Saturday, 30 January 2010

snow, a transformative cartography

cartography (in greek chartis = map and graphein = write) is the study and practice of making geographical maps. combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively
a transformative cartography reimagines the map not as fixed or permanent but fluid and multi layered

………………………………….

the snow continued.

the moon, a cutlass slash in an ink-black sky, glittered over an icebitten brunswick more brothers grimm storyboard than inner city estate; the mancunian way a sinuous white river, cars drifting silently by; the graveyard usually windswept and forlorn now a byronesque ruin; common or garden urban decay transformed into fields of arctic wilderness, desultory barbed wire fences an armoury of stalactite daggers.

in the days that followed the city held its breath and stayed indoors, venturing out for many merely a tiresome battle with nature. for others it was an adventure playground, a winter wonderland of impromptu opportunities to lark about, all snowball fights, elaborate snow constructions and spontaneous strolls. cul de sacs became mini ice rinks and parks aspen ski slopes, with tea trays, summer inflatables and handy ‘for sale’ signs reinvented as sledges, snowboards and toboggans.

each snowfall seemed to signpost yet more undetected enthusiasms, whimsies and idiosyncrasies, including a man sauntering through hulme, large parakeet on shoulder; a lone skier gliding effortlessly on long poles towards ardwick green; a cheeky robin red breast perched on the carotted nose of a jolly snowman in umist; a long legged heron picking its way across the mancunian way revetment and onwards through the underpass; a gaggle of birdwatchers huddled in heaton park snapping squirrels, robins, jays and chaffinches against a picture perfect alpine scene; a daisy chain of enthusiastic tobogganers hurtling down blackley golf course connected only by one another’s jackets and a string of carrier bags…

but as the days progressed and the novelty of narnia became just a slippery day to day normality, each new delivery of snow mapped another brunswick – more workaday but equally fascinating - a world of otherwise intangible habits, gestures, rituals and routine suddenly exposed, a noisy, visually arresting tapestry of footprints capturing the habitually elusive and ephemeral; a daily trail of routes and journeys, of dog walking and jay walking, of exuberant delight in treading fresh snow versus a pedantic desire to retain virgin crispness.

an ephemeral archaeology of everyday activity as fragile as bare feet in sand washed away by the incoming tide….

in this cacophony of footprints a secret life of brunswick and its inhabitants is disclosed.

far from dominating the landscape as we like to think, in reality we share our space with other populations, their daily routines etched intaglio style into the snow; a world with squirrels and foxes as prevalent as pets, all busy navigating our alleys and ginnels, walking through our playgrounds and nosying in back gardens, getting on with lives every bit as intricate as our own; a world where pigeons prefer to walk up footbridges than fly over them and cats make their way across car parks from bonnet to bonnet rather than sidle around or beneath them; of blackbirds, wagtails and sparrows as frequent as magpies, and where frozen canals testify to a bustling thoroughfare of ducks, geese, coots, swans and passing seasonal visitors.

in his ‘practices of everyday life’ de certeau developed a new vocabulary for differentiating space and place where place is the fixed, objective order of things and space how we deal with spatiality as a ‘practiced place’. extending this analogy to mapping and touring, maps can be read as ‘frozen’ representations depicting environments as unchangeable and monumental, entirely at odds with the personal, animated way people actually navigate space in their daily lives. once upon a time mapping was simply a record of where we had been and how we got there; itineraries essentially, with traces of the describers still visible. but over time these maps have become ever more fixed and abstract and the describers (ourselves) have disappeared completely.

for de certeau our everyday activities animate place - civilian tactics in a battle to reclaim our place in the grandiose isolating narrative of the planned city. and in each fresh flurry of snow our footprints map out this quotidian animation of place, outlining the itineraries of the past 24 hours or less – those habitual, unnoticed, intangible traces doomed to remain undetectable in a future archaeological record.

here vividly displayed in the snow is de certeau’s ‘practiced place’, each mark a conversation or visual eavesdropping. some are spontaneous, a snapshot capturing the exuberance of unselfconscious playfulness, an unbridled celebration of the season, others more deliberate declarations or social messages, but mainly they are just business as usual, mundane minutiae of our day to day lives. whilst the ever present urban graffiti and occasional vandalism cements the typical clich├ęs of the inner city, these temporary traces tell another story, less well told, their sheer number and proliferation eloquently describing a population that is altogether more convivial and productive than can normally be discerned, a cartography of our everyday world, as told by the people who inhabit it. a map animated and enlivened by our intricate, intertwining journeys, just as de certeau imagined; its describers (ourselves) at last, if only briefly, reinstated.

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