en-counter-maps: First Response

Alison Langmead
Received 2017-07-25
Citation: Langmead, Alison. 2017. “en-counter-maps: First Response”. Epoiesen http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2017.2
Creative Commons License

Alison Langmead is Director, Visual Media Workshop, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh (adlangmead@pitt.edu). ORCID: 0000-0002-9159-9797

This piece is a response to Pálsson and Aldred’s en-counter-maps

editorial note

The response to this piece was done via the Hypothesis annotation layer for en-counter-maps; to see the annotations in context, which is the proper way to read this response, go to en-counter-maps and toggle the Hypothesis arrow. We have aggregated the links below for archival purposes. In the page below, you may click through the pound sign # to see the annotation in its original context.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 3:04:37 PM #
I would like to annotate my experience of this piece by honing in on two themes: ambiguity and scale.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 3:08:16 PM #
processes of making and doing art and archaeology.
A neatly-dug trench enters like a sharp brown cut up through the grass from the bottom of the frame, its line moving the eye directly towards a white house-like structure that asks a question in a language foreign to me. The tilt of the hill and the framing of the photograph gives the structure a sense of being a sloping funhouse, an environment in which your senses are made to trick themselves, to expect level ground where there is an incline, to see solid walls dissolve unexpectedly. An experience of disorientation. Where am I?

Hvar erum við? Where are we, indeed? By these words, ambiguity slides from the text into the very makeup of the landscape represented by this photograph. A quick trip to Google Translate helps me find a bit of purchase on what I am seeing, and situates this piece textually in Iceland–something suggested, but not strictly disambiguated, by the header image.

Returning here, having finished the piece, I find that this image encapsulates for me the entirety of the story that is to come–the inverse of ambiguity.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 3:08:41 PM #
In total we devised 4 pieces.
In the second image of this introductory sequence–the flow of the text has defined the images’ sequentiality–we have clearly moved back in time. The trenches are gone, the walls of the white structure are emptier, the working clutter at right is neater. Entropy (?) has been reversed. I find myself wondering if clutter is always a sign of the ravages of time. In archaeology, does mess suggest progress?

It becomes clear to me through this step back that the canvas of the white structure’s walls are in a state of becoming.

Instead of the brown gashes of the trenches, chalk scores the earth the way that old police dramas demarcated dead bodies.

Ferdy on Films

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:03:05 PM #
Inferstructures, Maps of places called Bolungarvík, Threads, and A 1913 Map of 2011 Bolungarvík
In the first image of this second sequence, we move back in time yet again. Archaeological layers move from top to bottom, from the present to the past, as we are doing here.

The chalk lines are now just in a state of becoming. A human appears. The technology used to create the patterns we now expect become visible. The human appears almost as an interlper, as the objects have as yet taken center stage in this system.

In the second image of this sequence, the human becomes a mere shadow. A shadow whose originating object, for a while, eluded me. The shadow of the photographer that is made on the roof melds with the shadow of the white structure on the ground to create the impression a panoptic prison tower has been inserted into our narrative. Angles are seen, all jutting out, allowing for a sweeping view of the terrain.

Folson Prison Museum

It is a prison guard’s point of view, but it is also a cartographer’s. The question of scale both in the form of a silhouette and in the form of an inquirer’s standpoint arises.

By the end of this sequence, distant crowds gather and time speeds on (backwards or forwards, we do not know) in a time-lapse photograph taken–we assume–within the white structure?

Later, I return to this time-lapse image, thinking…”The white structure is condemned.”

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:09:42 PM #
the road system
Roads? There are roads? Where are the roads? Hvar erum við?

I am lost in the images. The text moves me to another interpretive paradigm. I do not like it. I was content, lost in my own self-centered reflections. Ambiguity is uncomfortable to me, it would appear, only until I start my own sense-making.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:13:01 PM #
archaeological trowels to sculpt the blue background
Upon finding myself here, oh, how I wish I could see the surface of this painting. It is on display in the image as if on a wall in a museum, out of touch, out of reach…and yet here are clues to its material expression.

Later, I return, having been able to see the surface better, re-struck by its formal similarities to old-fashioned architectural blueprints at a distance. It is, among other things, a question of scale and expectations.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:18:03 PM #
THERE. The texture. Like the marks of a painter’s trowel.

Painting Shows Pinterest: Bob Ross

Does the original purpose of the trowel change things materially? I feel that it does in this instance for the humans involved. The repurposing of tools from their profession within the context of this artistic expression is meaningful. From the point of view of the trowel, maybe not as much.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:21:53 PM #
The red painting is at the scale ∞:1, the white painting is at the scale 1:∞
The map has scale. The colors too are given scale. The scales are all relative to what you want to represent. Compared to digging a trench, the act of representation here seems somehow impotent.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:26:41 PM #
I know this white structure. I know those frames. I know them from the past of this piece, and I know that they are to come. Now that they are represented at this scale, I remember them from the time-lapse. Networks of string, framed as a representation, seen only in part and obliquely. Again, is this archaeology? Seems plausible from where I sit.

I suddenly wish these annotations were a real conversation.

My experience with this formal construction is different.

Dreamcatcher Wallpaper

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:30:51 PM #
I hereby promise that I will try and use this word in my work.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:46:35 PM #
This image appears again. This time transformed. I know exactly where I am. I wonder if the white square is still on the ground (the blueprint image is not). I even know the future. I know the trenches will be filled in and they will leave traces of what has happened.

I am oriented, as if using a map. I know my scale. I am comfortable with my ambiguity.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 4:48:15 PM #
During a recent visit we discovered that many of the objects we had used during the excavation had become mobile, exploring the territories outside the excavation area.
Perhaps the archaeology of objects, meaning an archaeology produced by objects, is at hand. What ambiguities might they experience? What is their experience of scale?

adlangmead 7/25/2017 5:40:39 PM #
This work proved to be similarly mobile.
…but decidedly less criminological.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 5:41:11 PM #
through several different media
Just here, already in the first sentence, a relentless ambiguity collides with the presentation of evidence. The authors allow their chosen media of response lie (as yet) unexplored and unrevealed, while the image below provokes guesses and anticipation of the context.

Not being an archaeologist myself –I am an art historian by training–I choose to combine the (for me) uncomfortable, insistent not-knowing of the piece as it unfolds with the authors’ assertion that their artistic interventions are about the nature of archaeology–together, this suggests an archaeology that does not, or cannot, ever see the “whole picture.” While a map might constitute seeing this putative “whole,” a counter-map would be the inverse.

This makes a satisfying sort of empathetic sense. I could imagine finding something in an excavation that is clearly true and present, but whose crucial context is engulfed by the expanses of unexcavated land nearby.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:28:52 PM #
This is the experience of a town as a ’path of least involvement’, where the only definable elements are its escape routes.
The path of least involvement. Escape routes. I am lost. Cars? What cars? Escape how? The painting itself invokes an old architectural blueprint with its chemical odors and inherent preservation vice.

Saxman No. 2 Mine map, CONSOL Energy, Inc. Mine Maps and Records Collection, AIS.1991.16, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

The door to our dear white structure also appears in a state of decay. Why are we suddenly stopped at the side of the road? In this piece about maps, I feel decidedly unmoored.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:29:32 PM #
The painting is naturally placed by the side of a road
This sentence is amazing. Naturally, a painting of roads is placed by the road. No ambiguity, and yet, why would this symbiosis be meaningful? In mapping, do things sit next to the things they represent? Or do they, instead, suggest a rupture with the lived experience?
adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:30:17 PM #
Crimes and criminality. Is it just me? Here, a bright spotlight as if, yet again, we are at a crime scene marked by harsh tones, chalk lines, and the inevitable surveillance of a prison guard.

And yet, in the corner of my eye, red. Red and the shape of Iceland. Iceland with a red dot. This is where we are.

All of these reflections could be “just me.” It could all also be a question of scale.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:30:55 PM #
A 1913 Map of 2011 Bolungarvík was a piece in four parts – the construction/installation of the site/lab, a performance of the archaeological process of excavation, and the interpretation and production of archaeological artefacts and bodies of knowledge after the excavation had been completed.
The text makes the chalk-prison-trenches process clearer, and yet, as before, I am brought back from my own ambiguous musings to the process of creating these artifacts. This phrase here, though…How are archaeological artifacts produced? Are they actually produced as archaeological artifacts in their interpretation? Is a landscape interpreted and produced only in the creation of a map?

In retrospect, I realize that the artists were being literal in their production of archaeological artifacts. Not ambiguous in the least. I find myself, again, caught up in my own story.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:53:47 PM #
perhaps one day be excavated by a group of bored archaeologists
One day. One day at some time. What do maps have to tell us about the future? Can they disambiguate time as well as give scale to space? To archaeologists, is the action of burying–of incavating–objects predictive of future actions? Is excavation a likely foregone conclusion?

The image below shows the “mess” of the work involved in the original happening. The threads, the piles, the maps. I now also see this as progress, as moving towards a conclusion.

The map now posted on the shady side of the white structure, ambiguously part of the 1913 Map of 2011 Bolungarvík work, shows a region shattered by lines of red thread, each drawing attention to particular details of the landscape, a bit like drawing out blood. Pins, details, threads. Somewhere between an old-fashioned collection of butterflies, each impaled with a pin and a “crazy wall” of a contemporary (here comes the crime again) CSI drama, lies this diagram of exploding details.

Oxford Museum of Natural History

Esquire. Also, please feel free to visit the Crazy Walls Tumblr.

The crispness of the shadow on the side wall caused by the paper hanging in the air is notable. I find myself assuming this is late in the day. The power of the low sun in Iceland must be intense.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 7:54:49 PM #
simply a process of doing something
…delightfully, and possibly even presciently, by “a set of bored archaeologists, or artists, or both.”

The artists’ plan for a future excavation is presaged by past actions. The scale of time inherent in this piece–and perhaps by extension, archaeology–arises.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 8:00:34 PM #
The scale of time. It proceeds relentlessly. It has no clear cartographic (temporographic?) tradition. Timelines might be considered a map of time, but I don’t buy it. Timelines are a map of the human experience of time. Demarcated by what we do or do not wish to remember about the past.

Cartographic maps are like that too, though. I suppose I might be wrong.

Everyone’s ur-visualization comes to mind.

Charles Minard’s map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812

Showing both space and time together as abstractions, Minard also conflates these two properties, compromising perfect data clarity on either.

adlangmead 7/25/2017 8:01:03 PM #
The scale of space. We have a tradition for representing this, of course. It has been up for debate since the beginning of this webpage. And yet…how big are those holes? How big are the objects? Where are we?

The excavation is made clear by the slashes in the ground. The incavation is less obviously represented.

7/25/2017 8:01:48 PM #
abandoned and condemned house
For a while I thought we were collaborating with these objects. That white structure means a lot to me. But if it is going to turn on you…Get out, my friends, get out! You are in danger.

7/25/2017 8:07:25 PM #

impression of objects are not limited to the surface but is also much deeper, below the skin of the object, in its history and personal connections or threads.
I cannot speak to how I may have interpreted these happenings at Æringur 2011.

But from my point of view in this space and at this time, these objects, actions, and transformations are clearly in conversation with time and space themselves, both in their original forms as well as in their representations here.

In their original forms, the impressions and marks exist above and below ground, in memories and in forgetfulness, and in the past, present, and future.

In their web-based forms, they are in photographs, they are encoded. They are in our lived experience both in 2011 and 2017, and they have marked the planet as well as the mind and memory of this reader.

My workspace. Right now.

Cover Image “Image taken from page 239 of ‘The Seasons, and the Castle of Indolence … With a biographical and critical introduction by A. Cunningham, etc’” British Library

Masthead Image Pálsson and Aldred.