Map Fest evening 3: Ignite Amsterdam #1
As I am writing this review, safely behind the desk of the hotel where I am 'currently employed', an old woman is standing at my desk, almost murmuring, talking to me or to herself or to the cat or to nobody, I don’t know. I try to keep showing signs of actual listening, but sometimes I have to give up, and she must be aware of the sound of my typing. Out of despair I start to make random little noises of recognition, knowing that this will only make it worse. This altogether very kind lady seems to live only in hotels. She travels between Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Rome. I have no clue as to what she does there, or here for that matter. When she isn’t talking to me or to the guests or to nobody in particular, she is watching television, especially sports. I can hear her talking to the television too. She addresses me in English, Dutch or French, switching randomly between these three languages, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. I reply in Dutch, which I think helps her switch to Dutch again. “My French is not that good”, I say. She doesn’t need a map to go to all these faraway cities, she knows where she is, where she can go, and doesn’t know where she doesn’t want to go. She takes a taxi to the airport, trusting the drivers knowledge of the city, and back again, goes out only to get some food or a walk in the park. What she needs is a mind map, in the true sense of that word, a social map of how to behave in front of other people, a map of her own existence. Or does she?
Wilfried Hou je Bek seemed to approach the stand with the anxiety in his eyes of someone who has anticipated that what he is going to say is going to create an uncomfortable atmosphere simply by refusing to confirm the implicit presuppositions that surround the “will to map”, its lucid language and sometimes playful opportunism. Or maybe he was just nervous.
Without wanting to fetishize divergence or obscurity, as the art critic likes to do when he finds a personal discourse that is precisely therefore so easily appropriated by the vicissitudes of projection, Wilfried was the only one who seemed to ask questions on a fairly basic level, or at least on a different level, and if I understood it, tried to analyze the idea of 'mapping' within a broader ‘existential’ or lebensphilosophisch perspective. What must be the state of our existence and the intended quality of living, of the places we live in and how we choose to navigate and appropriate those places, that such a thing as the ‘will to map’ is possible and/or desirable, and what forms and embodiments can it assume? Is there something like a paradigm of mapping which is in need of deconstruction? Why would we feel the need for mapping, in the sense of: calculated anticipation, objectively augmented search, risk-control, navigation, certainty, security, etc. Obviously the other participants also criticize the control-paradigm of mapping by proposing different (more democratic and diverse) methods and aims, but perhaps at a structural level they are still ‘living in its image’. Wilfried contrasts the aforementioned way of ‘being in the world’ with a nomadic style, found in the ecological masterpiece called the Amazon forrest. What results is an idea of mapping without the need to objectify, clarify, rigid anticipation, but a form of creative and unstable 'cartographic' mobility:
“over time the nomad creates (actively, accidentally, serendipitously, through dump heaps and artificial selection) the landscape in its own image.”
Although sometimes there existed in his talk the danger of a regression to the already tirelessly articulated “back to nature” position, with its images of decadence, and which has proved its impotence long ago, when contrasted with the rise of the Google Jugend, this position is transformed as well and may gain a newfound relevance. But now I find myself ashamed by trying to articulate so much of what could have well remained unsaid.
Another artist to present her project was Kristin Maurer. She described her own interest as ‘phobia driven design’, as dealing with ‘architectural anxiety’, the need for shields and shelter. She is currently working on designing safety zones at the Flevobad swimming pool, and the distribution of surveillance within the different areas. What struck me is that unlike most artistic projects concerning surveillance, she didn’t outright reject surveillance as an panoptic control-mechanism, but tries to confront it by negotiating its scope as well as its limits, from a design and user point of view, reconstructing the appropriate lines of sight and private niches from the location of the towels on the lawn next to the pool. Although the project seemed ‘realistic’ or aimed at real practical implication, I needed a lot of ‘suspension of disbelief’ to think of it in that way. I wonder what the director of the swimming pool thinks…
The bottom-up approach of postmodernist urban planning and architectural design is very popular these days, with government agencies as well as commercial bureaus like DUS Architects. I try to be very suspicious of these approaches, which reject the modernist paradigm of central planning and favorite civil participation, multiculti inspraakavonden etc., perhaps they sound too good to be true? To recognize the complex and particular voices of a local community and integrate them in the design, means also to appropriate and represent these voices in a certain fashion. In this project it was partly articulated in a binary opposition, symbolized by a mustache and glasses (don't ask me why), meaning: I like / I dislike, which they could then attach to objects in the area. By channeling these voices in this way, a connection is made between the participants and the ultimate result: a transformed environment. The former is partly made responsible for the latter: meaning that he or she is unable to fully oppose itself (if necessary) to what has happened. I'm not saying you should therefore reject the popular bottom-up approach, but merely that is a more delicate matter than the way in which the hippest urban planning guru's are communicating this method as truly democratic, listening only to the people's voice etc., opposed to a rather misguided idea of some megalomanic (corbusian) nutcase.
Working in a somewhat similar style, but with different intentions altogether is the collective called isme. They created a publication called Tourisme (“A selective collective image of the Balkan”) which I liked very much, in which they showed the result of a three-month travel in the former Yugoslavia, doing all kinds of projects at different locations, consisting of small comments about things going on there, such as a big wall painting, a catalog of benches where people can meet, disposable garbage cans etc.
Conclusion of Mapfest Day 3
Because I get either bored or claustrophobic at lectures rather quickly when they are not totally awesome (which is pretty rare), I was happy to be served with new stuff to think or laugh about every five minutes or so, without the usual blah blah, circling around the really important things to be said and never ending silences when you almost hear the audience think about what question would be conceived of as truly being ‘interesting’ (pardon the cynicism). Perhaps to make it even more dynamic, a voting system could be erected, which adds another minute to the presentation at a certain threshold of positive votes, or when its too low, the contrary, pressing the lecturers do perform at their very best. Because once you go into populist and 'fast-food' lecturing, better do it right straight away, make it into a ridiculous circus: the bicycle track is already there! (pardon the sarcasm)
A lot of questions popped up in my mind these last three days. Why is mapping important? Why should we map for change or clarity? Why is it something artists feel they have something to say about, is there a perspective they all share, i.e. what must be presupposed when mapping is to be thought of as a relevant part of the artistic field? Traditionally, most maps have a strictly instrumental or navigational value, the lack of which precisely art has sometimes made its raison d'être, the fetishization of the useless in an otherwise commodified world. Luckily this modernist or romanticist paradigm that spreads far into the 20th century, is less persistent in the projects I have seen. They do not so much reject the instrumentalist aspect of representing and controlling the world, but try to find different models and strategies to recapture their conditions of living and self-representation. Maybe the theme could have been a bit more specific within the very broad field of 'mapping', trying to let the artists react on a certain viewpoint, or something of the kind, instead of 'just' presenting their own projects in isolation, which was in itself quite inspiring.
Map Fest 2010 took place on July 6, 8 and 9 at Mediamatic Bank. The first Ignite Amsterdam was a success. Ignite events will be held at Mediamatic Bank every two months.