Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mapping as data

A map can be very useful when you're lost - if you've got the right one, and if you can make sense of it. And pouring over maps can be quite compelling, too - imagining what it might be like to visit a place, or even to see the ways in which familiar places connect - connections that you had never before considered. But making maps is something entirely different - an artform in its own right, and its something I'm experimenting with at the moment. Trying to figure out different ways of presenting empirical materials has recently led me to think about writing otherwise, and in a number of recent publications Cathy and I have explored how storying our data, using different points of view may gesture towards multiplicity. We call this approach 'stacking stories', although admittedly we haven't yet managed to publish a full account of it. However, the shortcoming is that the story, whilst certainly capable of opening up other ways of looking, remains a predominantly linguistic medium. Cartography, on the other hand, presents different challenges, and although what to write is one of them, it only plays a small part. There has been some fascinating work on mapping as a way of tracing movement, and Abigail Hackett's focus on young children's movement around museum spaces is a great example. But after a recent research visit, I was tempted to try to map the remembered experience of the event. Not being particularly adept at mapping using paper and pencil, I looked for an online solution. It wasn't immediately apparent what would suit my needs, and there were a number of false starts. Eventually I settled on Inkarnate which is free, easy to use and has a pallette of Lord of the Rings-type icons. My original intention was to map felt experience, key moments and so on - the topography of the event, but the mapness of maps took over, and I ended up simply recasting where I'd been, as if the journeying was more significant than what happened (although, I note my stories often have a similar quality). But it's a beginning. Part of the problem is getting familiar with what this simple mapping tool can do; the bigger problem is what you might call translation. How can the territory of an event be mapped? At the moment I haven't got a clue, and maybe the map (or maps) might just end up being a supplement to the storying, but there's certainly potential here, and if not there's an engaging little hobby.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Forests and fictions

Now there are no forests to speak of there is nowhere to be completely lost. All we have are our own places of abandonment and enchantment - the ones that are human constructions. Once the maze of library shelves, now surfing online. Movies, stories, poetry, Zombie Apocalypse, Call of Duty, war, crime, horror...and romance. Imaginary monsters. Could it be that these other spaces, these fictional spaces began to open up just as we were embarking upon the wholesale destruction of the living world? In Europe, forests that we first stripped away along the major trade routes were tamed by a latticework of trails by the twelfth century, paving the way for the printing presses - those machines of movable type, overlords of the tyranny of words, eating away at any new growth. Where could we now lose our bearings, become enchanted, or find ourselves by finally confronting the ways in which we neither know where or who we are? For in the depths of the forest all we had was intuition and imagination, a sense of scale and of being in something much larger than we knew - seemingly boundless, full of mystery. Now we hunt and are hunted by our own fictions. Those imaginary worlds colonise and repopulate our consciousness. They pour out of our screens and leap up from the page. The forests may be reduced to words and images, but they still create places of possibility. Places to roam, to connect, to lose ourselves and through losing ourselves maybe to understand ourselves and what we have done in a deeper way. In this dense thicket of fictional imaginings we may glimpse or grasp at ideas that aren't yet fully formed, as if blindly tracing the outline of a shape or squinting to make sense of an indistinct form, something half-hidden in the surrounding darkness. And in this way we can come to understand something that we didn't quite know we knew and bring to life something that speaks to us from the depths.