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ThemesMapping and TextThe Carthographic View
From the Cartographic View to the Virtual
Christine Buci-Glucksmann

«To think is to travel.» (Deleuze)

Any map could be a voyage in thought connecting a passage and a territory, the readable and the visible, by capturing the infinite within the smallest detail. This could describe the starting point and the risk inherent in all the «appeals» to cartography, from the 16th-century pictorial to the contemporary virtual. Indeed, it was Pieter Bruegel's «Landscape with the Fall of Icarus» (1558) that gave birth to a new outloook that would result in more and more scientific atlases and maps. From up high, Icarus contemplates the scenes being played out on the earth, he plunges infinitely into a maritime horizon of light; up close we can glimpse his tiny leg. Such a plural view of distance and of nearness will gradually bring together «the Icarian eye» and the cartographic eye, into a space with no center, and will introduce a dialectic between «the site» and «the non-site,» to useRobert Smithson's terms. In this way, the map is a veritable alternative to the Albertian model of the window opened onto the world, and it gives rise to a descriptive andconstructed visual arrangement, a space that is open to multiple entrances, a «plateau» where the gaze becomes nomadic. This relationship between site and non-site has revealed a constituitive geo-philosophical paradox. On one hand, the map is the territory, as Jorge Luis Borges’ emperor desired, with his political madness for making a map on the very same scale as the territory. But in another sense, the map is not the territory. Even more so, it is its substitute, and that is why Lewis Carroll created another, more playful utopia, the blank map. Between being and non-being, territory and plane, the map is the model of an «in-between» that deterritorializes the gaze through a generalized panopticon, that can mark out passages, borders and power plays as in all the military strategies of the present day. So, we need to examine the genealogy of this view, its modalities and its strategies, in order to understand how this regard-passage has today become a model of the virtual. As if the culture of flux and instabilities required a new kind of image – fluid, ultra-thin and light, that I called the image-flux, [1] and that takes over from the modernist image, this crystal-image proper to the architectural and artistic culture of glass, with all its literal and complex transparencies.

1. New Visibilities

Contrary to Foucault’s position concerning the radical distinction between the visible and the readable, the map is immediately both readable and visible. It functions like a non-mimetic image, an image-index (Pierce), that lies at the origin of a pragmatic of expression. A toponym, such as Paris or Berlin, is localized, and corresponds to a referential and contextual territory, a country, a fragment of a country or a planisphere. This art of describing the world «in the absence of,» that Vermeer treated in his famous «Allegory of Painting,» in which the immense map of the Netherlands doubles et redoubles the painting within a critical and selfreflective arrangement; in fact, this conveyed a contemporary machine of vision that included the discovery of the «new world» and of a universe that henceforth would have no center and would be infinite. That is why the map of the world of the 16th and 17th centuries desymbolizes the world previously centered aroundJerusalem and dominated by the Christ of medieval maps. From then on, the map became a mere artefact, and it is easy to understand the fascination it inspired in the first artist cartographers, Leonardo da Vinci or Dürer. The map seizes the real, masters it, and allows a glimpse of an unconscious quality of vision with its foldings and unfoldings, within a weightless plane. A map takes possession of the limits and the borders of the unlimited.

This is why these new visibilities that are distinct from the perspectivist schema with its point of view, combine several heterogenous elements. It is a «descriptio» connecting images and signs, a new kind of abstraction, that views the diagram as abstract, and that allows for the pluralism of the directions and the displacements characteristic to a worldregard, projected onto a continuous or fragmented plane, with all its variations of scale. An abstraction such as the virtual develops presupposes a mentalization of the world and an abstract machine made of lines and of possibilities enabling one to «read a map,» as we say. This involves a complex reading, because one needs to project oneself outside of oneself, to forget one’s own position, in order to explore this cartography in rhizomes. The diagram is already in itself a map or an overlay of maps, that allows one to explore movements, such as in Etienne Jules Marey’s «Diagrammes chronophotographiques,» and virtual volumes. Le Corbusier's «Diagramme d’un nuage de fumée à Alger» even anticipated fractal mathematics. The cartographic Cogito is thus that of a voyage in space-time and of a plural subject: being here and elsewhere, being near and far, being multiple, up to immersing oneself into all the possible utopias of a Space Art. The diagram explores continuous space, the constructed, within an abstract figurative which initiates an experience of thought, through its allusive and schematic structure. That is why the diagrammatic reasoning that inspires so many artists—including Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin — is a kind of Leibnizian reasoning, that one rediscovers in the new connections made between the numeric continuousness and the morphogenesis that are so characteristic of architectures of the virtual. Seeing is to (construct, build) and to know, to link topology and tropologies within systems, arrangements made of lines, of forces and of vectoral points, as in Paul Klee’sschemas, where the arrows are forces. In that, the map combines the two space-times distinguished by Boulez and developed by Deleuze and Guattari in «Mille Plateaux.»1 The striated space that is metric and pulsed, and the space that is smooth and infinite like the ocean or the desert, with its affects of a universe, its curves and its interstitial graphs.

2. The Contemporary Cartorama

Between exploration and passage, the cartographic view constantly confronts the abstract with the real, the place with the delocalization. This was confirmed by the numerous experiences of artist cartographers that I analyzed in «L’œil cartographique de l’art,» [2] where the painting is indeed «a Diagram of the Idea» (Duchamp). Certainly, the map in Vermeer’s work or in El Greco's (such as in his «View and Plan of Toledo«) was straight away an allegory of painting, a kind of optical image that was distinct from the perspectivist image, and that captured the micro-shapes within an «Art of unpainting,» as Svletana Alpers demonstrated. It is an attentive eye that registers minuscule things and inscribes the world onto a surface, to the point of creating a veritable baroque of the surface. But with 20th century modernism, the map lost its allegorical virtues through its multiple uses. Jasper John's tautological eye («Map,» 1961) transformed the map of the United States into a painting (thanks to its expansiveness, its layering of the surface and its non-formalist inherent flatness. But Robert Smithson’s entropic eye, apparent in his land surveys, or in his «Map of Broken Clear Glass» also constantly confronts vision with antivision. According to him, the map «is a series of upliftings and of collapsings, a strata of unstable fragments.» Such vertiginous maps are indeed coverings for the transformations and representations of «sedimentations of the mind,» that plunge into nothingness, like the 1930’s architecture in New York with its forms that stretch themselves out of shape. The world is curved like all the spirals to infinity that Smithson is fond of (C.f. «Spiral Jetty»). In this way we have a broadening of the cartographic field proper to art. Through a subtle alchemy, it transforms space into time and into «a constellation of time» that are nonchronological. It is the Benjaminian time of remembering, where the past documents adisplacement of strata and of imprints. The skins of Parmiggiani’s or Pistoletto’s world, Alighiero e Boetti’s embellished maps of Afghanistan, the multiple riverbanks and shapes of all the fictive pantheons (C.f. Gerhard Richter's «Atlas»). The cartographic view lends itself to all the neutralities, all the transpositions and all the utopias, even all the «heterotopias» à la Foucault. From now on, the cartorama of contemporary art is endless, since the map is the interface of the world, as in Archizoom’s «No Stop City» (1969). And it is precisely this world-making quality of the map that generates all its paradoxes and its multiple logics. Since, however utopic it may be, the map can also become a highly effective machine of power. With the maps kept secret by totalitarian regimes, targetted bombings of sites, indeed of populations, the map truly is «a portrait,» an image «in meaning and in representation,» as «Logique de Port Royal» already described. In this sense, the map anticipated all the networks and a world henceforth in process and in passage: ours.

3. An Esthetic and Political Model of the Virtual

In fact, it is the new technologies that endow the regard-passage and the regard–flux with all its hermeneutic and political impact. The passage from a culture of stabilities and of objects, with its Fordism and its industrial standards, to a culture of instabilities and of flux with its cyberspace and its instantaneous communication, gives rise to a new «Folie du Voir» on a global scale. The passages arise from what Paul Virilio calls «a great optic,» that crosses all borders in real time.

The cartographic view is therefore inseparable from a new regime of historicity of the masses, which joins with a double temporality. A machinated and machine-like time, and an ephemeral time, that of an eternal present, with neither future nor plans. Also, this regime tends to destroy the time of memory that has become more and more commemorative, as well as another time, that of mirrors and reflections, characteristic of the crystal-image of architectural and artistic modernism. If this crystal, with its sharp edges and its coalescences of the present and the past was the allegory of the entire culture of glass of the 20th century (c.f. Bruno Taut, Mies van der Rohe or MarcelDuchamp since the beginning of the century), the image-flux with its new fluidities and its diaphanous transparencies would be the allegory of a present marked by a plane of global immanence that is screen-like. The image-crystal allows one to seize a little time in its pure state, whereas the image-flux resembles skins and second skins of all the bio-philosophies, that blend hyperrealism and technological neobaroque. From now on, all hybridizations are possible. The cartographic view is thus at work in the great esthetic and virtual paradigms, which explore more and more the unbalanced systems and the infinity of the continuum, thanks to the new mathematics of forms. Within this experimental place, shared by architecture and art, one can extract three great paradigms which conceptualize and produce virtual space-times that transform the real.

1. The Topologies:

Exploring what Greg Lynn called the «Animate Forms,» these topologies favor the continuum, the curves and folds, and all the modes of inflection that already haunted Gaudi and all of art nouveau. Many works were created—«Mobius House» by Stephen Perella, «Embryological House» by Lynn2, the «Interactive Map of the Project and of the Performativity»—in order to build a bridge based on flux; there are also Mark Burry’s «Paramorphism» and «Perplication» [3] of unstable topologies, «Flux-House» by Paul Minific or «Trans Architecture» that is fluid in cyberspace or in the real (Marcos Novak, NOX (Maurice Nio and Lars Spuybroek)). Everywhere the curve gets the better of the straight line and the organic rediscovers its abstract powers that an entire formalist and minimalist culture had denied it.

2. From Artifices to Artefacts

An entire baroque culture had loved artifices and a decorative art that was stylized in order to grasp the multiple, curved or infintessimal perceptions, generated by the clair-obscur characteristic of a world in motion and open onto the infinite. This curved space, reflected in movement and projections, was reinvented in a neo-baroque numeric, that addressed only knots, spirals, folds and rolled-up or unrolledcombinations, where the object is «objectile» and the subject is «subjectile» as Gilles Deleuze analyzed it in «Le pli». In other words, this ultra-fast relational interaction puts an end to an entire vision of modernity theorized by Martin Heidegger: a Cartesian Subject, a stable Object, Truth and technique like «Arraisonnement de l’etant.» The modelization characteristic of the new numeric tools of programming and of interactivity positions man within things instead of in front of them. The map of the world is our interactive «envelope,» in a world with neither protection nor envelope.

3. Surfaces

The map projected the world onto a plane, and this surface-effect has only been generalized, transforming walls into digital skins and depth into an electronic flatbed. The architecture of hypersurfaces or Stephen Perella [4] ), digital tattoing of numeric images printed on panels (Jean Nouvel, Herzog and de Meuron), biotechnical and tactile camouflage (Lynn or NOX)—everywhere the fluid and ultra-thin covering has become the truth of the nude. And here the artists join with the architects, in their landscapes and virtual cities, as can be seen in the works of Miguel Chevalier LI3, who draws time and explores post-ephemeral and fragile images. In this way, the space becomes a floating space and the real becomes more and more transformed by a virtual that generalizes the concept of «-scape.» As Arjun Appadurai has shown in «Modernity at Large» [5] a far-reaching work of intercultural imagination is established in the ethnoscapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes, which are made of the virtual archives and potential narratives of all cultures, between homogenization and heterogenization. The cultures of the ruling powers who dominate with their war machines, but also those of the dominated, the diasporas and the «post-colonial» minorities. There is thus a becoming-time of space, and in this situation marked by the technological revolution, it is extremely important to distinguish two qualities that are characteristic of ephemeral time. A melancholic ephemeral, that of the black bile of the Greeks and the Vanités of the moderns (C.f. «Melencolia» by Dürer, 1514) [6] , and of an entire western mindset thatrefuses to renounce its psychological investment in objects and to undertake a Freudian «task of mourning.» And an ephemeral of affirmation that is more Nietzschian, which I found more present during my stays in Japan and China. The impermanence (the «mujô» in Japanese) is the positive capture of time in its vibrations, its passages, its rhythms and all its variations that unite the technological and the cosmological. As one of humanity’s most ancient texts – the «Yi-Jing» – shows, it involves combining directions and energies, in order to grasp «the flux that is passing» («peng yun qi») and the dynamic that corresponds to the opportune moment. That is why the ephemeral is not a passive acceptance of the present, but rather a way of capturing the modulations of beings and things, their unity and their differences.

To readdress Hannah Arendt’s distinction, the «potentia» as a potentiality that creates a common space interwoven with «the plural-oneness» is radically distinct from the «potestas» as a logic of power. Since there can be a politic of the fluxes characteristic of the «potestas», there can also be an esthetic, indeed an ethic, of potency, in which virtuality is a force that transforms the real and is not merely a universe of semblances. This nomadic science that the cartographic eye reveals to us is always only constituted of passages and becomings, momentary halts and decodable paths of energy that enable us to include the parameters of changeability and of displacement into the overview. Also, the esthetic of the fluxes is a science of multisensorial reactions that constantly confronts the human being with his extremes and his risks, the post-human as well as the infra-human. Perhaps, now more than ever, we need to set up a cultural resistance and human affirmation of the manifold inbetween worlds in the face of the disorders of existence.

Translated from French by Jane McDonald

© Media Art Net 2004