An Imperfect Map (Will Have to Do) Landscape without horizon
Leandra Bigale, Beatrice Born, Ulrich Fischer, Johann Haberlah, Paula König, Merle Voigt, Ziqiu Zhao
8 / 2 – 1 / 4 / 2021
An exhibition by students of the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design, curated by Lena Johanna Reisner, initiated and supervised by Prof. Antje Majewski
“The globe is perceived as a ball in a net of latitudes and longitudes”, Michel Serres noted in an essay on the travels of Jules Verne.1 During the long phase of European expansion, colonial powers – together with their sciences – operated through the paradigm of discovery to expand and create ever more detail in their world maps. Maps, and cartography itself as a form of knowledge production, are not neutral.2 They have often been historically deployed in order to control space and facilitate the geographic expansion of social and political systems. Equally, throughout the history of modern nation states and military technologies, maps have been connected with both the definition and expansion of property rights.3 Some artistic works in An Imperfect Map (Will Have to Do) investigate forms of territoriality as well as questions relating to landscapes and their calculability, configuration and control.
Topographic maps and satellite images both project a view from above onto that which they purport to show. This surveying of the surface of the earth is generally conveyed either through a technological lens or an abstraction, which displaces the viewer’s position to a space outside of the frame. In An Imperfect Map (Will Have to Do), this perspective is refused. Setting the map as an object – and its meaning for the political history of the geographic sciences – aside, the artistic works investigate practices of collecting, editing, and recording, as well as assemblage, notation, and speculation. Through painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and musical processes, aspects of landscapes are brought to the fore that leave the cartographic mode of surveying behind without once bringing a horizon line into the frame.
In her poem A Map to the Next World, from which the title of the exhibition is drawn, the Muscogee poet Joy Harjo speaks of a map that “must be of sand”, that “can’t be read by ordinary light. It must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.”4 In Joy Harjo’s poem, the map appears as a fleeting image, one which cannot exist independently of the people who care for the knowledge, the experience, and the sites that it contains.
How might an imperfect map look that is capable of wresting itself away from the global network of latitudinal and longitudinal places and narratives? Perhaps it would generate productive voids and open fields, spaces that withdraw from control, instead telling of forms of belonging and relating. An imperfect map is not an object, but a constant, poetic movement towards orientation in an open terrain
- Michel Serres, “Jules Verne’s Strange Journeys,” quoted after Anna-Sophie Springer, “The Museum as Archipelago,” in Scapegoat: Architecture / Landscape / Political Economy, 5 — Excess, ed. Etienne Turpin (Toronto: Scapegoat Publications, 2013), p.245.
- See James Corner, “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention,” in Mappings, ed. Denis Cosgrove (London: Reaktion, 1999), p.90.
- See J.B. Harley, “Maps, Knowledge, and Power,” in The Iconography of Landscape, ed. Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p.280, 282, 283, 284.
- Joy Harjo, A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000) Ebook, Position 201, see also: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49621/a-map-to-the-next-world”, last accessed: January 18, 2021.
Root Follows, 2020
Digital scans, Dimensions variable
In her artistic work, Leandra Bigale investigates landscape and garden design. The lawn, as an outdoor carpet that can be unrolled at will, stands for the predictability of non-human life in spaces for living that have been created according to human measures.What is the relation between the drive to control and the internal life of plants in designed landscapes? In her series Root Follows, Leandra Bigale grows lawn grass in non-recyclable plastic packaging material usually used for fresh supermarket products such as fruit and vegetables. As it grows, the root system adapts to the form of the plastic, mimicking its structure in the form of a relief.
Geographic maps and architectural blueprints make possible overviews and order, orientation and appropriation. Leandra Bigale shifts this perspective by displaying a series of surfaces from below. The sculptural form of the root system is translated into images that emerge from the floor of the exhibition space.
Wenn ich an eine Landschaft denke, denke ich an den Versuch, sich in
ihr zu verlieren (Terasse im Garten), 2020/21
Gouache, watercolour on rice paper, stretchers, wood, 200 x 210 cm
Windows mediate between the world within and the world outside. They connect and separate, allowing one to look in or out. Behind the protective glass, a dynamic landscape can be transformed into a site of longing, a contemplative image space, or a source of light.
Beatrice Born’s free-standing, three-part painting intervenes in the exhibition space and brings various forms of light into contact on a large-scale image surface. The point of departure for this work is a 1896 folding screen by Pierre Bonnard. Titled The Family of Claude Terrasse in the Garden, the painting shows an informal scene in green environs. Due to the popularisation of Japanese traditional painting in the West in the late 19th century, folding screens produced in Europe in imitation of the Asian model became increasingly common. In The Family of Claude Terrasse in the Garden, the eye is drawn to the decorative interplay of surfaces and the juxtaposition of various fields of action, quoting aspects of traditional Japanese painting. The simultaneity of parallel spaces that forms when a folding screen is placed in a room, as well as the many spaces framed by Bonnard’s painting itself, inspire Beatrice Borns own creative praxis. Here, any one specific motif is sidestepped by the interplay of surfaces and colour.
Bachbilder, Plane (Patina Paintings), 2020
Natural materials on cotton, stretchers, 50 x 50 cm each
For this series of river images, Ulrich Fischer brought stretched, rough-weave, cotton canvases to a body of flowing water and exposed them for a pre-defined period of time to the natural conditions of various sites. Organic particles transported by sediments in the water layered themselves as pigments on the fabric, which acts as a membrane and medium for recording in the landscape. Over many days, through a process of perfusion and sedimentation, opaque, sensitively structured surfaces silted up the canvas in various earthy colours.
Ulrich Fischer worked systematically along the Plane River near Bad Belzig (Brandenburg). Over a stretch of 20 kilometres, starting at the river’s source, the canvases were installed for one week at regular one-kilometre intervals along the meandering body of water. Maps tracing the river’s path were used as a basis for this methodology. Bachbilder, Plane (Patina Paintings) connect strategies of measuring and organisation with forms of painting. Through this, a poetic cartography of flowing water emerges.
Solidago canadensis oder über den Umgang mit Invasoren, 2020
Pencil on paper, sound, 90 x 140 cm, 3:12 min.
The land is measured, parcelled out, administered, leased out and controlled. Then, a yellow, flowering plant appears: “All goldenrod is to be removed.” The invasive species towers from the earth. Underground, it is already on the move. This plant is not a subject, it is a network. As a node in a growing structure, it is the sum of all the energies and synergies balled into multiplicity – that is: a rhizome.
Instead… of Arctic Shelves and Melting Futures / Stattdessen… von arktischen Bodenkrusten und schmelzenden Zukünften, 2020
24 cyanotypes, Dimensions variable
On conventional world maps, the Artic is generally depicted as a marginal region. For the global climate system, however, its melting ice masses are of central importance due to its albedo – that is, its ability to reflect and thereby diffuse light and heat. The polar region is drifting at an alarming tempo towards a new climate regime, one of the tipping points in the global climate system. At the same time, industrial nations are speculating on resources freed up by the melting ice. They seek to claim their place in the polar sun, renegotiating shipping routes, fish stock, mineral resources and living spaces. Research on the seabed and continental shelf is also driven by interests in proving continental connections to the North Pole in order to substantiate aspirations to claim territory in the region.
In Instead… of Arctic Shelves and Melting Futures, Paula König traces the form of the Arctic seabed, which is in the process of being reconstructed with the aid of sonic depth sounding equipment, satellite images, and other data. The artist exposed 24 cyanotypes as analogue photographs to sunlight, which as an energy source drives countless metabolic processes in the biosphere. The resulting map brings together a chemical process, a geopolitical vision and a poetic notation.
Kliff Stohl, 2020
Rabbit skin glue, earth- and plant-based pigments on canvas, 180 x 150 cm
The extraction of colour from natural pigments has a long tradition that can be traced back to the beginnings of painting. In her publication The Secret of Colours: A Cultural History, Victoria Finlay reminds of the connection between pigments and the locations of their origins. In her work Kliff Stohl, Merle Voigt uses colour gained from a seaside cliff (Steilküste Stohl) in Schleswig Holstein. Tufted vetch, bladder wrack, bird’s-foot trefoil and zigzag clover were gathered, sorted, processed into pigments and rubbed into the canvas with the aid of stones. Ocher colours were directly applied with hardened lumps of earth.
In interaction and dialogue with the landscape, a painting has emerged that puts the materiality of colour in the foreground, allowing whatever it is that this materiality wishes to describe to become present of its own accord. Kliff Stohl is a poetic tracing of site-specific elements, and at the same time a character study of a constantly changing cliff face.
Anfang und Ende, 2020
Branches, colour, mirror, Dimensions variable
“Luo Ye Gui Gen” is an old Chinese saying. It means that branches and leaves that fall on the ground will transform, with time, into compost that will nourish the earth. In a figurative sense, the saying means that regardless of where one goes, an invisible “root” reaches deep into the ground of cultural memory, anchoring one’s being. Ultimately, every person will return to their point of origin, although she or he alone knows where this place is. In her poem A Map to the Next World, Joy Jarjo similarly writes: “Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end. You must make your own map.”
For Anfang und Ende, Ziqiu Zhao gathered branches and twigs and marked them with colour. Their arrangement leads back to the site of the tree where they were found. For the fallen branches, the moment in which they fell from the tree demarcates not an end, but a new beginning.
A project by the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design, initiated and supervised by Prof. Antje Majewski, curated by Lena Johanna Reisner. An Imperfect Map (Will Have to Do): Landscape without horizon was originally planned as an installed exhibition for the Brunswiker Pavilion in Kiel. In accordance with current regulations for the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was implemented as a digital exhibition.
Curation: Lena Johanna Reisner
Supervision: Prof. Antje Majewski
Graphic design: Susana Murillo Parrales
Website design: Noviki
Communication: Maike Brzakala, Anja Segschneider
Student assistants: Jakob Offermann, Paula Oltmann
Texts: Lena Johanna Reisner and the artists
Translation: Sonja Hornung