IMMERSIVE CARTOGRAPHY

 

In working within a situated, participatory and hybridised methodology, this research draws from anthropological, creative and philosophical modalities to assemble a variety of cartographic methods for conducting fieldwork.  Such approaches are driven by practice, and based on the principle that methods should be selected and modified to serve the research question and objectives, and also be made suitable and amenable to the research context (Pink, 2009, p. 49). For Pink (2009, p. 50), methods should be developed which ‘bring forth fine-tuned accounts replete with an ethical aesthetics of relationships in the field.’ This suggests that the richly textured eco-aesthetic dimensions of research settings can be accounted for through diverse and flexible methods of investigation, analysis and expression.

 

The methods used in this research are contextualized within three broad categories as described by Pink (2009, p. 10): participatory methods which emphasise sensing, learning and knowing in practice, and include various approaches to participant-observation; collaborative methods which explore specific scenarios, topics, and techniques, and include innovative forms of interviewing and collaborative engagement; and intentional interventions that take the form of site-specific artworks, speculative fictions and immersive learning experiences.

 

In many ways, these three categories of method have more in common with site-specific ethnographic practices in contemporary art than with social science (Kwon, 2002). The art theorist and historian Hal Foster (1996, p. 186) describes how the ‘ethnographic mapping’ of communities, environments and institutions has become the primary form of site-specific practice in contemporary art. The key distinction here is between ethnography as a purely linguistic and textual form of cultural description in the social sciences, and aesthetic forms of cartography which use multiple media and modalities to map cultures, environments, sensory experiences and patterns which are material, social and even imaginary (Cutcher & Rousell, 2014). This inquiry involves the ethnographic mapping of possible worlds of the imagination, which is mapping as the living application of speculative philosophy. Furthermore, cartography has recently been used to describe empirical work associated with the new materialism (Dolphijn & van der Tuin, 2012), post-qualitative research (Martin & Kamberlis, 2013) and approaches to educational research and practice grounded in the work of Deleuze and Guattari (Masney, ed., 2013). Hence, the particular inegration of anthropological, philosophical and artistic methods in this inquiry is referred to as a cartography, rather than a descriptive ethnography.

 

Immersive Cartography

 

The hybrid methodlogical approach for this inquiry is called immersive cartography, a process that took form over the course of the Cubic Reflections pilot study (Rousell, 2015). Immersive cartography is a methodology that integrates three distinct categories of cartographic methods (Ingold, 2000, p. 231): mapping as a series of performative gestures associated with moving through the landscape and developing emplaced knowledge through sensory experience; mapmaking as the inscription of these performative gestures within a cartography through the creation of images, objects, texts, stories and other artifacts; and map-using, in which participants are given direct access to navigate and modify the cartography through their own performative gestures and inscriptions. For Ingold (p. 230), these three modes of cartography are all founded on the movement of bodies through a regional landscape, comprising a constellation of practices that he refers to as ‘wayfaring’. These modes of cartography have been practiced in Indigenous cultures for millennia as a form of sensory learning, or apprenticeship to the landscape (Ingold, 2000). The development of the map, in this sense, parallels the growth of the landscape itself in relation to human endeavor, creating a ‘pattern of interconnected lines’ within a ‘network of coming and going’ (p. 235). This is what Rundstrom (cited in Ingold, 2000, p. 231) has referred to as ‘process cartography’, in which mapping is taken as an open-ended, itinerative and embodied process which is always ‘leading to the next instance of mapping, to the next map.’

 

Ingold’s three categories of cartographic practice are applied to the methods used in States and Territories: site-specific installation; participant-observation; interviewing; speculative fiction; and hypermedia:

 

 

In developing the three practices of mapping, map-making and map-using within an immersive cartography, I have drawn extensively from Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) concept of the map in A Thousand Plateaus. This begins with their distinction between the ‘tracing’ as a self-enclosed representation of the world, and the map that is ‘entirely orientated toward an experimentation with the real...’ (p. 12). In immersive cartography this ‘experimentation with the real’ takes place across three domains of practice: the scientific, the philosophical and the artistic. The cartography, in this sense, composes an intricate rhizome that stretches between the domains of the actual (material reality), the virtual (conceptual reality) and the possible (aesthetic reality) (Bogue, 2003: p. 178). These domains are defined by Deleuze and Guattari (1994) in terms of the plane of reference (science), the plane of immanence (philosophy) and the plane of composition (art). Immersive cartography is a complex process that works across all three of these planes, each of which renders different approaches to mapping, mapmaking and map-using.

 

A map created through immersive cartography is a multi-layered and interconnected network of people, places and things which is ‘open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: p. 12). The map operates on the plane of composition as an artwork, opening onto worlds which ‘are neither virtual nor actual; they are possible, the possible as aesthetic category...’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: p. 168). In the aesthetic dimension the map always offers multiple entryways for the improvised performance of possible worlds, rather than for the predetermined demonstration of competence offered by the tracing. This is not to say that tracings, such as photographs or illustrations, are to be patently avoided in immersive cartography, but rather that ‘the tracing should always be put back on the map’ to preserve the integrity of the rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari: 1987, p. 13, italics in original). In States and Territories, the tracings rendered through photographic representation are always placed back onto the map, rather than being used to reproduce or represent the cartography itself. Instead of trying to represent the research findings, this website is a series of surfaces which extend the project’s cartography into new existential territories (Guattari, 2008).

 

The video below provides a discussion of immersive cartography as a methodology developed through the pilot study for States and Territories in 2013. Specific focus is given to participatory design processes in the production of mediated spaces for public engagement.