Counter/Cartographies

[ Vienna, Vilnius, Riga, Weimar, Leipzig, Leeds, London, Tallinn, Helsinki, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Chicago, Zagreb, Berlin, Malmö, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Portland, Tampa, San Francisco, Melbourne, New York City ]

  1. counter/cartographies: lists and links; invite, network, resource
  2. counter/cartographies: nomadic centre; installation, archive, forum
  3. counter/cartographies: minor cartographies, dialogue walks, events and situations

counter/cartographies – lists and links : an invite

counter/cartographies is a project initiated in collaboration between U.K. based collective C.CRED and NYC art space/collective the 16beavergroup. By sending out an email asking people to reply giving us some basic information regarding their working practice and to, in their turn, forward it to other potential participants, we seek to make a map of artists, activists, collaborative frameworks, groups and collectives who are working with different notions or ideas of resistance and social engagement. We also seek to outline the different tactics, strategies and approaches being employed. The information we receive, and the way the email does or does not spread into wider and wider networks, will then be registered as a set of cartographies, or, better perhaps, counter-cartographies, published on the Internet. Hopefully, it will be a pragmatic project, a project that can be used as a beginning and a potentiality, a resource for some and the starting point for forming new networks for others. But it will also be a project that constantly confronts its limits; that is, the point where this email is no longer forwarded and the social, political and cartographical implications of that limit, as well as the point where the email is forwarded to such extent that its cartography encompasses too wide a difference, where the political and ethical agenda is dissolved, corrupted, or abused.

counter/cartographies is a simple and essential project.  You are invited to participate with us. We seek to make a map of artists, activists, collaborative frameworks, groups and collectives who are working with different notions or ideas of resistance and social engagement. Although many of us already operate within and in relation to a series of networks and alliances, our goal here is to use simple e-mail and forward technology to converge these networks into a wider set of alliances. We also seek to outline the different tactics, strategies and approaches being employed. This map will in turn serve as a resource for some and the beginning for forming new networks for others. What is required of you is quite simple:

1. Please send us an e-mail. Include in this e-mail a. a brief or lengthy description of your group, collective or, if appropriate, individual working practice b. your location(s) c. any contact info d. the group, collective, individual who forwarded this email to you e. a photo of your location (if you are not able to provide a photo at this time, please submit all other information and send us the photo as soon as possible).

2. Forward this invitation to friends and associates, groups, collectives or organizations you think may be interested in contributing.

3. If the e-mail has been forwarded to you, please indicate who you received it from.(Please, indicate if any of the info is not intended to be publicly available on the web.)

counter/cartographies – lists and links: an essay

Cartography: (early 19th Century), from Fr. cartographie, from Gk. khartes layer of papyrus and graphein to write, to draw.

If two come together and unite their strength, they have jointly more power, and consequently more right over nature than both of them separately, and the more there are that have so joined in alliance, the more right they will collectively possess. (Baruch Spinoza)

Confronting expanding, global capitalist systems of repression within the framework of a dominant imperialist and capitalist cartography – seen here as a way of understanding and producing the world in relations between territory to territory, and territory to monochrome surface; or between localities, and localities and globality – it becomes imperative for movements of political resistance and dissent to try to think through some of the most pertinent issues to do with counter.cartography, the condition and possibility of a different ‘mapping’- than the one presented to us by the global capitalist machinery, a different way of understanding and producing the world along with the social and political territorialities that are inscribed upon its surface.  

However, often political resistance comes in the form and shape of something supposedly anti-global, which is an unfortunate term, since what resistance must be about, in order to avoid a regression to traditional proto-fascistic territorialities such as the local, the known, established territory, affiliation, identity, home, is to posit a different relationship between the local and the global, a relationship that displaces these difficult notions of locality against the global, and instead promotes a more productive mode of political and ethico-aesthetic experimentation: traveling, exile, lines traversing known territory and established binaries, alliances crossing traditional boundaries of various kinds. This will perhaps provide us with certain possibilities when it comes to the constitution of some kind of movement that can seek to be productively against the status quo, against the war(s), against racism, imperialism, fascism and capitalism, against apartheid and genocide, in all forms and cases rather than merely the most obvious ones; that is, it may provide us with significant possibilities for the affirmative production of other movements, counter-cartographies. This often involves two distinct, but interlinked movements: One being a movement of resistance, resisting and opposing that which is bad; the other being what one might refer to as a Utopian movement, a movement towards the affirmation and creation of alternatives to the dominant order. We are interested in questions to do with the conditions, possibilities and indeed limits of this conception of counter.cartography.

In order for any kind of cartographical production to take place, one must traverse and connect the character and specificity of a diverse range of localities and different territories, and then make alliances that traverse the field of discrepancy and difference that will without doubt present itself between these individual localities. It is easy, perhaps, to be against capitalism, to put differences and discrepancies aside in trying to oppose and resist capitalist repression and exploitation. However, in order for a movement of resistance and dissent to productively present alternatives to global capitalism, racism and fascism, alliances must be made on a transversal level that, in Spinoza’s sense above, increase our collective power and ethical right and capability not only to resist and be against repression and exploitation, but to form, shape and construct alternatives to the dominant order, and thus to really bridge discrepancies and differences between compatible and incompatible Utopias, projects, agendas, manifestoes, strategies, tactics and practices. This current project is to be seen as somewhat a test of these conditions, possibilities and limits; an attempt towards a technology of counter/cartographies. It is an attempt towards a pragmatic project, a project that can be used as a resource, a beginning and a potentiality. But it is also a project that constantly confronts its limits; that is, the point where this email is no longer forwarded and the social, political and cartographical implications of that limit, as well as the point where the email is forwarded to such extent that the cartography encompasses too wide a difference, where the political and ethical agenda is dissolved, corrupted, or abused.

What we set out to do is to try the capability of a group of people – such as ourselves in our collective enterprise – to use very basic communication technology in order to create a wider network of alliances and so to construct a different cartography, a kind of counter-cartography, by connecting different locations, agendas, manifestoes and Utopias – these micro-maps functioning at the level of locality – and plugging them into this larger counter-cartography. By doing this we seek to engage with the way in which this email spreads and connects into networks that function both as a possibility and a limit to alliance as an ethico-political figure. Furthermore, we are interested in how this network bridges discrepancies and differences between people, collectives, organizations and groups active in different locations and with different agendas and manifestoes; how it creates a different – possibly Utopian – graphic or map of affirmations that exceed the level of locality and similarity, to incorporate a sense of difference into its very terrain.

However, we are also interested in the more affirmative, future dimension of this project; how this counter-cartography can, if successful, provide a reference of contacts creating possibilities for new alliances and networks, future counter-cartographies, outside of the immediate framework of this project. And so we are now sending this email to friends, associates, organizations we have encountered, people whose work we know and people who work in the same area as we, asking you to contribute simply by sending us an email, including the following information: a description of your group, collective, organization and working practice; the details of your location; any contact info; a photograph of your location or that is indicative of any particular aspect of your location or your relationship to it; and then to, in your turn, forward this invitation to your friends and associates, groups, collectives and organizations you think may be interested in contributing. The replies will then be registered as a set of different cartographies focusing on different aspects of the project which will be published on the Internet and used as the basis for various discussion and dialogue based events around the issues brought up by the project and its development, including an initial event in January 2003 at the exhibition Inscribing the Temporal, Exnergasse Kunsthalle, Vienna.

counter/cartographies: a nomadic centre

The archive compiled after the initial call for participation had been sent out was later used to construct a an on-line network and resource and a physical, nomadic counter/cartgraphy centre in the form of a travelling installation built using industrial pallets and other re-used materials, printed matter, publications, overhead projectors, photography, audio- and video recordings and computers on which the on-line resource could be accessed. These installation were also the host of informal seminars, project presentations and other gatherings at the location where they were put up. The images below are of counter/cartography centres in Tallinn (Estonia), Rotterdam (Holland), Chicago (USA), Zagreb (Croatia) and London (UK).

counter/cartographies – minor cartographies, dialogue walks: an introduction

It is on the basis of the ‘struggles’ of each age, and the style of these struggles, that we can understand the succession of diagrams or the way in which they become linked up again above and beyond the discontinuities. For each diagram testifies to the twisting line of the outside […], without beginning or end, an oceanic line that passes through all points of resistance, pitches diagram against one another, and operates as always the more recent. […] From this we can get the triple definition of writing: to write is to struggle and resist, to write is to become, to write is to draw a map: ‘I am a cartographer’. (Gilles Deleuze)

WALKS: The Counter/Cartographies project is the overall title of a platform of lists and links and a series of minor cartography walks initiated by London-based artist collective C.CRED [Collective CREative Dissent] and NYC based artist-run space the 16Beavergroup. Using the simple medium of collective walking, we wanted to explore and intervene into the historical, cultural and socio-political contexts of artistic practice and challenge what we felt were a set of often normative and authoritarian structures put in place by the various cultural and academic industries that seemed to us to govern the parameters of artistic production (art biennales and festivals, art academies, galleries, etc.). These walks, however, did not simply function as a form of critical engagement with these different institutions and contexts, they also worked as nomadic structures where a dialogue could take place around the critical strategies we have at our disposal, and where alternative strategies could be developed collaboratively. Walking thus became a simultaneous attempt at dismantling the narratives and economies that are invested in the spaces and sites we visited and an affirmation of future potentials, alternative economies and forms of collaboration and collective cultural production.

IMPERMANENT COMMUNITIES: In each of the six cities we’ve walked in so far – Tallinn, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Chicago, Zagreb and Berlin – we thus created a transient and impermanent micro-community of walkers; local artists, activists, other interested collaborators, and invited guests we from other localities, walkers from previous cities we’ve walked in, etc.

ARCHIVES: The documentation of each walk comprises only photographs of the sites visited along with texts articulating some of the points and issues raised. These photographs and texts are made available as an archive printed on transparencies. Using overhead projectors the walks can then be performed by participants and contributors, revisiting the sites and discussions by physically editing or remixing the archive live. People can combine photographs and texts, cut sentences or words out, write on top of the transparencies, include or exclude any material, or even destroy the entire archive. This structure is thus ‘open’ rather than authoritarian, its taxonomy constantly negotiated and performed rather than being fixed, static and authoritarian.

CARTOGRAPHIES: In many ways, our ambition with this project, was to generate a cartography operating through germinal counter points; a cartography, that is, in the sense that Gilles Deleuze reads it into some of Michel Foucault’s work, as an unstable linkage of localized struggles and diagrams, a kind of linkage that generates something new, that simultaneously dismantles existing assemblages, space-times, physics, and generates mutations, hybrid formations, that always operates through a kind of shared excess, through a peculiar sense of resistance or struggle, and through an experimental kind of empiricism.

This text will present five proposed models for a counter.cartographical practice – five proposed models for ways of dealing critically with space in the above sense.

Model 1: Walking

To put one foot in front of the other; what does walking mean? Pedestrian; (adj) – dull, ordinary, prosaic (prosaic as opposed to poetic?) (n) – one who walks by foot. 

Walking as a dismantling of the given or habitual: What sort of city can we do in three hours?

We walk.

And we stop.

What is there to see?

Heads turning around – 180, 360 – micro-question motion. What is in the concrete, grass, trees; open fields, tower blocks, dark waters, secret passages, subterranean tunnels? What does this site make us think, feel, experience? What memories, affective economies and regimes come into play? What does this site allow us to think, and what does it exclude from thought? What are the counter-positions of thought opened up to by this space we’re traversing?  

Walking is a kind of irregularity that shoots through the cityscape, generating rifts in habitual patterns of experience, producing future cities from the ruins of the already known and certain. 

Walking as choreography: It’s a peculiar kind of dance, with R. D. Laing: 

The dance begins. Worms underneath fingertips, lips beginning to pulse, heartache and throatache. All slightly out of step and out of key, each its own tempo and rhythm. Slowly, connexions. Lip to lip, heart to heart, finding self in other, dreadfully tentatively, burningly… notes finding themselves in chords, chords in sequence, cacophony turning to polyphonous contrapuntal chorus, a diapason of celebration.

City lights at night, from the air, receding, like these words, atoms each containing its own world and every other world. Each a fuse to set you off… 

If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know.

Imagine barren land. Barren universes. Only lines, shapes, form; territory and terrain. How do we populate such space? Maybe try and do away with the I – possessions and pronouns, the subject. And even the we, walk away from the we, write away from the we, write away the we, rip the we from the beginning. Just barren land. Capacities, forces – power – tangled and untangled, knotted and unknotted, mounted and dismounted. We’re shot through with dissonances. We’re unformed words. We’re pure capacity. Walking as meditation: and we don’t stop. Ellipsis. An infinity with meat on both sides.  

Perpetual motion – meditative, without subject, without pronoun. If I could turn this walking-body-machinery on, if I could twist this landscape out of its harmonious pretensions, if I could dismantle the sense of the said of the land, there would be no I of the would.

Model 2: Improvisation

Improvised walking, walking an improvisation, walking as improvisation; from Fr. improvisation, from improviser “compose or say extemporaneously,” from It. improvvisare, from improvviso “unforeseen, unprepared,” from L. improvisus, from in- “not” + provisus “foreseen,”.

Show me the way to or through a minor city; a trajectory across the city through its sub-sites, alt.sites, non-sites; its irregularities and the irregularities of our movement; through its failures, mistakes, our failures and mistakes in traversing its city-body. Through uncertainties, unstable nexi, virtual knots of historical trajectories intersecting and shooting off in different directions. Cities are tremendous, wonderful; abundances of matter, textures, durations. Let’s counter-pose a minor structure to a major one; a new kind of virtuosity against craftsmanship of patriarchs.  

What is the game of the day? With Deleuze: ‘If harmonics lose all privilege of rank (or relations, all privilege of order), not only are dissonances excused from being “resolved,” divergences can be affirmed, in series that escape the diatonic scale where all tonality dissolves’.

An affirmation of a playful digression, a secret and subterranean dissonance that picks up speed, screeches, a movement that brings peripheries towards a centre, a kind of diagonal that shatters syntax.

Model 3: Dialogue 

Traversing, traversal, transversal; to speak across – Dialogue; c.1225, “literary work consisting of a conversation between two or more people,” from O.Fr. dialoge, from L. dialogus, from Gk. dialogos, related to dialogesthai “converse,” from dia- “across” + legein “speak”.

A speech across; across what? Across an existing terrain? A future black market economy of voice, speech and conversation. Dialogue being the main concern of a future cartography – the dia being a transgression, a shattering of normative durations and times, the vectors of the given. The dia – as in the diagonal – always incorporating a sci-fi dimension, a sense of futurity.  

A dialogical cartography. A cartography within, against, and across an existing terrain, against a monolithic terrain that so often seems to militate against collectivity, in speech, action, praxis; dialogical cartography as critical permutation of actual conditions and relations. 

Model 4: The Question

Cartography as seeking inquiry, as question; c.1300, from Anglo-Fr. questiun, O.Fr. question “legal inquest,” from L. quæstionem (nom. quæstio) “a seeking, inquiry,” from root of quærere (pp. quæsitus) “ask, seek.” The verb is first recorded 1470, from O.Fr. questionner (13c.). 

And cartography as quest; c.1303, “a search for something” (esp. of judicial inquiries or hounds seeking game), from O.Fr. queste (Fr. quête), prop. “the act of seeking,” from M.L. questa “search, inquiry,” alteration of L. quæsitus, pp. of quærere “seek, gain, ask.”  

To ask a question (as a foreigner, a guest, dependent on the kindness of relative strangers), to keep asking questions to the point where the formulation of a question becomes the question, and a question also of a collective concern? The question, eventually, bringing us together.

We walk. And we stop.

A kind of peripatetics against the academy (the drunken crew, the stray dogs of a minor philosophy); a movement against stasis; a process against teleology and finality; a question against the answer, against possession (of the answer, of the origin of meaning), against propriety. 

What questions can we ask, collectively, of each other, of this space, whilst being in and moving through, moving across, traversing this space?

Model 5: Conviviality 

Convivium, convivial, conviviality; from convivial;1668, from L.L. convivialis, from L. convivium “a feast,” from convivere “to carouse together,” from com- “together” + vivere “to live.”

Bodies together in space. With Spinoza: When a number of bodies of the same of different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies.

 Walking. Full Stop. 

These sites are themselves complex networks, fabrics, microphysical textures. Can we define the task of the cartographer in these micro-physical terms, as involving the exploration of the complex conditions of the actual – of actual body complexes, extensions and spaces, actual durations and temporalities – but also the exploration of, and experimentation with, the infinity of variations, modifications and mutations, that can be engendered by linking, combining, intruding, transgressing, traversing such spaces and times?

With Spinoza: we do not yet know what a body can do. Or to attempt a paraphrase: we do not yet know our collective capacity.

Can we define the task of the cartographer as being the ripping open of different kinds of space-time, different assemblages of bodies, non-institutional forms of conviviality, collaboration, collectivity; as involving an experimentation on all kinds of levels and with all kinds of bodies; various physical bodies – tables, chairs, bars, humans and animals bodies – but also chemical bodies – drugs, alcohol, cigarettes?  

The cartographer, dealing in new forms of critical conviviality; the cartographer, dealing in the physics, toxicology and chemistry of space; the cartographer, dealing with the political task of fighting the stupefying boredom of the normative physics of everyday life. 

Walking. Full stop.

counter/cartographies: performances, publications, documentation

counter/cartographies: atlas – edits and re-stagings

Set in an alternate, post-catastrophic universe, counter/cartographies: ATLAS is a novel in progress. It follows several unnamed characters in their peregrinations across and between the ruins of a series of undisclosed cities, exploring along the way the various exercises that occupy them: an inventory of an abandoned port, the cremation of a young boy’s dead body, the theft of a gun and a can of beer, the turning of a derelict factory into numeric sequences. Based on and revisiting photographic and other documentation of extensive walks in the cities where the novel is set (the countercartographies project), the texts proceed through actual milieus, fractured narratives and loosely connected fragments and references. The result is an archive of partially destroyed documents; edited, altered, combined and reproduced; in a state of disrepair bordering on illegibility.

In keeping with its counter/cartographical theme, counter/cartographies: ATLAS is printed on transparent film allowing readers and/or performers to map out the various narratives themselves using overhead projectors: pages can be combined, layered, superimposed and assembled in any order, generating different paths through and between the cities featured. The novel-installation has also been used to host live performances of readings, partly improvised, of specific versions of the text assemblage.

This abandoned port a plane of infinite variability.

This body, the mud’s infinite fecundity, the objects scattered; these relationships electrified. Meandering dispossessed. Turn towards an interface between this body and the world; turn towards the stolen object, the stolen pistol. Turn towards the pistol, the gun, the revolver, the machine, the fingers that grip the metal components, the skin, an eye, a tongue, an ear.

Equivalences. Are they equivalences? Edible, palatable even? Can they be absorbed through tissue?

Now count them. Fingers are connective tissue seeking in this darkness to grab hold of things. Spider body’s stain. An arachnoid glue. Sticky, sticky surfaces. Blue gum. Continuous connections through blue gum skin, exchanges, equivalences; sticky black goo, sticky black market gum. Listen now, concentrate. A disorienting void.

A sticky void now electric.