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How To Sleep Faster 12

MAPPING Winter 2021
Contributions by

Natalie Ball, Forensic Architecture, Jody Graf, Sami Hammana, Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, Rindon Johnson, Sasha Kulak, Laura Lo Presti, Win McCarthy, Momtaza Mehri, Hammad Nasar, Andrea Pavoni, Raju Rage, Nisha Ramayya, Harry Sanderson, Róisín Tapponi, Rosa-Johan Uddoh

In an alternative to the more traditional book launches of previous editions of How To Sleep Faster, this OVR acts as an introduction to HTSF 12, featuring videos by selected contributors.

What is thought to be the earliest map was found in the caves of Lascaux, France. Painted 16,500 years ago, the caves are famous for their spectacular drawings of bulls, horses and antelope but the drawings may also be the first recorded star map. In a region of the Lascaux caves known as the Shaft of the Dead Man, according to researchers, paintings of a bull, a bird-man and a bird on a stick form a map of the sky with the eyes of each figure representing the three prominent stars Vega, Deneb and Altair.

These drawings, and similar findings in other pre-historic sites, suggest that maps of the night sky have been used for navigation for millenia. More recently, cartography took a new precedence as, from the 16th to the present day, colonial expansion saw map-making that catered to governments and commercial enterprises with a vested interest in controlling land, people and resources. As such we cannot view maps created under these conditions as objective representations; they are in fact laden with subjective views of the world. For example, the Mercator map, one of the most popular maps in the world, was devised in 1569 to aid navigation along colonial trade routes by drawing straight lines across the oceans; the map places western Europe in the centre and exaggerates the scale of the northern hemisphere, making North America and Europe bigger than South America and Africa, when in fact South America is almost twice as large as Europe.

As Laura Lo Presti makes clear in her piece for this edition, maps are not simple abstractions, they are rather “visual events” or “unstable practices” which emerge “through acts of seeing and sensing”. Maps change over time. Borders and boundaries are constantly in flux, shifting with wars and politics and in response to changes in international relations.

And just as maps of physical space change and shift over time, artists and theorists see the maps and diagrams of art history as shifting and amorphous. In a 2020 interview, talking about art historian Alfred Barr’s map of art history, Hammad Nasar said ‘I’d used an image of Alfred Barr’s famous diagram, from the archive, an image of when it was drawn in pencil and I’d done that deliberately because I think it should remain in pencil and it should be then erased, crossed out, overwritten’. Like in Umberto Eco’s text, On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1:1, a map such as Alfred Barr’s – or even Hank Willis Thompson’s 2019 revision of the work or Raju Rage’s Under/Valued Energetic Economies in these pages, mapping the more expanded ‘ecology between “activism”, “arts” and “academia”’ – can never be accurate, as its formation itself changes the territory it maps.

This inability to map or conceptualise the ‘total’ environment in which one is situated is a longstanding issue in the discourse of art and politics, one brought into discussion by Frederic Jameson in his analysis or proposition of an aesthetic of ‘Cognitive Mapping’ in 1988. As Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle explain in their 2014 book on Jameson’s concept, Cartographies of the Absolute: ‘Such an aesthetic called for the imperative elaboration of a cultural and representational practice adequate to the highly ambitious (and, Jameson suggests, ultimately impossible) task of depicting social space and class relations in our epoch of late capitalism or postmodernity’.

The emergence of globalised trade and colonisation rendered day-to-day life unintelligible, and unmappable, on its own terms. In Jameson’s account at least, the proliferation and instrumentalisation of mapping technologies through colonial expansion (such as the Mercator projection) diminished the individual’s ability to orient themselves in their world. As he writes: ‘Such spatial disjunction has as its immediate consequence the inability to grasp the way the system functions as a whole…’ and no amount of sailing, introspection or scientific inquiry can fully reconstruct the ‘radical otherness’ of colonial exploitation.

The proposition of cognitive mapping then becomes an emancipatory political project, one which seeks to facilitate a reorientation of the contemporary subject within the complex networks of consumer capitalism, postcolonialism and postmodernity through visual culture. Art, whether ‘high’ or ‘popular’, is therefore placed in the centre of this project, the didactic capacity of an artwork to address, relate or represent the totality of 21st Century life is a critical question.

An aesthetic capable of even partially mapping this terrain must then turn to a variety of methodologies. In Sami Hammana’s film-work ‘~~~~’ (presented here as a visual essay), the didactic qualities of a practice engaged with mapping international (post-)colonial technologies emerge through explicit, almost juristic, questioning. The refrain: “How to make sense of that which can’t be sensed?” is continuously posed throughout, with diagrammatic imagery, archival material and performative re-enactments all serving as self-acknowledgedly partial, yet pragmatic responses. This pragmatism is similarly evident in the work of Forensic Architecture, a practice which famously sources aesthetic methodologies from a multitude of scientific, artistic and sociological fields.

The work of poets such as Nisha Ramayya and Momtaza Mehri might offer an alternative approach to ‘mapping’ the contemporary terrain. The stream-of-consciousness technique used in ‘Lido Beach, I Dream You Uneventful’ orients us from a specific position, as the author, as opposed to the empirical approach described earlier. For example, Mehri places us directly in the map: ‘I think of everyone who had to snap in half to ensure I was on this side of the map this side where I get to write a poem about it this side where I leak ennui & call it witness’. We might draw a parallel in Win McCarthy’s work, which Jody Graf describes here as ‘an extended project of self-portraiture that nevertheless tests the limits (and sanity, perhaps) of that very endeavor.’

These two approaches, and the many others taken by contributors to this journal, emphasise Eco’s impossibility of creating an accurate map but still do not eschew the idea of map-making. Instead, to reappropriate Graf’s quote, the works test the limits of such an endevour. We have invited contributors to speculate on the process of mapping as a verb, as opposed to the map as an object; to consider their syntheses, their disjunctures, their histories and their potential futures. In a time of mass data, where our lives are constantly mapped through our online behaviours and our COVID contact tracing app, what tools can we build to better orient ourselves? What star maps can we build to guide us?

The Editors x

Thank you to all our writers and contributors for your careful and engaging responses to this difficult issue – we’re forever grateful to be able to work with you all!

Related links

How To Sleep Faster 12 is available, alongside our catalogue of prints and publications, on our online shop or via the links below

How To Sleep Faster 12