Author Archives: Rebecca

Conference Project: A Map of the Ordinary

  conference My map defines the invisible process of the Ordinary. Kathleen Stewart’s depiction of this concept in her ethnography Ordinary Affects inspired my attempt to adapt this into the format of a map. As an anthropologist, Stewart attempts to illustrate life in America without using oversimplifying terms and systems. In the introduction to Ordinary Affects, she states that “the notion of a totalized system, of which everything is is already somehow a part, is not helpful…in the effort to approach a weighted and reeling present.” Instead of using the typical academic social science semiotic jargon to explain phenomenon, she told a story about America through vignettes that followed affects, rather than symbols. In my map, I hoped to create an alternative type of map of affects, as Kathleen Stewart wrote an alternative social science ethnography. Instead of creating a representational map of a distinctive system, I made a map of the ordinary details of life that are normally left out of maps. I used a chart of the stock market crash, because it is one image of a larger system comprised of statistics that many people use to define American Life. This system leaves out a lot of the smaller details of ordinary encounters. The stock market chart is intentionally low resolution: I played around with just tracing the shapes of the line rather than using the image from the Internet, but I realized that having the chart in low resolution would bring out rather than compete with the other details that I wanted to highlight, like the Google Maps screenshots and ripped up notes. The images from Google Maps represent random, seemingly insignificant views of America that are often ignored in favor of zoomed out maps or images of places with higher populations. I did a series of psychogeographic “derives” to find these places on Google street view, and I decided to display them by “cutting” out parts of the stock market chart on photoshop. I wanted these cut outs to look more like rips in the surface of the chart, similar to the paper rips on the side of the notes, but I could not quite figure out how to do that unfortunately. The notes on the border were the last development to this project. Because the stock market chart is rectangular, I did not use the entire 40 by 40 space. The map looked incomplete, and I was not sure how to add to it. After some of our class discussions, I decided to use the borders to add another narrative element to the map in addition to the “sign system” of marking where ordinary events occurred. I used ripped up notes to expand upon the idea of showing ordinary parts of life by writing (fictional) scraps of somewhat mundane topics, like grocery shopping lists or gossip. Aesthetically, one part of this that I wish I could improve is the handwriting. I found it really difficult to change my handwriting for each different note, and as a result they all look like they are by the same person. Additionally, I used the same type of paper for all of the notes, so if I had more time for this project I would have tried to collect different materials to write on. Also, I am not completely sure what my connection system is- In some ways, the lines on the chart represent a connection system, but this doesn’t play a large role in the content of my map.
connection system or surface?

connection system or surface?

sign system and surface

sign system and surface

surface/border

surface/border

sketch

sketch

sketch

sketch

Conference Project Draft #1: Map of Ordinary Affects

IMG_9102 copy

A sketch I made during my conference of a potential layout with notes around the side

a digital "sketch" of my preliminary idea

a digital “sketch” of my preliminary idea

I began thinking about my conference project inspired by a couple of different psychogeographic and map inspired projects. I found the idea of ‘mental travel’ that Merlin Coverley wrote about in Psychogeography incredibly compelling, and I identified it with a lot of my own experiences of daydreaming about distant (or nearby) places. Additionally, over spring break I found the book Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky in a book store over spring break. The subtitle of this book is “Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will,” and in the introduction Shalansky writes about her experience of mental travel through looking at atlases as a child growing up in East Berlin, a place she could not travel beyond.

Shalansky renders a map of the island in question and on the proceeding page, she describes the island's history and facts about its location and habitability.

IMG_9105 Shalansky renders a map of the island in question and on the proceeding page, she describes the island’s history and facts about its location and habitability.

The night before I found the book, I was aimlessly looking through Google Maps when I located a series of islands I had never heard of before called the Faroe Islands. I was surprised to know that 50,000 people lived there, and I clicked through the photographs of the towns there and tried to imagining what life would be like if I had grown up there. This is where the full idea for my conference project came from.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.13.30 PM

When school started up again, I began to explore different parts of America on Google Map street view. I was drawn to the most rural places, because I grew up in a city and have minimal exposure to living in rural America. Also, often when traveling (at least in my family), we tend to visit cities, both familiar cities where family lives like Los Angeles and Denver, as well as cities we have not seen before. In my writing class, we were talking once about the experience of driving through rural, almost empty areas of the country and trying to imagine what kind of person lives in the houses you pass by. As I looked through Google Maps and chose specific locations to zoom in on, I kept this framework of trying to imagine the lives that inhabit these locations in mind. I selected which specific roads/towns to zoom in on based on whether the  street or town names appealed to me.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.39.16 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.40.49 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.21.19 AM

My map will depict aspects of American life that do not appear on maps but that mark the memories and locations of experiences in peoples’ memories. For example, a field where a child found a four leaf clover, or a road where a car accident occurred, or a place where a teenager smokes their first cigarette…these types of milestones do not show up on the terrain or maps of America, but they are very much a part of growing up in the specific spaces. The inspiration for the “invisible” aspect of my map comes from anthropologist Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects, an ethnography of American life that she depicts through non-fictional vignettes of the ‘ordinary’. I hope to map ordinary affects in my conference project. I am still decided how exactly to present this concept. I began with collage of rectangular pictures shown in the second image of this post and intended to make a 40 by 40″ map in that style. On top of the ‘surface’ (the screenshots of different street views), I would write in sharpie the ordinary event that occurred there which would be the sign system.

IMG_9106

I’m not sure what the connection system would be in this map. When I brought my digital sketch to conference, Una and I discussed ways that I could use the map to combat competing discourses that define American life. We thought of using a chart of the stock market crash as a “surface” containing holes which reveal the screenshot images I took and the sign system details that explain the ordinary events that occurred in the spaces.

conference

The issue now is that the draft I have is rectangular and therefore not 40 by 40, and I can’t use as many images as I hoped to. I also want to make sure it is read as a map.

Self Portrait: A Map of Emotional States

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.48.17 PM
Detail

Detail

Detail

Detail

As you can see, my final map differs quite dramatically from the one I initially presented for crit. This is due, in large part, to technical difficulties that arose unexpectedly. When I realized that my first idea was not going to work, I was sitting at a computer in the library mac lab feeling frustrated and anxious, because I had no idea what to do next and the rough draft was due in a few days. I opened up a new Photoshop page and started randomly scribbling with the paint tool, and an idea came to me that seemed pretty simple: to create abstract areas as an artistic representation of different moods. The first mood I started with was Anxiety. Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.48.04 PM What I ended up with was a square with different triangular sections of emotion. I drew over it it, in sharpie, symbols that represented objects or locations where I felt the emotions and used arrows to demonstrate how I get from one emotion to another. I wanted, however, to create a surface that better resembled a traditional map, so I decided to create an imaginary land mass and divide it into sections for the different emotions that were not all the same shape as each other (like they were in my draft). I combined the outlines of real physical locations that are important to me, and then divided the area into the emotions. Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.53.21 PM Then, I sketched out different symbols to represent places, times, or concepts that corresponded with the emotions. I drew lines, based on highway lines on maps, that showed the paths and directions between the different emotions. Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.48.17 PM In my final version, I did not use all of the ideas I came up with while sketching because I wanted to be able to make a small number detailed symbols rather than a larger number of simple  ones. I was initially planning on labeling the black pathways in sharpie, but after I printed my map out, I realized that it would look too cluttered, so as a result the map remains intentionally a little vague. When I presented an earlier version of this map, Una and Angela suggested I add more to the surface to make it look less flat. I resolved the flatness issue by drawing swiggly lines around the symbols, loosely based on topographical lines and tree rings. The number of lines represents the number of years that that place/idea/belief/person has impacted my life. Finally, I drew dashed lines around the perimeter of the mass to illustrate the future potential of each emotional and my life as a whole, thus suggesting that the map is transient and changeable. The word “State” served as a large influence on my map making process. I find it curious and interesting that in the English language, the word can mean both a physical area (ie the state of Illinois or in reference to the State as a country) and an emotional territory. The TV show “United States of Tara”, which I do not watch, depicts the life of a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder, and the title is a pun that plays off of the double meaning of State. The duality of State is perfect for a creative mapmaking project, because it enables the map maker, in this case me, to translate an invisible concept into a physical region or location. My map proposes that one can look at my emotions as physical territory: connected, navigable, and segmented somewhat arbitrarily. While creating the map, I did not reference any artist’s work directly, but the ideas behind it resemble the brain phrenology that we looked at on the first day of class and Wolfli, who mapped his emotional turmoil albeit in a less straight-forward manner.

Self Portrait: A Map of Rebecca

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.22.06 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.24.48 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.26.31 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.27.34 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.28.52 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.28.29 AM I experienced a lot of difficulty when posed with the task of creating a map that represents both myself and something invisible. Part of this challenge stems from the fact that my background in visual arts is sparse: my most recent visual arts class was a black and white film photography course. I had trouble envisioning myself creating something that could take up 40 by 40 inches of space, and most of my initial brainstorming came in the form of text rather than images. Finally, I decided that I would work with images my own body, but instead of depicting a typical representation of it, I would use close ups of particular areas of my skin that tell a story. There are a lot of cliches about how scars “tell stories” or “show survival”, but rarely do we, as consumers, see close up images of them in a large scale. Usually, if presented with scars, we see them in a larger context of a person’s entire body. My idea to feature closeups of different scarring, from the time a ski rolled down a hill and hit me on the head to when I had my appendix removed, works well with the concept of the map as a guide or something that humans use to piece different locations together and see connections. By having closeup photographs as the surface of the map, I, in one way, create the opposite of a standard map, as maps usually show a zoomed out version of their location rather than a zoomed in one. From the reading, I was drawn to the concept of maps providing humans with “a reality that exceeds our reach, our vision, the span of our days”. My self portrait connects past events that are invisible to most people outside of myself. Dennis Wood deepens this idea, saying, “the map presents us with the reality we know as differentiated from the reality we see and hear and feel.” By taking zoomed-in images of otherwise mostly miniscule aspects of my skin and linking them together in a way that does not resemble how most people “see” me, I have created an alternative guide and representation of myself. The sign system and connection system symbolize different invisible aspects of the markings. In terms of execution, I know that I have a long way to go. I used an IPhone camera because the lens on my digital camera is too large for closeups, but I would like to find a way to take higher quality images. I edited the photos in photoshop and placed them together in a collage, but for the final version of the map, I want the borders of the images to be less sharp and edgy, and I want to work with lighting so that the tones of the pictures are more cohesive. I will make my sign system and connecting lines more detailed by illustrating the sign system by hand rather than using photoshop, and using actual yarn and thread to create the connecting lines. I am also thinking of ways that I could incorporate text into my map: I might write on each different segment of my map the age that I acquired each scar/mark. The artists who most inspired my map were Kathy Acker and Mary Daniel Hobson. Acker’s map of her dreams appealed to me because she used visual space to tell a story about herself, which I hope to achieve in my map. Mary Daniel Hobson’s Territory (Harmon, p. 144) depicts a body in the context of a map and got me thinking about how I could do the same with my own body. In some ways, my map contradicts her statement, “It is not the physical structures that concern me…rather it is the emotions and experiences that are imprinted on our bodies”. I believe that the imprints on our bodies can connect to and display the emotions and histories that we carry with ourselves.