When The Map Meets The Territory
April 5, 2016
This is going to be fun, the point when we reach land is going to be both bewildering, and a great relief. A dark alleyway late at night in some enigmatic European city, a canal cutting through swamps that have long ago been filled in, reclaimed… Don’t worry, we’ll get there. This is a talk through the exhibition here around us by Lorenzo Sandoval. It is a talk about a story about the exhibition we are currently sitting and standing in, a bit unsteady on our feet.
Stories – indeed literature itself – give us characters. We have to liberate these characters from their own stories. So that they become real, that they experience the personal and don’t just remain the representation of some imagined thoughts their creator once had. I can offer you – and the perspective of you is important, the second-person personal pronoun, both singular and plural – I can offer you just such a possibility of making your imaginary characters real in a few moments. Bear with me.
But first: the map and the territory. The phrase is quite well known and in it I hear so many of my struggles as a writer: surprising perhaps, but you’re just going to have to believe me. Alfred Korzybski gave us the term, he had it in the negative: ‘The map is not the territory’ – yet he conceded, when a map is accurate, they can be useful. What we’re interested with here tonight is when the map meets the territory. What then?
At its simplest we can think of Korzybski’s term meaning the territory ‘as objective reality’, our shared world that exists a priori. The map then, could become art, representational art, the stories we tell, but also of course science. But the creation of a map is not an objective science, it’s an attempt at realistic representation, and realism is always privy to style. Think of Google, think of Google maps and Google streetview and how we have apparently the one of the most honest of media, the camera, doing the mapping for us, then think of Jon Rafman’s 9 Eyes in which the artist trawls the endless streams of data and finds and isolates images, and in those poetic, enigmatic artistic edits of this extensive map people become subjects and characters – coordinates if you will – of the map, they are characters in this fiction Google is creating for us all.
Google is of course the latest iteration of our desire to know all, to see all, it’s a science project each one of use at every moment of every day and not only do we help create it and feed it information, it has become a key part of life itself. And there lies the poetry, the depth below the surface, or perhaps, rather, the jelly-like reality of something in between both states, what is called here in the terms of the exhibition we’re sitting in, jellification. A term coined by Santiago Lopez Petit, a person I’m led to believe exists although he does have a faintly Borgesian sounding name and has had very little work translated into English, he has become an important thinker for Sandoval’s ongoing quest for a metaphor to the times we live in, times at once fast moving and yet strangely without the massive, seismic revolution on the edge of which we all feel constantly to be sitting. ‘Precarious’ doesn’t do it. As a word, that is – precariousness – I think it’s certainly a state but not a tidy summation so jelly will have to do for now.
Our relationship to the territory is changing all the time, that’s a given I guess. We talk about it endlessly, and for good cause: environmental degradation, the anthropocene, gentrification. Some of these are more pressing than others, some are larger in scale, some more immediate. Michel Houellebecq collapses the Korzybskian relation. So the real becomes fictional in his novel The Map and The Territory – he himself appears as a character only to be brutally murdered. And so on. Of interest to us is the fictional character Jed Martin, a contemporary visual artist with a somewhat odd personality, whose exhibition is titled THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY. For Houellebecq we have the map as hipster artisanal business project, you are what you eat so you may as well grow it locally, cook it slowly, eat reality:
The critics were, Jed realized on browsing through the dossier, exceptionally unanimous in their praise. It happens in contemporary societies, despite the determination with which journalists hunt and identity fashions in formation, and if possible create them, that some develop in a wild, anarchic fashion and prosper before being named – in fact, this happens more and more often, since the massive spread of the Internet and the accompanying collapse of printed media. The growing popularity, across all of France, of cookery classes, the recent appearance of local competitions rewarding new creations in charcuterie or cheese-making, the massive and inexorable spread of hiking, and even the outing of Jean-Pierre Pernaut, combined to bring about this new sociological fact: that for the first time in France since Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the countryside had become trendy again. French society seemed to suddenly become aware of this through its major dailies and magazines, in the few weeks which followed Jed’s vernissage. And the Michelin map, an utterly unnoticed utilitarian object, became in the space of those very weeks the privileged vehicle for initiation into what Libération was to shamelessly call the ‘magic of the terroir.’ (1)
This is perhaps a glib take on what art can offer, and I don’t mean to distract by the example but it is of interest, especially in these days when there is a growing, accumulative sense that things are politically, how to say, fraught. There’s never been a moment in history when the world is not unraveling, but it does feel that its unraveling a little faster right now than usual. Perhaps it’s just because it’s the rug we’re standing on that is suddenly unraveling – neoliberal capitalism, the European Union project, our seasonal sense of weather – and not the realities of some abstract people in a far off kingdom. And speaking of far off kingdoms, brings to mind Borges infamous tale of the sad dangers involved in bringing the map into contact with the territory, which reminds us that what in one age is the height of sophisticated reasoning and intellectual pursuit, in subsequent times will be nothing more than tattered, forgotten expressions of former hubristic deeds:
On The Exactitude of Science
. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
—Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658 (2)
The map of Sandoval has coordinates, these objects, what the press release refers to, by way of a nice sounding chap Michel Serres, as quasi-objects. They are notches on Sandoval’s bedpost, tired from a day’s hard work, he can remind himself of what he’s done by verifying their existence. They have been, they have been affected by, both his creating, caring and maintaining of other objects and his decision to elevate them from being mere detritus so that they now have a function, the perfectly useless function, of the Kantian artwork. Sandoval’s practice is multifaceted and poly-functional: like many artist he carries out a number of roles at once: a thinker, a curator and facilitar, assistant to artists and handler of art. These objects are prizes from this practice.
So a map that meets the territory, when we live in 1:1 scale and art and science becomes the kingdom we walk through, brings me to think, and not to jump around too much, of the points along the long, mapless, journey of Ulysses, which Sandoval so cleverly reimagined last summer and which I was lucky enough to contribute to: a reimagining of the Telemachiad, the first opening cantos of Homer’s Odyssey, without worrying about the father figure: Telemachus is waiting not for his dad and Penelope not for her lover. Like our own time when the revolution seems to be forever on hold, or rather just around the corner, one series of calamities after another, one raft filled with refugees reaching the shores of Europe after the other, with no apparent solution to a crisis on offer, we are on a journey, unsteady on our feet, that appears to have no recognizable end.
But these coordinates, these artworks, artifacts that have listened to what Lorenzo had to say or do to them – they have according to the press release ‘indexical capacities’ after all and ‘record gestures over time’ (3) – these things are also testimony to Sandoval’s great generosity of vision. Not only have I been invited here tonight to give this little talk, but so too have others in the coming weeks, to give workshops, lectures, readings, the biography section of this press release has several more names listed on it than your usual solo exhibition and this is testimony to the idea of a parliament, on which we are all sitting: we can pick up these banners and form a protest march, something I’m very tempted to do I must say, and act as a singular group, the ‘we’ of a protest march such as we saw yesterday in Iceland. We would be the protest map to a fucked-up territory, but I think, if we were to use Sandoval’s tools that he has so generously provided, when this map meets the territory, the results would be less than clear cut – what, I may ask, would our demands be in the first place, what as a group, would we be protesting? Perhaps for me to stop talking, to release you all from the slow cruel torture of my thoughts and words? Who am I to say.
This ‘I’ may merge with ‘We’ to become, by a somewhat poetic leap I must admit, ‘You.’ What has this territory of Sandoval become for you? Who is Lorenzo Sandoval to you?
Geographist. This was the word used. It came through to you the other day by way of a text message to your phone and you stared at it for some time, trying to figure out how you felt about it. The word came from a woman with whom you had spent time with in bars and clubs the week before, as you chased ghosts around the dark streets of Valencia. She was a friend of El Mapas, a beacon of fun and the approximation of intimacy on borrowed time. Words like this are nothing new. Every day you are surrounded by a version of the English language that is bold, worldly and intermittently (though if you think about it you should revise that to ‘consistently’) incorrect. This patois of an adopted English is the language in which you fall in love: nobody you have ever loved spoke the same language as you and perhaps the consequences of this fact are on view in this story.
Geographist. An anglicisation of una geografa. You’re in Spain. You are drunkenly walking through Valencia’s Carmen district with Lorenzo ‘El Mapas’ Sandoval and you would like to pause a moment on this nickname. The Map. You walk down narrow streets and around corners and the buildings rise up above you, they cling to the little alleyways and seem almost to slope outward as if their roofs were trying to embrace each other. Come to think of it, it is like rue au Maire in Paris, this street where everything begins and ends. But before we get there, we go further into this dark maze and you have to insist that you love this lingua franca of the age, because it makes you work: you have to situate yourself in the world and relate to many languages through one – Norwegian, German, French, Spanish, Italian. These languages all influence the bastard child English and create it anew after their own likeness.
And in this atmosphere that seems timeless but is actually new – it is contemporary – everything takes on the taint of the comic and absurd.
Hey El Mapas, where did you get the name El Mapas from?
Paco my friend, he gave it to me the other night. You were there. Don’t you remember you drunken fool? In that bar in Benimaclet.
No I don’t remember, you say, ignoring the barb. But why did he give it to you?
He always gives me a new nickname each time I see him. Why, are you jealous? and he laughs with that laugh of his, El Mapas, his whole body joining in for the fun of it. You might have the coat, Mr Geographist, but you’re no map!
This was preposterous and you felt, somewhat, unfair, but then you are writing this failing atlas and wearing this quilted green jacket that does look somewhat eccentric. So you just mumble: Go fuck yourself El Mapas, but feel self conscious and, not for the first time, that you are wasting your time and pursuing the incorrect pastimes of bar-hopping and evading the work needed to finish this book.
Besides, what are you supposed to be a map of anyway? You can’t just go around calling yourself a map.
I don’t know. Because.
Alright then, I’m a map of every place I’ve ever loved and I walk with my arms open wide to greet my next love, like this, and he walks down the alleyway ahead of you with his arms spread wide, just like a map… for I am El Mapas! Haven’t you read Borges? Haven’t you read Melville? I could be Queequeg!
He is laughing now openly in your face.
You give an involuntary shudder, though you are pleased it goes unnoticed. Your facetiousness is evident to you and not for the first time you fear you’re faking it, your ambitions, to write a love story that is at the same time some kind of personal street atlas, emotions dressed up in a cartographic charade, is nothing more than pretentious nonsense, that in some obscure way, it is all slightly dangerous and somewhat terrifying. Ghosts can’t protect you now.
El Mapas continues to waddle ahead down the middle of whatever abominable calle you are on, arms outstretched and his legs trying to walk in a straight line, impossible because of how inebriated he is, and once again you mutter more to yourself than to anyone else, as if to feel out the words one more time, Go fuck yourself. Suddenly you turn a corner and you’re in Plaza del Tossal and El Mapas disappears into the door of a bar on the far side where you hear him being greeted warmly by a man and a woman. Had you read Borges! The question slights you and you follow glumly. You tell yourself that Borges travelled the world acting as if people only live and talk for the sake of literature alone, which sadly you know not to be the case. You think of soldiers and what they feel when they stop being soldiers. You think of artists trying to travel without restrictions, telling stories about the end of the world in secular times.
Holten! El Mapas is at the door, waving you in. Come in here Holten you fucker. This is John Holten. Una geografa from Paris! Look at his green jacket! He has binoculars in his pocket I tell you. An explorer of many cities!
Everyone laughs in that way a bar does in the early hours of the morning, and you join in, hesitantly, conscious that everyone in the bar, including the barman, are looking at you with expectation. Two beers are set on the counter and some pintxos, the menacing sounding finger food – not to be confused with tapas as you had done earlier in the trip – and you think to yourself desperately of all these cities in darkness waiting for a waddling figure, windmill arms outstretched, moving through them looking for mirth and company, an approximation to love: Oslo, Berlin, Paris, Dublin, New York, Baltimore, a figure escaping the clutch of literature and the make-belief and searching for something impossibly real, the personal, a recognisable territory you can stand on with two unsure feet.(4)
(1) Houellebecq, Michel, The Map and The Territory, translation Gavin Bowd, Random House, London, 2011.
(2) Borges, Jorge Luis, ‘On The Exactitude of Science’ in Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley. Penguin: London, 1998
(3) Acha, Gabriela, ‘Deep Surface Lorenzo Sandoval’, press release for exhibition at L’Atelier-Ksr, Berlin, April 2016
(4) Holten, John, Oslo, Norway. Broken Dimanche Press: Berlin, 2015.
Lorenzo Sandoval, ‘Deep Surface’
Solo exhibition and Program of Interventions
with Paul Feigelfeld, John Holten, Suza Husse and Deborah Ligorio
03.04 – 07.05.2016