Author Archives: Sukayna Powell

Conference Project: A Map of Lost Countries

ConferenceScreenshot This map aims to make visible countries which, for whatever reason, no longer exist. These countries might have been annexed, voluntarily become part of another country, or have been secessionist states that were quickly dissolved. Some, like Transylvania, still exist somewhere in popular conciousness. Some, like the Principality of Trinidad, were born of the eccentricity of an individual. Most began and ended as a result of the imperial game, something else this map visualises, the positioning of the countries and the shape of the map itself is based on a map from the early imperial period and the decoration is from another, suitably altered to distinguish the space these lost countries inhabit from the space created by early imperial mapping. Detail2  Detail1 The countries unfortunately came out too small to label them, but I do quite like the way they look like scraps of paper blowing across the barely-there earth. I do wish I had been able to put more personality into the countries, and put something of their story into the map, but I do like the implicit unity that the uniformity provides. Especially because there is in reality almost nothing similar about most of these countries. The ‘empty throne’/’empty globe’ line art was adapted from a map in which the globe was populated and the throne occupied. Detail3 I like the idea of vestiges of imperial trappings rendered meaningless but still framing the content. Originally I planned to keep more of the border and merely warp it to suggest the change. I really liked the vibrant colours and wasted a lot of time trying to make this work: WhatItAlmostWas I learnt a great deal about my software from this project and my project changed a great deal due to my software and the limitations imposed by my knowledge of it. Not being able to translate an idea into pixels is still very frustrating, but I was determined not to just give up resort to a more comfortable medium again, The biggest complication in the execution of this project was therefore my uncertainly about exactly what I wanted/could do. I am worried that it came out rather like my self portrait aesthetically speaking; clearly I have a strong unconscious pull in the direction of clean lines and plain backgrounds. Visually I am happy with how this project looks, and I would like to think that the idea comes across, although I have a suspicion I may have made some choices for aesthetic rather than artistic reasons. I regret that I was not able to label the countries, because otherwise they remain somewhat lost, even when ‘mapped’, but there simply wasn’t space. No single concept from the class particularly influenced this project, rather the concept of the whole class did. Lost countries is perhaps the most literal route one could take in a class called ‘mapping the invisible’. Thankfully ‘literal’ does not in this case mean either simple or uninteresting. I acquired a mass of facts; some new skills; a boatload of geographical, political and artistic theory; and have thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process.

Conference Project Draft #1: Lost Countries

Sketch1(This is a close up, the full image does not adequately convey what I have done so far) I was inspired for my conference project by a plot element from G. Willow Wilson’s comic Air.   The country of her story never existed, of course, but it got me wondering about countries that had existed and no longer do. Of course there are many thousands, and we cannot even begin to know the names for lands in pre-historic eras, but still there is something incredibly compelling about the idea of philosophical or metaphysical ramifications for a nation which ceases to officially exist. Ceasing to officially exist (or never being recognised as a legitimate state) is of course a highly political subject, however I want to refrain from making too many political judgements and focus more on something a little more occult. Supposing a country only existed for a few years and then became something else, or was annexed – what about currency, stamps, birth certificates, criminal proceedings…all the little things that make up people’s lives. Those can’t just be wiped off the map, so to speak. Various philosophical and quantum mechanical theories engage with the idea that everything which existed must still exist, otherwise it couldn’t have ever existed. My question then, is where do these lost countries exist? And what would that space look like? I’ve always loved old imperial maps; they’re preposterously gaudy and often filled with information. For post Given that the vast majority of the better recorded disappearances occurred during the imperial period, I thought it would be interesting to map these lost countries onto an imperial map, as opposed to something more ostensibly impartial and modern. The first image above shows the beginnings of my superimposition of the countries onto the old map, which will be aesthetically dismantled and warped into something more ghostly and difficult to understand. This is still a rather vague area in the project, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out. Getting the names of the countries on there will also be very important. Bavarian Soviet RepublicChechnyaKatanga         These are some of the lost countries I have put in so far (as best retroactive estimates can describe them). The Bavarian Socialist Republic, Chechnya, and Katanga. They were all secessionist states of varying degrees of recognition. Initially I was going to only use secessionist states, because I think there’s something prettily tragic about a failed attempt to form a nation, but I have decided to add annexed states (where they do not overlap). That should populate the space a little more. Aside from learning a lot about history and geography, I’m sure this project will be an interesting artistic challenge.

Surrealists: Post Mortem

DSC_0894                 DSC_0900DSC_0898DSC_0896 DSC_0890   We have visualised the methods of our ‘identity’ in three ways: firstly we drew attention to the most surreal thing in the space – the emergency pole; secondly we used the nature of a line to break up depth, distance and direction so that perception of the space would be distorted and dream like (the tension, connection and colour of the strings all contribute to this); thirdly, the web like pattern that emerged is evocative of the fractal yet narrative nature of dreams. Our work is an example of Psychogeography in that it is a response to the nature of a space which would change the way the site was mapped. It also forces people who enter the space to interact with it in a different way. The strings prevent straightforward passage, and actively encourage diversions, disorientation and unconscious responses unique to the individual. Lines imply direction but also a boundary or separation. Connected or intersecting lines imply connection or intersection of meaning, but it is for the unconscious to make sense of any connection they might have – just as it is the job of the unconscious to make sense of a sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips, or a rain of men in bowler hats. One of the most interesting things the work does to the space is to distort depth perception. The mind unconsciously associates the lines of electricity cables across the roads with the lines of string and cord in the installation and given that this happens from many angles it does make the are a small bubble of distortion – in some ways a world of its own. This effect is enhanced by the fact that one cannot see the installation when one approaches from main campus, so that coming upon it suddenly through the trees is quite a surprise. The strings also draw attention to verticals generally not noticed by people who mainly use the sight as a thoroughfare. The emphasis on allowing unconscious impulses to translate into actions in the discussion of surrealist psychogeography from Coverly was particularly influential, especially given the ‘on the fly’ nature of construction and planning. We should perhaps have liked to refine it a little more, play with more verticals and perhaps mimic the strangeness presence of the emergency pole more directly but on the whole we are satisfied, and we had fun.

Site Specific: Surrealists

We are imagining our psychogeographic figure as someone who both sees with the unconscious eye, and wishes to encourage others to do the same. As someone who is highly influenced by the desire to enter the dream-state and believes in creating works that will act as intense stimulus to that transition. We are using this figure in order to envision a transformation of our space into something that challenges concious perception. A space that denies the faculties of the ‘lower conciousness’ and pleads a higher truth, a ‘sur-reality’ as its defence. We are responding to the elements of the surreal already present in our site and setting, and where something is ‘normal’ we are exploring the possibility of making it otherwise. We are questioning the natural laws so apparent and searching for things to twist to our purpose. We are isolating elements and spaces, as well as the site as a whole, in order to better explore their nature. We are considering working to ‘unfix’ the fixed elements of the site by manipulation and illusion, and introducing incongruous or extreme elements to heighten the effect. These will be of various materials.  

Psychogeography: Surrealist

Five potential Psychogeograpic methods for exploring a space, in the spirit of surrealism:
  1. Retracing the path you took in a dream.
  2. Closing your eyes and trying not to walk in a spiral (as is your natural instinct).
  3. Going to everything that pleases you, without trying to rationally understand why.
  4. Explore the space whilst incredibly sleep deprived.
  5. Imaging something utterly incongruous (like a walking purple triangle with teeth) and follow it around the space.

Self Portrait: A Map of 51°34’N and 1°47’W, 25/05/19, 21:01PM

1st draft snapshot   Sketch   horoscope Abandoned   DSC_0831   Detail   I have a talent for spinning yarns so believable even I forget what’s real, so when I engage in introspection I like to have tools, guidelines, a map. It’s safer; I’m less likely to commit self-idolatry or self-flagellation if I have a prescribed method or path to follow. For this reason I have always been very attached to tools like tarot and systems like astrology. (Just a warning: this is all going to seem rather ‘Dark Ages’ if you’re a science-minded type.) I also enjoy exploring different philosophical perspectives on our experience of the universe. One of my favourites is the idea that ‘I’ am the way I experience the universe and the universe is the experiences ‘I’ have. This effectively puts me right at the centre of the universe as experienced by me (which is, after all, all the universe I will ever experience). Not only is this a lovely little ego trip, it also has interesting implications for the organisation of a map. Hence my initial sketch; attempting map my world as if it were ringed around me. However, as I mentioned previously, I am not good at introspection without direction. I would never have found focus and I probably would have ended up panicking. Tarot spreads are too transient to map. They are true in the instant of your response to them and then they are outdated. It would have to be astrology. I thought this would be a good idea for multiple reasons. An astrology chart is basically a map of the heavens; if you stood on the exact spot I was born at the exact time I was born (see title) and looked up (and were somehow miraculously able to see all the stars clearly), then drew a map of the position of the constellations you would have made my horoscope (see Fig.2). In a horoscope, the universe revolves around you. Secondly, I have barely any previous experience with Photoshop et al. Having a basic shape and some visual prompts to speed up the creation of a map might be a little lazy but I believed it would help. In hindsight I was wrong. The nature of an astrology chart as a map-chart hybrid means that it is rather difficult to re-interpret without A) simply re-drawing the astrology chart with a pretty background and pictures (see Fig.3), or B) ending up with something rather more diagram-y than one would like (see, unfortunately, Fig. 1). Fig.3 was attempt no.1. It did teach me plenty of new software tricks but failed to turn into a respectable map. I include it to show what I wasted most of my week on. After that failure I tried going right back to what it was I wanted to map. Trouble was, everything I could think of was either impossible or diagram-like. For example, using the astrological symbols as my sign system (see Fig.4 for potential designs) involves no creative effort and would achieve nothing. Eventually I decided to asses the relative verity of the claims about me and my life made by the horoscope. Red is ‘true’, green is ‘possibly/maybe/unknown’, yellow is ‘false’. I did not choose these colours with any concious associations in mind (hence red not being ‘false’), but I did want bright colours that I liked, because it is a self portrait. I realise this does make it look as if it had been executed in Microsoft Paint, but I quite like it, aesthetically. The black dots are the positions of the planets in the astrological houses. Should I choose to continue with this map I will ink in the appropriate symbols (post printing) with gold ink. Similarly I will ink in as many of the details on the original chart as I feel aesthetically necessary. Despite many setbacks and much panic and confusion I feel that at least I have learnt something from this exercise. The reading and the class discussion helped me not fret about my map not being comprehensible and my map being ultimately false. It was also helpful to have the definitions to go back to, even though I fear I have not met them in every instance. For one, I am not entirely sure my map meets the criteria for a map; it is so sparse and there isn’t exactly a space in which the points exist. I would say that it is map-like in that it shows concentrations of truth in relative proximity to implied statements, and that the statements are only comprehensible in the context of the surface (the chart skeleton). My map therefore proposes that the implications of the positions of various planets in various sectors of the sky at the moment of my birth is a valid representation of me as a person, due to the concentration of truth related to those implications. It does this by making visible my self knowledge (which enabled me to assign relative verity), and placing it within the framework of a series of suppositions about my personality. This is all very thin, of course, and I would like to see if I can come up with some sort of system of connection to maybe add another layer of meaning (and make it more map like). I also think it will be much improved when I have inked on the details. I would do them digitally but they’re far too important to be left to the computer. I believe the gold ink will also add a pleasing depth and texture to the digital work, which is currently rather flat. I was much inspired by Janet Caswell’s ‘Alternate Realities’ (Harmon, 128) and Kanarinka’s ‘Mostly Sunny, chance of showers late.’ (Harmon, 122) for their use of colour and the circular form. I particularly liked the instinctive randomness of Caswell’s, as well as her openness about the flaws of her system. It was very encouraging. Oh, and for anyone who’s wondering – my parents had my horoscope made up when I was born and they only gave it to me on my 18th birthday. I hadn’t paid that much attention to astrology previously, but it’s really remarkably accurate.