space — but also as a collapsed temporality. It is at once the echoing of what came before, and the anticipation of what is to come, and one aims to enshrine both states in a permanent image.

In curating a show, one oftentimes assumes the role of a cartographer. At the most basic level of curation, the curator determines the arrange- ment of art-objects in a set physical space, and may find himself or herself creating diagrams of the space based on the dimensions of the objects. However, if mapping is understood in the broader context of planning, then the curator has already begun the process even before the art-objects have even been selected. The diagram of the space can only come after the concept for the exhibition has itself been thoroughly ‘mapped.’ This ‘mapped’ concept might exist before the space is deter- mined; on the other hand, when provided with a space that has a multi- tude of constraints, the ‘mapped’ concept is inevitably influenced by the pre-existing space, as was the case with this exhibition.

In the early stages of our own planning (read: mapping), we made the decision to call for artist proposals from our peers in the Visual & Critical Studies department — proposals for site-specific work. In a sense, what emerged out of our mapping was the demand on the participants to engage in that same act, but applied to their work instead of the exhibi- tion as a whole. Site-specificity requires the artist to envision the possibili- ties of intervening in a fixed and occasionally difficult space, and how their own art practice might be molded to said space. The proposal format may be predominantly textual, but what one sees in the handwrit- ten words (and a few hand drawn diagrams) of the artist is the attempt to feel out a space. Collated in chronological order on a Tumblr page, this set of proposals establishes a hypothetical spatial precedent for the exhibition. Nevertheless, they are fragile commitments, subject to numerous changes. The space is transformed as a result of the map, but the map cannot promise an accurate prediction of this transformation.What effect does the act of mapping have on the space, and on our relationship with the space? Is mapping an exertion of our control over space, or is it an expression of the limitations of space? These are ques- tions that might arise through a conscious and deliberate mapping. As we map, we engage, shape, imagine, and mediate space; we are simultane- ously subordinate and superior, and we are in constant dialogue with walls and ceilings and tables and blackboards and whiteboards and glass. It is the means by which we can imagine reconciliations, transformations, and promises. And on 25 April, 2013, at least for 3 hours, the space will change.


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