by Jac Renée Bruneau and Maya Wilson-Sanchez
The countless languages of maps materialize the countless ways we relate to land. Maps create relations between us and where we are, where we have been, and where we’d like to go. There are maps shared through stories; ephemeral maps drawn on the ground and erased by the wind; tactile maps made to resemble the shapes of coastlines; speculative maps of the future; and, ineluctably, maps of empire. In many cases, the function of a map is not to represent reality, but to imagine something in excess of it, and give form to that.
“[O]ur bodies’ water is the very water that forms and circulates through other human and more-than-human bodies; the Atlantic Ocean at the coast of Santa Catarina, the frosty clouds of the German winter, the snow on Mount Vesuvio’s peak… all of these waters, notwithstanding their varying physical states and qualities—other yet same—circulate literally within and between bodies, in a planetary flow, across space and time.” cristina t. ribas and paul schweizer (the latter of kollektiv orangotango, a network of critical geographers, friends, and activists who question space, power, and resistance) offer this reminder of total fluidity as a central aspect of what they are “rehearsing to call ‘hydrocartography.’” In contrast to traditional, arid mapping, which “render[s] land decipherable and thus controllable,” hydrocartography begins with the assumption that the cartographer is wet, indistinguishable from what they chart—and from that position, capable of dissolving the presumption of maps as static. This spirit of disruption through intimacy, association, and sensory perception runs through the issue.
During her conversation with Kyra Kordoski, the artist Maureen Gruben shares anecdotes about navigation in Tuktoyaktuk in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the western Arctic—and how those practices influence her work. “[I]t changes all the time and it’s never the same. It’s such a slow mapping process. You notice each and every shift in the land. Some places are receding, but others are building up. It becomes more personal every time. More like home.” In Big Hello (2021), a work that “pairs over a hundred second-hand cell-phone cases found in thrift stores with ‘uppers,’ the beaded tops of moccasins and mukluks that had been found at the dump or gifted […] the beads create a counterpoint to the immediate data the phones’ map apps would have provided.” Again and again, Gruben comes back to the influence that modern maps have on pace, and her valuation of the opposite; “[b]eadwork operates on slow time.”
“The process of doing beadwork is meticulous and disciplined; it requires stillness,” writes Annette Lee—founder of Native Skywatchers, an initiative that “seeks to remember and revitalize [I]ndigenous star and earth knowledge” in the face of light pollution. “This stillness is echoed in the night sky,” she writes. Lera Kotsyuba’s “Star Stories and Indigenous Resistance Against Light Pollution” highlights perspectives from those advocating for ethical negotiations of space in the attempt to ensure colonial procedures on land are not replicated beyond our atmosphere, acknowledging the importance of the sky in numerous Indigenous worldviews. (Coco Zhou’s instalment in our One Thing column, about NASA naming their most recent Mars landing site after Black science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, corroborates the inordinately ham-fisted nature of upwards expansion.) Following conversations with Mi’kmaw astronomer Hilding Neilson (related to his work with legal scholar Elena E. Ćirković) and Karyn Recollet, an urban Cree writer, artist, scholar, and professor, Kotsyuba ultimately turns to the work of the artist Margaret Nazon. Based in the Inuvik Beaufort Delta, she renders details made visible by the Hubble Space Telescope in beads, a fruitful entanglement of traditional and modern technologies that suggests the potential for respectful, generative coexistence.
The complexities of Big Tech are at the centre of Sophia Arnold’s feature on Novi Sad–based Vladan Joler’s project New Extractivism, which endeavours to visualize (to attempt rigorous transparency of) the labyrinthine insides of data extraction. The artist, who’s the leader of SHARE Lab—a “research and data investigation lab for exploring different technical and social aspects of algorithmic transparency, digital labour exploitation, invisible infrastructures, black boxes, and many other contemporary phenomena on the intersection between technology and society”—at one point makes the striking remark that although he was living without a cell phone for a while, he ultimately decided that with the time he was spending trying to refuse the conveniences of today’s tech, he could be working on much more interesting problems. This issue began with close cogitation on cartography’s function as a meaning-maker, definer, namer, decider, but as we went on editing, we kept coming across these (at first surprising, and then pleasantly concordant) glimmers of reflection about time. What is it about trying to orient ourselves that gets us thinking about the ways that seconds, hours, and years are pushed around, sped up, wrinkled?
Experiences in space are of course inextricable from experiences in time, though Kat Benedict makes the joyous case for the disorientation of both in their writing about Lucas LaRochelle’s Queering the Map— an online project that allows contributors to anonymously affix a narrative to any given point on the world map. A moderator screens submissions for slander, but otherwise doesn’t discriminate. There are tales of transitions, first kisses, first kinks, first admissions, heartbreaks, as well as cryptic textual abstractions that feel just as snug in this expansive (if still very abbreviated) portrait of the planet. Kicking off the piece with Alfred Korzybski’s famous one-liner “the map is not the territory,” Benedict moves through postulations from Sara Ahmed, Judith Butler, and Jean Baudrillard, to eventually frame LaRochelle’s map as the territory itself, providing a substrate for self-defined origins, asynchronous community, and generation over representation
Sophia Larigakis’s entry in this issue’s Composition column brings about a similar feeling of communion—but through a singular rather than collective account. Riffing on a project proposed by artist Max Neuhaus in the early ’80s to “clarify an emergency vehicle’s position in space” and make “the city soundscape more tolerable, that is, more aesthetically pleasing,” the writer creates an aural topography of pandemic NYC: from the “surreally amplified” birdsong, to the surge of ambulance sirens, the nightly clanging of pots and pans, curfew cell-phone notifications, the sonic weaponry of the police, and the “ruckus and din” of “fireworks as a stake in Black joy.”
Razan Al-Salah’s artist project No Man’s Land, guest curated by Dana Qaddah, takes on another topography that someone had an idea to refashion, this one much more pernicious. To look up the area known as Canada Park on any old search engine would suggest that that someone—the State of Israel—succeeded. Visitors are seen leisuring in a national park that was once home to the Arab residents of Latrun, Imwas, Yalo, and Bayt Nouba before their total expropriation as a result of the Nakba and the Six-Day War. Here, as in a number of other stolen regions in Israel/Palestine, the Jewish National Fund deployed a reforestation program utilizing “fast-growing pine trees and evergreens—non-indigenous to the region […] effectively erasing traces of people and obstructing their ability to return home.” I urge you to spend a few minutes taking up Al-Salah’s invitation to counterflood the search engines with images of Palestinian protest over the loss of this site (see the QR code on the last page).
It should go without saying that the tactics of erasure highlighted in No Man’s Land unfortunately have much in common with Canada’s own. And, as Mimi Gellman writes, “It is now understood that the political and cultural ramifications of mapping have implications that go far beyond the charting of unknown territories into a claiming of space and an assertion of sovereignty over Indigenous lands.” The Anishinaabe/ Ashkenazi/Métis visual artist, designer, and educator describes a shift within geography and mapping studies in the late ’80s that changed the criteria of maps— which conventionally included things like “direction, scale, coordinates, and at the very least some mimetic relationship to the landscape being discussed”—to include more encompassing definitions. Her text goes on to examine artworks by Sonny Assu, Katherine Boyer, Bonnie Devine, and Pudlo Pudlat as examples of Indigenous counter-mapping approaches—“which use cartography and maps to correct territorial injustices and disrupt the power dynamics embedded within colonial imaginaries.”
Leah Decter and Tania Willard come at the complexities of stolen land from another angle, focusing in on one of the most pressing questions in “Canada”: how settlers, newcomers, and their descendants can engage in ethical guesting, that which is “relational, respectful, and reciprocal.” Playing with the language involved in providing directions, poetic prose is interwoven with excerpts from a potent letter written in 1910 by the Chiefs of the Secwepémc, Syilx, and Nlaka’pamux Nations and presented in Kamloops, BC, to premier Sir Wilfred Laurier. “As you cross over colonially designated territories, question the lines, the borders, the power of prescribed boundaries, and maps as tools of domination. […] Before your next turn, you need to tear down farm fences, yard fences, and construction fences that have become borders.” Tarin Dehod engages in this kind of close looking and attendant tear-down in the first installation of our new Tilling column, examining how colonial roots underlie non-profit governance structures, and sharing findings about ungovernance. It is “clear how absurd it is for ARCs to continue business-as-usual artistic programming upon a shared foundation that is antithetical to our very reason for existing.”
Many of the reviews extend the universe of this issue’s theme. Zannah Mae Matson’s review of Candace Fujikane’s book Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future: Kanaka Maoli and Critical Settler Cartographies in Hawai‘i discusses “how land and history are mapped together through stories that transcend the settler divisions between living and non-living.” Courtney Miller’s review of “Overburden”—an exhibition presented across two galleries in rural BC—highlights the works of artists “who question settler-colonial and capitalist perceptions of land as a source from which to profit,” and Jayne Wilkinson’s engagement with Will Kwan’s recent solo at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery takes these reflections on extraction a step further, describing Kwan’s work as being “about the economy of the land but ultimately about how the idea of nature can be marketed, bought, and sold as much as the tangible resources extracted from it.” Greta Hamilton observes that Diane Borsato and Amish Morrell’s book Outdoor School (2021) “offers an encouraging vision of artistic and pedagogical responses to climate change” and Julian Jason Haladyn gives a thoughtful reading of Shelley Niro’s outdoor exhibition in London beside the Antler River. Lastly, Karina Roman Justo writes an exciting examination of Oscar Santillán and Alessandra Troncone’s new publication about quipu textiles that considers a “cartography of shadows” through Indigenous epistemologies.
Citing Ahmed’s “The more a path is used, the more a path is used,” Benedict goes on to extrapolate that, “[i]n other words, the path is made clearer with each use, reiterated by each passing body, begetting further use.” In yet other words, the path most likely to be taken is the one that’s been left unquestioned. But everyone in this issue—in their numerous, unpredictable, motivated approaches to mapping—explores the potential of the medium as a world-making tool, and gets us thinking about taking literally any other route.