[Synapse elist] Participation Cartography: re-defining performance art and cartography

[Image: Christian Nold’s Biomapping] ” … Over the last three years or so I have investigating practices in which participants perform actions that can be framed as cartographic and that are carried out according to a framework provided by the artist or group of artists. I myself produced such a work in 2003 in my homeland, Colombia. My PhD research is almost done and in what follows I just want to share with you a summary of my ideas in the hope that you comment on them and find them useful.

I term this artistic practice Participation Cartography. This term expands previous notions such as psychogeography, map-art (Wood), collaborative mapping projects (Alice Sant), para-cartography (John Krygier), and others. The defining feature of this practice is that it enables participants to position themselves in relation to a given lived space. In that sense, I re-define cartography. I draw on Jeremy Wood’s distinction between mapping and mapmaking to say that in this practice both processes take place. However, the notion of mapping and of mental map I use is more in line with the notion of positioning as articulated in a sociopsychological approach called Positioning Theory.

What is visible and typically counts as the art in these practices is the mapmaking process. In fact, many pieces of work such as Esther Polack’s collaborative piece Amsterdam Real Time and Christian Nold’s Biomapping are typically discussed from the point of view of the produced image with terms such as counter-cartography (Brian Holmes) or from the point of view of critical cartography (John Krygier). I suggest instead studying these pieces from the point of view of the participants and from the point of view of its agency. My subject of study is the agency of this practice rather than the representations it produces. I say that the agency of this practice is to enable a subjective positioning to be produced. This positioning often comes about in the form of a self-reflective narrative or discursive practice and it can take place during or after the actual participation process. In other words, images and reflective thoughts and conversations are integral to the cartographic ‘art’ of this practice, they are not secondary. In Michel De Certeau’s terms, spatial stories go with spatial practices. Esther Polack’s pieces Milk (2005) and Nomadic Milk (2008) illustrate well how self-reflection (positioning) and cartographic actions (walking with a GPS device so that one’s track is shown to others and to oneself) are framed as integral to the art of the work.

My main suggestion is that this practice links performance, subjectivity and space. This enables me to include within the sample of works that can be studied as examples of participation cartography pieces that are not near conventional cartography. Examples are live art pieces such as Kira O’Reilly’s Untitled Action (2005) and my collaborative piece The Shoemakers’ Ball (2006). In those pieces, participants don’t travel or map displacements. Rather, they position themselves ethically in relation to a given lived context. In O’Reilly’s piece, they are invited to mark the artist with a scalpel. She is naked and invites one participant at a time to make a short, straight cut on her. I took part in that piece in 2005. The act of marking becomes a spatial and cartographic practice: it is a trace of my interaction with the artist (although I did not mark her deep or permanently). I see that case as an example of participation cartography.

In The Shoemakers Ball, participants position themselves in relation to the history of the town they live in England (Northampton). This positioning happens as they sign a commemorative plaque that acknowledges an abandoned building that used to host a shoe factory as a piece of heritage that matters to them because it is part of their biography. Video and oral testimonies of ex-shoemakers who have been made redundant in recent years offer a range of personal mappings of the relationship with that industry and with that town. The signature happens after a ball is celebrated there.

I could give more examples in street performance, audio-tours, micro-performance, installation art, applied performance, community theatre, treasure hunts, guidebooks, etc. To only mention some: Guillermo Gomez Pena’s Mapa Corpo (2006), Blast Theory’s The Day of the Figurines (2006), Kevin Flanagan’s Mapping Humanity (2005), Half/Angel’s The Knitting Map (2005), Support Structure’s Walking & Talking (2005), Christian Nold’s Greenwich Emotion Map (2006), Plan B’s Peninsula Voices (2006) and Bill Aitchison’s gamebook If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now (2003).

The re-definition of cartography goes with a re-definition of space. Essentially, the notion of space underlying this practice is the notion of performed space or the notion of lived space and time. Lived, performed space and time is a notion broader than the notion of physical space. Lived space/time can be a space of friendship, a mixed reality space (the space of electronic games) and, in general intersubjective space, whereby inter-subjective is not reduced to face-to-face encounters. More broadly, inter-subjective space is any encounter between the ‘I’ and the other (beings and things). An inter-subjective space can be the fictional encounter between me and my death. These spaces don’t pre-exist their mapping. They require performance to come into being. In this sense, what is crucial here is that the mapping produce those spaces as subjective, existential territories. Mapping facilitates the emergence of what Felix Guattari terms ‘subjectivation processes’. It is there where the therapeutic and applied potential of this prac(ti)ce lies. Essentially, participation cartography is a method of action; it is a sociopsychological ethico-aeshetic intervention method.

Finally, I say that this practice is performance art by participants. The participation cartography-type performance has four main elements:

1. A spatio/temporal interaction framework provided by the artist(s)
2. Cartographic performances performed according to the framework
3. Usage and/or production of traces
4. Instances of Presentations of Self and of Positioning Processes

The thesis should be ready … by the end of October. If this summary raises any kind of reactions, please send them to this list or to my mail (luis.sotelo[at]

Thank you.

Luis C Sotelo
PhD candidate at University of Northampton, UK.
Performance Artist
Mobile: 07904 389 492

Jul 24, 13:18
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2 Responses

  1. Matt:

    The re-definition of cartography goes with a re-definition of space. Essentially, the notion of space underlying this practice is the notion of performed space or the notion of lived space and time.

  2. Nita Walters:

    I am a visual artist and have started to tap into psychogeography very recently. I have realised that this is a highly subjective practice – the physical act of walking appears to be the main focus of the ‘art’. With this in mind I feel that as an artist I could explore the realtionship between the walker and the areas being walked and avoided as individuals- the voids in between are what interest me the most. We are after all creatures of habit, often taking the same route- sometimes because of time constraints and also ‘given’ routes supplied by public transport, and budget flights. before we were ‘blessed’ with the car, train,and plane. we were really cocooned in a small geographical area- everything outside of that radius was a bit of a mystery and distance was difficult to visualise or comprehend. I am nearing my final year in my degree and I am somewhat at a loss on how to represent psychogeography in an objective way. I’m not looking for answers- just had to write this down…

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