Map Your Moves. Move Your Maps.

Map Your Moves by Moritz Stefaner is a visual representation of “more than 4000 moves from over 1700 people”, in and out of New York City. Moves here stand for relocations of residency, or we might say migrations. It follows these relocations over the course of 11 years, from 2000 to 2010. Stefaner used the data from an informal survey led by WNYC, a NYC based public radio station.



Stefaner extracted from the data and represented several parameters or dimensions. First of all, location of the moves. The locations within the NYC have been sub-divided in zip codes, whereas the rest of the world has been mapped with a damped distance function. The NYC area is a white circle and it occupies the greatest part of the map, which is justified by the depth of detail, and by the simple fact that most moves naturally involved locations in NYC. The second dimension is the vector of the move: if we click on a particular location, the vectors appear and we can see all the moves to and from it, and, by pointing over the connecting migration lines, the person's reason for the move pops up. This information leads us straight into the lives of the moving people, and we can get a glimpse into their biographies, which is another subjective qualitative dimension. The chromatic dimension of the piece is telling, as Stefaner adopts only three hues, dark brown for the volume of moves, blue for the moves into the NYC area, and red for the moves out of the area. Another dimension is the quantity of the moves connected with a single location, be it a NYC zip code area or a city around the world, and it is shown by the diameter of the circle. Correspondingly, the location circles are coloured based on the sum of moves, as to say, if they received or sent outwards more moves. On the right side of the piece, beside the map, there are also two bar charts giving us the general statistical overview of moves, divided by reason and through time. So, at a single glance, all three dimensions are coexistant and clear. But, there is much more to this image than all these dimensions. Stefaner's treatment of the diverse information, and the information in itself, implies a major paradigm shift in our world-image, as it is provided by geographical science. This representation, together with some others with whom it shares certain characteristics, are reshaping our maps from bottom to the top. I do not have the name for this type of representation, there are some possible name options circling around the web, but it is not the point. Instead of naming them, I will try to see what they do.


The title of Stefaner's work states that this image is a map. What does it mean, or, what does it imply? The title of the piece helps us directly, Map Your Moves, it is your moves, they are personal, so its true protagonist is people and not terrain. Now, geography seems to be the science of the description of the Earth, and, in this, maps are its chief instrument, so the maps describe Earth? This is from Ptolemy on, and he was also responsible for bringing mathematics into the game, so geography's obsession seems to have always been to produce the most accurate possible renderings of the things on Earth. Yes, things. But it's not really that way. The history of maps is long and with its twists and turns, but, the fact is that, more or less, with the dawn of the Modern Age, when maps become indisputable representational devices in terms of space, men almost unnoticeingly withdrew or vanished from them. Human figures remained present for some time still in landscapes of towns, which were popular during the 16th and 17th century, but, afterwards, the maps, now meaning representations of terrestrial space without men, reigned supreme.

The man has disappeared, and what was to be seen on brilliantly coloured maps, in ever greater detail, were, among other elements, human settlements, the profiles of towns, villages etc., but their inhabitants were nowhere to be seen. As a kid, I believed that that was so because the men were too 11 to be aptly represented, and I tried to look as best as I could, by squeezing my nose against the paper, to find some extremely fine dots that would indicate the presence of the people within the cities or on those beautiful straight lines that roads are. But, then, there were no wolves, bears, nor tigers, lions, not even elephants. Even the biggest of animals were not present, so the explanation for this mysterious absence had to lie in something else. This cartographic exclusion of men and animals was dictated by the original act of the immobilisation or paralysis of the world. The physis, the nature, the life for Ancient Greeks, is deadened on the maps, as Franco Farinelli likes to repeat over and over. Not only the viewer is paralysed in a single position, thanks to the rules of the perspective upon which the projection of the Earth sphere is realised into the flat plane of the map, but, in parallel, the world, too, is fixed once and for all. I might add that this is true also for the globular representation of the Earth, which, although it complies to other rules of geometry, and although it is mobile (around one or more axis) or it makes the viewer move, it still essentially excludes life.

This was not the only solution for the description of the Earth, as some have understood that what the description of the Earth is about, is actually the description ofman's adventure” through its physical features. Let's just think about Herodotus and Pausanias, and, remarkably, Herodotus wrote programmaticaly titled The Histories. Both of them were geographers, but then also historians, as they recounted people's vicissitudes within diverse natural and artificial settings, through landscapes, through time. And, in fact, Herodotus aimed to describe ecumene, the inhabited world, as he understood that it is the only frameview accessible to our intellect. Their lessons, with slightly different methods and intents, was revived by German geograpric school of Erdkunde in the 19th century, Carl Ritter and Alexander von Humbolt, who tried to get loose from the “diktat of the map”. What they did was to get straight onto the field and observe, write down, follow the stories of ecosystems and social systems within Earth's space. But, they did not lay out an alternative representational apparatus that would possibly confront the power of the maps. In the meantime, thanks to the efforts of France who made the first national topographic map, soon followed by other Imperial forces, ever greater parts of the world were being surveyed, controlled politically, socially and economically by their immobile representations. Even the great project of the géographie humaine, the “human geography”, or the geography of the man, introduced by Vidal de La Blache, whose primary aim was to describe settlements, in the end just limited itself to the listing, and contouring of human settlements. In the process, the guiding forces behind these settlements remained invisible and unknown. The only way to actually manage to see people on maps was to open an historical atlas and to learn about the migrations of this or that tribe or invasion of this or that. But, what is happening with men now?



The increasingly intensive and extensive circulations of capital and people in the 20th century put cartography into a series of radical crisis. Even the most radical attempts to describe all the elements present, to annotate everything on Earth's surface, such as were quantitative geography's strivings, eventually became more meaningless and obsolete in terms of explanation of how the world worked, meaning how our societies worked. This is mainly because these elements were moving, more than ever, not only more rapidly as it is commonly understood, but adopting entirely new patterns, strategies and tactics. Fundamental properties of the map, which rely on qualities of topological space, thus, continuity, homogeneity and isomorphism, were being bluntly circumvented by the zig-zaggy logics of capital and people. And it is not because of new methods of transportation or new modes of communication, or because globalisation annulled the space and time (and thus maps) as it is sometimes said. The people have practised the Earth since always by wandering all over it (otherwise they wouldn't even learn that the Earth exists in the first place), the globalising movements have only exacerbated this discrepancy between spatiotemporal representations and spatiotemporal practices. The problem lies at the foundation of images, and it is an age-old one, too, namely, how to fixate something in perennial movement? Since the classical maps do not manage to capture these trajectories, what are the other options?

In the last few years, due to a combination of factors, but especially thanks to the technologies of spatial data production, gathering and sharing on individual and collective level, we are witnessing something unprecedented in spatial representation. People have become the absolute protagonists of mapping, be they Twitter users, Nike+ runners, Foursquare consumers, and so on. Now, unexpectedly, maps are not mute and are not still, there are myriads of voices and vectors on them. We can trace public buses, airlines, ships, up to the single people's bicycles, and these are concrete and live topographies of the present. This changes especially the way we look at built environments (which is an immobile thing per excellence). City is not just a bunch of houses put together, and held by an invisible glue or something, it never was. Now we can clearly see that it's held together by people or cabs, that New York, in our case, is much more complex and intricate than its immense five boroughs. It is a city deeply inter-weaved with dozens and hundreds of other places as we can see in Map Your Moves (the term global city is around for more than 20 years now, but it was only a series of letters on paper, now it is animated). The illusions of space and place as linguistic terms, as something that can be named, thus denotated, thus framed, thus circumscribed, thus projected, thus controlled, etc., do not hold any more.

These new images, I would not call them maps any more, we need new terms and concepts for them. For example, the question of scale, heavily debated in social sciences and geography, and a fundamental property of every map, in a way can be superseded. In Moritz's piece, we can track single persons, on micro level; we can analyse in terms of zip codes, which is something of a meso level, or even the entire city might be considered as a meso level; and, finally, there is the entire globe, too, the macro level of geography. They are all seamlessly joined together, and there are not any disconnections or sudden jumps.

Every living being on Earth moves, so our images have to move correspondingly, and I do not intend only some flashy Flash animations. Images themselves should fold, twist, curve, crumple, to try to capture the “lines of flight”, to say it with Deleuze and Guattari. Multiply and network these multiplicities of folds and lines, but keeping them subjectified and individuated, and now we can turn around the previous absence of men on maps into a reverse question: who is a city? who is a borrough? who is a state?

Now, when we are actually able to perceive the movements of people, and the clouds of CO2, the raising ocean levels, maybe our most dear sociopolitic and socioeconomic categories are in peril of being overwhelmed by visible evidence, thus, by social practices made visible. Certainly, the questions of who controls the production of these images, the filterings of data, and all the other ancient questions connected with the power and bias of map-makers naturally persist (or become even more acute?), but let us bear in mind that most of these new images are often made by independent individuals or design studios, by using the information produced and comunicated by other individuals, groups, communities. The Earth is not a world-image or a story, not even a global village or a global city, but at least seven billions of world-images and stories, au pair with the most complicated of galaxies, but, these world-images are not light dots on black sky, these dots on canvas are at our grasp, because we are among them and we move these world-images/stories, unsettle them, make them teeter. In return, they do the same thing to us, too.

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