Essays & Posts

Mapping the In-Between

I've started a longer term project uncertain of where it will end up. I'm creating nonrepresentational maps. In general, maps are made of lines, shapes, colors and symbols. Like drawing, some lines divide and others connect. We use maps for wayfinding (like a road map to plan and follow a route) connecting us to destinations and dividing territories. While maps for wayfaring (say a topographical map) we use to help us understand the make up of the land.

When we think of maps, the first thing that pops into our head is likely the app on our phones, the most ubiquitous map of all time. Maybe we get nostalgic and think of pre-phone maps like the spiral-bound Rand McNally books (a godsend when we moved to LA for a couple of years in the early 2000s). There are also the impossible to refold, now hard to find, folded maps, or maybe we think of those candy-colored maps in our early-education classrooms, the U.S. in my case, its fun colors ignoring the darker story of how those dividing lines came to be.

Wayfinding is about the destination, not the journey. We use the map to plan and navigate between two points as efficiently as possible. The in between is inconsequential because the destination is paramount. The space in between is simply a means to an end, discarded from memory once we reach our destination.

Wayfinding is about navigating and occupying the territory. This is mine, that is yours...for now. It's about occupying a space composed of hard and unnatural lines that want to separate its inhabitants from the land and from each other. Of course, the lines on the map are nowhere to be found literally in the territory. There's no line drawn in the earth. The border can be ambiguous, a made up boundary that only exists virtually. Borders may not be real, but crossing them can have real consequences.

It's cliche to say but, yes, the map is not the territory. The map intentionally tries to separate us from the territory. A map, at its worst, tries to divide and isolate people based on superficial, false and harmful variables. They try to show us where we belong and where we don't, describing an undercurrent of racism and classism. If you're one of us, welcome. If you're not, stay away.

Wayfaring, on the other hand, is not about destinations or occupying territories, but how we inhabit space. Wayfaring is marked by a meshwork of more ambiguous or gestural lines that show habitation, not occupation. As Tim Ingold writes in his book Lines, "By habitation I do not mean taking one’s place in a world that has been prepared in advance for the populations that arrive to reside there. The inhabitant is rather one who participates from within in the very process of the world’s continual coming into being and who, in laying a trail of life, contributes to its weave and texture. These lines are typically winding and irregular, yet comprehensively entangled into a close-knit tissue." Ingold continues, "wayfaring, I believe, is the most fundamental mode by which living beings, both human and non-human, inhabit the earth."

In this particular piece (pictured above), for 1 hour, 27 minutes and 52 seconds I recorded my movement through Forest Park (a 5200 sq. acre urban nature park in Portland, OR) with a piece of printer paper pinned to my running shorts and a ball point pen in hand. Marks are made with the back and forth movement of my leg and the side to side (twisting) movement of my arm/upper body.

In this project, I'm thinking about line as a way to map an event, not any sort of navigation to a destination. Inhabiting more than occupying. Mapping a relationship to land not as territory but as experience. The moments spent on land—gestures threaded together—step after step, breath after breath. Recording the circuitous effect of land and body. The body absorbing the land and the land absorbing body. Lands and bodies always in motion. Each impacting the other. The repeated impact wears down my joints. The repeated impact wears down the earth.

Wayfaring for me is also about inhabiting the "in between." The experience in between here and there, in between past and present. Participating in the ecology, not exploiting it. In wayfaring, one follows a path taken with and by others (self, family and community), finding one’s way, intimately connected to the land and its symbionts at each moment of the journey while also being linked to past moments.