Survival Strategies: Research (pt 1)

This week we took a trip to the Eden Project in Cornwall. Our brief was to research different survival strategies whilst we were there.

The mission statement of the Eden Project is:

To connect us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future.

In doing so, they hope to combat ‘plant blindness’, which means that we do not realise the myriad ways in which our modern lives are inextricably linked with the natural world around us. From the food that we eat, to the clothes we wear, the medicines we survive by and materials we construct with, we neglect to consider how even most man-made products have in some way been produced using natural resources.

Their primary message is that of interconnectedness between us and the natural world (see below). The very way in which we survive at a total level is because of our place within a whole – we rely on the support of other lifeforms/systems. This interconnection/support system is the ultimate survival strategy which I wanted to explore further.

Personal Cartography: My Map

My map – Sophie Green – using watercolour, inks, pen – 09/2019

My map tells the story of my future upon embarking on the Foundation Art & Design course, having diverted from my corporate career. Creativity, self-confidence and discovery will all lead me to a new direction. Along the way I will need guidance & support, learning, reflection and a balanced outlook to help me avoid the hazards of self-doubt, over-thinking and indecision. Here I have incorporated the conventions of mapped allegory with a naive illustration style as seen in children’s fiction.

On reflection, I think it may have been good to incorporate some way of showing where I am on this journey now, as a reflection of the viewpoint from which this was created. There is a sense of there being less charm and life to it than the 100 acre wood, which could be improved by including wildlife/characters, or small asides/commentary and more shrubbery. I’m not sure this conveys as much humour as I might have liked either. The overall image is very flat, perhaps slightly more than intended. Perhaps instead this is not helped by a very flat horizon/endpoint?

That said, I am pleased with the materials I chose, and the perspectives of the buildings I depicted as I think they are recognisable likenesses.

Personal Cartography: Research (pt 3)

The places I wanted to represent in my map:

  • RHB building
  • Oxford Brookes main campus
  • Bench
  • Outdoor places
  • Breakspear Park (my old place of work)

I wanted my journey to show the personal growth I hope for in my FAD – the creativity, discovery, reflection, finding myself/direction, and a positive future. The perils I anticipated needing to overcome were self-criticism, over-thinking, procrastination, self-consciousness, indecision and anxiety.

The sketch/outline for my map – experimenting with materials and features. The journey was refined in my final work to have fewer points of interest

Personal Cartography: Research (pt 2)

Further reading in the You are here book introduced me to allegorical maps, which also seemed to be relevant to my chosen theme of maps with narrative.

As we navigate on the trip that Dante called ‘our life’s way’, we are all creating private maps… we are laying a new set of lines down on a known but changing world… To orientate is to hop back and forth between landscape and time, geography and emotion, knowledge and behaviour.

Stephen Hall, ‘J. Mercator’ in You Are Here 2004

This extract felt especially relevant to the purposes I had in mind for my map – to help me navigate this new chapter in my life amongst a new landscape – to destinations unknown. How to draw a map to a place not yet known that can only be imagined? I must turn to fiction and allegory, with an element of fantasy.

We need some secure oasis of order, even if only a memory (or a fiction), as a home port for our various explorations, our attempts to make sense of the unknown.

Stephen Hall, as above
Example in You Are Here

This complicated visual allegory for the Road to Success seemed highly relevant here. Beginning at the bottom left, we follow the individuals setting out in hopes of success and see them facing many obstacles and distractions along the route which snakes up a tall hill, including ‘bad habits’ and ‘shortcuts’ leading straight to the river of failure. The only assured way to get to the top is to get on the ‘right system’ train at the very beginning. This has some troubling overtones of elitism, but the illustrative representation of the narrative here, with pitfalls and a snaking path to indicate time and toil, are of interest. However, I think it is perhaps over-complicated, ominously dark and perhaps not easily grasped by the casual viewer.

Likely preceding this unknown illustration however was Madame de Scudery, who is attributed as the original creator of allegorical maps with her ‘Carte de tendre’ that features in her 1661 novel Clelie.

Here, Scudery lays out the possible routes and distractions along the course of a woman seeking to journey to ‘Tendre’ from the place of ‘New Friendship’, along the rivers of Recognition, Esteem and Inclination, or along Constant Friendship to the left (past the sea of enmity), and Goodness on the right (past the lake of indifference). Marriage was notably excluded from the map, with Scudery herself believing women should be emancipated from matrimony (as her novel’s heroine is).

As for the previous example, it is noteworthy the map is read from bottom to top, with landmarks used to denote key way markers in progress and/or key obstacles or detours to be avoided in pursuit of the destination. Not unlike a fable or moral tale, it advises the reader and cautions on what to look out for in their own life journey.

Personal Cartography: Research (pt 1)

I was interested in researching maps that form narratives. So that not only allow you to navigate for a journey, but also acts as a sort of documentation of a particular journey. This initially was to do with the maps at the beginning of fiction books, especially children’s books.

The first and most enduring of these for me, is that of the 100 acre wood in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh

E.H.Shepard’s map illustration of the 100 acre wood in Winnie-The-Pooh 1926 (coloured 1975)

I especially like the illustrative style here, where the landscape appears flattened, distances shortened, and key elements disproportionately large so that we might recognise them when we later come across them. In a playful mode, spelling is intentionally mistaken, as though a child has written it, e.g. ‘piknicks’, and the naming conventions too are child-like and fantastical, e.g. ‘to north pole’, which is fitting for the intended audience.

Here key places, events, descriptions and characters that feature in the novel are highlighted. This is less to help us navigate the space of the 100 acre wood itself but is providing initial summary of the narrative that will unfold.

In consulting You Are Here: personal geographies and other maps of the imagination, Harmon, K., 2004 as referenced on our brief, I discovered in Hugh Brogan’s entry that Arthur Ransome (who wrote Swallows and Amazons) had a similar theory: “That pictures in a tale should be useful, not merely ornamental. They should tell the story, as fully and precisely as possible”

Map for Arthur Ransome’s 1930 Swallows and Amazons by Stephen Spurrier – included in You Are Here: Personal geographies and other maps of the imagination, Harmon, K., 2004. New York: Princetown architectural press

Here too Brogan detailed other authors who had included such maps, Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Ursula le Guin, L. Frank Baum. It is reputed to have begun with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. What all the works of these authors have in common is the fantasy genre, and the ‘letting loose’ of the imagination to truly transport the reader to the unfamiliar. Though many too root this within the familiar.

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

My initial thoughts on receiving the brief were to use data to map the desire lines on campus, or to map my interactions with the geography of Oxford Brookes in my first week, as a record of spatial navigation.

I liked these ideas as a way of joining up a map of the space itself with human intentions and behaviour, and how the two inform each other. So how our behaviours shape the spaces around us (e.g. the paths created across green spaces where people walking through have worn away the grass) and how the spaces themselves impact our behaviour (e.g. the positioning of doors impacting the way we cross a large open space). However I felt this might be a more interesting investigation once there were more bodies to observe, and I had more time to do this observation (i.e. once term had gotten underway for the majority). I also did not feel it necessarily fit in with another element I was interested to explore – how I am discovering a new place and so in the process of creating my interactions.

I was therefore interested to see some peers producing maps that played on these themes, and to observe what did/didn’t work in their executions here.

A map showing the routes taken in 1st week on campus at Oxford Brookes: Unknown FAD student

The use of a birdseye view here (a convention in maps) serves to produce a highly simplified view of the campus lay out, with the mostly straight, angled buildings juxtaposing with the more fluid movement of the student. I like the use of stitched thread here as this implies for me that they are making their mark in this space and the movement across that space (i.e. one stitch at a time).

However, it seems as though the travel is only ever across the space, in and out. This implies that it is a transitory relationship at this time, which may or may not have been the intention. There is also only red and black thread used, and no key for what these might symbolise, nor labels for the buildings or indication of any activity that might have happened through the course of the day. The piece itself is decentralised on the page, and the paper is folded and scrumpled, suggesting that it is unfinished.

This map has similarly used thread to indicate routes across the map, though here the subject is broader than the campus alone. Similar to a bus route map, we here see different way points/landmarks along each route that might symbolise a place in which they stopped along the way, e.g. aldi being one that 3 routes convene on. There is also a paper cutout of ‘me’ that can be slide along the threads to indicate their progress through the map – an adjustable ‘You are Here’ marker, which is a clever device.

The map itself has been mounted on cardboard, to allow for the pins to be fixed in place, but has been cut to an unusual shape which defies the convention of maps as there is no clear geographic reason for the shape of this ‘island’ of sorts. Here too we do not have a key though the threads are in different colours, but there is description of the points marked out. X marks the spot though we know not to what (a convention from Treasure Island) – and this stands out as somewhat not in keeping with the rest of the map as a reference to something not otherwise explored.

I think what I might take from these works would be that a use of thread can help to delineate routes from the maps themselves, though colour keys would be useful. Also too that use of stitching might help to communicate speed/time passing which could be useful if cataloguing multiple agents across a space. Though I think care is needed to understand what is wanting to be communicated vs the level of detail and explanation required to effectively do so.

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

Topographical hand map of Oxford Brookes campus 09/19: Unknown FAD student

I was interested in this piece for several reasons.

Firstly – relief shading (a convention in geographical maps) has been used here to good effect, to indicate the ‘hills’ and ‘valleys’ of the artist’s own hands, and can be immediately recognised and visually navigated without need of a key.

This has been applied with perhaps watercolour in careful layering to provide the subdued colour blocking necessary for this style, as is typical in printed maps.

This juxtaposes with the use of biro for the outlining of the hands, and the marking of landmarks and instructions on the hands themselves. The pen itself is central to the depiction, which denotes it’s importance to the narrative of the piece – i.e. that this is a map in two senses. It is a map of the hand topographically, but it is also a map of Oxford Brookes campus as the student learns to navigate this new environment. It is commenting on the common behaviour to scribble crib notes or key routes on your hand to help guide you later on.

Looking closely at the notation, it tells the story of a day spent at Brookes, including the time the alarm will go off, their route in ‘Don’t be late!’ and key landmarks they travel to in their day.

The use of hands as maps is also symbolically interesting for me. As this was created in our first week of the course, it was interesting to situate this early mapping of a new environment on hands, which are typically characterised as something we know intimately per the idiom ‘I know it like the back of my hand’. Hands are also something we naturally look to as one of the key ways we interact with places and objects, and one of the first means by which young children discover.

I would be interested to consider more about the symbolism of hands