2018 (ongoing). Pencil, pen, relief and silkscreen print on paper, found objects, digital photographs, GPS data, web-archive.
The way we visually engender the landscape shapes our perception of and relationship to both body and landscape. This map is drawn by a specific body in space – that of transcendentalist philosopher, essayist and surveyor Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond. The map will engender an archive of experientially generated objects and images gathered during relocated reenactments of Thoreau’s walk, and foreground the bodies implicated in “writing” the physical world.
First edition: 30 Silkscreen and relief prints on paper. 2018.
The map reads:
You are loosely following the tracks of Henry David Thoreau - transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, poet, surveyor. The directions on the back of this paper are based on Thoreau’s 1857 survey of his ideological peer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodlot near Walden Pond. Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, where he advocates self-reliance and immersion in nature as a means of attaining civic and spiritual enlightenment. Thoreau exemplifies one form of cross-pollination between different forms of spatial engagement, attentiveness, and ambulation - albeit a somewhat problematic one.
For Thoreau, surveying organizes the landscape and writing organizes ideas. In both actions there is a certain expectation of control – a preconceived result (accurate land survey/communicative treatise) that precludes discovery of the unexpected.
Thoreau’s problem resides in the discrepancy between his idealism and action. As a white man who spent his days delineating areas for privatization, subdivision and (re)colonization by other white men, his relationship to the landscape remains solidly hegemonic: anthropocentric (and Eurocentric, at that), patriarchal…
Nonetheless, the connection between surveying (walking/drawing) and writing is apparent in the lines and works of both men.
I’ve broken down Thoreau’s survey of Emerson’s land into a set of basic instructions. There is no minimum or maximum quota on the time or space needed to complete the walk. You decide the distance you travel and the scale of your tracks. The place where you begin your tracks will determine where you end up. Don’t plan or map your route in advance. You may end up very close to where you started, and you may not. Be prepared for either eventuality.
Emile Durkheim said that a society’s space-time perceptions are a function of its social truth and its territory. In going about the business of living our lives, the economies of light and space, the hierarchies embedded in the structure of the city – in the shapes and relationships of buildings access to amenities, to parks, to other people, the privileging of motorized transportation, of anonymity, transience, isolation, normally go unnoticed.
The aim of this project is to create an archive of experientially generated objects and images that effectively tell the same story, but in ways that are fundamentally different. The result will not only illustrate the singularity of subjective experience, but also show us something about how the way we draw the landscape influences our perception of/relationship to the physical spaces we inhabit and traverse. The tension/fluidity between horizontal/objective and vertical/subjective viewpoints is perhaps the most interesting/prevalent in imaging the landscape. The topographic map was developed as a military tool, and its totalizing perspective is inseparable from the colonial project. How does a map, an image written by and for a body in space, which effectively allows us to hold the landscape in our hands and view it in its entirety, all at once. Affect our relationship to the landscape? Is it flattened also in our minds? Is our awareness of the dynamic nature of the landscape damaged? Satellite imagery has substantially lessened the likelihood of discrepancies between the dynamic landscape and the stagnant physical map. The physical map is itself being supplanted by digital formats. Mapping has always implicated a body in space. The map is the landscape “drawn” or written through the body. This remains true for GPS technology, although a new, extraterrestrial body (the satellite) is also implicated. How does this relaying or displacement of information and experience improve or distort our understandings of space and how human agency functions within it?
This is the first edition of this project. In all likelihood, many things can be improved upon to refine the project’s boundaries, direction, content, text, focus, etc., so that it more effectively questions the morphology of contemporary visual-spatial relationships. Perhaps returning to pre-colonial ways of relating space is one way of decolonizing the landscape. I’m hoping to discover others. For now, I am using an explicitly flawed model to elucidate other, less flawed models, and hopefully find a model that is flawed in more subtle, interesting, and constructive ways.
This is also the reasoning underlying my decision to relinquish control of the exact form and content of this project – the mapping – to you. I trust in you, your intelligence and curiosity, to help me realize this project in a de-centralized way by engaging individuals within multiple cultural and geographic contexts. When following the directions on the back of this sheet, give me your best interpretation, but don’t worry about it. There’s no right or wrong answer. This is meant to be fun - an exercise, an experience. That said, please take liberal notes and photographs along the way. When you’re finished, please send this sheet of paper, with all your original notes, drawings, etc (physical mail), along with your photographs and GPS tracks (email) to me. Contact me here for address information.
Walking is central to understanding and communicating our relationship to the places we inhabit. Although (or perhaps because) frequently overlooked, taken for granted, considered banal, walking is an inherently creative act. We produce and reproduce patterns, interactions, structures and infrastructures, political, social, cultural and spatial boundaries. There are physical and psychological traces left behind. The world is, very subtly, changed.
This project also aims to qualify that change. Rather than ignoring the routine passage of your body through space on its way somewhere else, try engaging with what is there, in the in-between, transitory spaces. Pay attention, notice, document, interact. Take your time.
There are four parts to your role in this project:
1. The walk – follow the directions and the actions as you interpret them.
2. The drawn map – draw a colloquial map of your walk as you would if you were giving someone directions. Note landmarks or street names or geographic features.
3. The GPS map – running in the background. There are several free apps you can choose to download if you don’t have a GPS unit. Turn the GPS tracks on before you start your walk, turn it off at the end.
4. The documentation – photographs, notes, sketches, thoughts, ideas, experiences, feedback: document everything. Write it on the back of this sheet, next to/ around your map, or elsewhere.
What is the role of paper in the age of digital (re)production? Is there still a place for objects beyond the virtual turn? Why do we collect and keep objects? What is the significance of the contemporary papertrail? What do your papertrails (physical or otherwise) tell us about ourselves? The map-object (the paper map) fulfills a different purpose than the digital map. Not only does it inhabit a different reality, but it produces a different engagement with the space it describes.
Is it a sacrifice of precision in favor of experiential (and cultural and geographic) accuracy?