Art and cartography as a critique of borders

Segue o artigo que apresentei na 28th International Cartographic Conference, realizada em Washington D.C. em julho de 2017.

Art and cartography as a critique of borders

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RIBEIRO, D. M.. Art and Cartography as a Critique of Borders. In: 28th International Cartographic Conference proceedings, Washington D.C. 2017.


This study focuses on the relationship between art and cartography. The main objective is to analyze how contemporary art uses maps to criticize borders. Inspired by the arguments raised by the Critical Cartography against the false neutrality of maps, we emphasize the potential of artworks to communicate different insights about how we experience and live the contemporary space. In that sense, art plays an important role not only to discuss the articulation of power and knowledge in cartography, but also to propose other categories of thought. Considering that borders are one of the most relevant visual elements on a map, we propose the following question: how the intersection between art and cartography can improve the critical thinking about borders? By questioning borders, art underlines that physical world is characterized by liminal spaces, not by absolute or strict separations. We briefly analyzed some examples of artworks that deal with political issues regarding this topic. Our findings suggest that art could re- veal the impact of imposing borders in a space, whose arbitrary delimitation reflects power relations.

Keywords: Cartography, Borders, Liminal Spaces, Threshold, Art

Neste artigo, faço uma breve análise das seguintes obras:

Area Restringida, de Mateo Maté

Area Restringida, de Mateo Maté

UPOTIA, de Nicolas Desplats

UPOTIA, de Nicolas Desplats

The Green Line, Francis Alÿs

ICC 2017 – International Cartographic Conference

workshop maps & emotions

No começo de julho de 2017, fiz duas apresentações no ICC 2017 – 28th International Cartographic Conference em Washington D.C. Ambas fazem parte da minha pesquisa de doutorado. A primeira apresentação foi no workshop Maps & Emotions organizado pelos professores Sébastien Caquard, Amy Griffin e Alex Kent. A segunda apresentação foi em uma das mesas sobre cartografia crítica do evento principal. Em breve, os artigos completos estarão disponíveis para download.

Cartographic narratives and deep mapping: a conceptual proposal


In this study, there will be discussed a trend called deep mapping, an interdisciplinary topic in the spatial humanities field that aims to explore narrative capabilities of maps, revealing stories associated with places. According to this approach, maps can be used as a tool to encourage a deeper knowledge about places. Besides that, maps can be extremely helpful to discover underlying meanings in the complexity of the space, showing patterns that otherwise would not be apparent. Essentially, the major challenge of deep mapping is to deal with qualitative aspects of places, like emotions and memories. Thus, the main question raised by this investigation is: how deep maps could be able to represent memories, emotions and perceptions associated with spatial experiences of urban places? Considering that scenario, this study is motivated to suggest a conceptual framework that could contribute with the future discussions about deep mapping. We argue that, in order to accomplish this challenge, deep maps should embrace three fundamental principles: (1) the walking, (2) the archaeology and (3) the montage. The walking presupposes that maps must encourage people to discover places by strolling, tracing alternative paths on the urban maze. The archaeological feature of deep maps corresponds to the assumption that cartographic narratives should provide a historical depth, looking for cultural objects that rest under the remains of that place’s history. The montage in deep maps corresponds to the idea that depth could be achieved through the combination of several media, such as photos, videos, texts, audios, hypertext, or even other maps. Therefore, we believe that these three principles – which are based on Walter Benjamin’s critical thought about Modernity – form a conceptual structure that could inspire future methodological approaches regarding deep mapping.

Art and Cartography as a Critique of Borders


This study focuses on the convergence of art and cartography, whose approach provides relevant discussions about the critique of scientific maps. In the context of the Critical Cartography, Jeremy Crampton says that a critique is an investigation of the assumptions of a field of knowledge, not a disapproving judgment. In his own words, “critique is a political practice of questioning and resisting what we know in order to open up ways of knowing”. In that sense, contemporary art plays an important role not only to discuss the relationship between power and knowledge in cartography, but also to propose other categories of thought. Embracing aesthetic purposes, artists use maps as an expression against the false neutrality of the formal cartography, which considers a map as precise tool to represent space based on strict conventions. J. B. Harley says that a map will always be a partial representation and cannot be exempt from its ideological inclination. Thus, the explicit manipulation of the cartographic language in the context of visual arts can uncover other qualities of the space, making clear the partiality of the maps. Therefore, we emphasize the potential of artworks to communicate different insights about how we experience and live the contemporary space.

Among several map properties, there is a crucial visual element: the representation of borders, understood here in a broad sense as an arbitrary delimitation of a certain space. In general, borders are based on political decisions, often involving tensions and power dispute. Therefore, scientific maps have to clearly communicate these borders according to strict rules. However, people’s perception of the real space could not exactly correspond to this rigid definition. This scenario leads to the following question: how the intersection between art and cartography can improve the critical thinking about borders? By questioning borders, we suggest that art is able to show that real spaces are characterized by liminal spaces or thresholds, not by absolute or strict separations. Contrasting with borders, the notion of threshold not only indicates the separation of two ambiences, but also includes aspects of transitions, gradual change, movement. Therefore, this concept connects space and time, allowing a transition between two points, experiencing limits, testing forces, leaving the comfort zone, risking new approaches.

From this perspective, we highlight some artworks: first, we selected an image of the installation called Area Restringida (Restricted Area), an artwork created by Mateo Maté. Using barrier poles, Maté created a restricted area in a shape of the whole American continent, which is also under surveillance of a camera and security agents. Visitors are blocked by these “borders”, preventing them to trespass the installation. Second, we’ve chosen an artwork called Upotia, created by Nicolas Desplats. The artist created several paint buckets, labeling them as upotia: the ink supposedly could be used to set the frontiers of an imaginary land. Referring the famous concept of Utopia, Desplats brings some interesting discussions about the “cartographer’s perfect dream” of tracing an ideal frontier. Finally, we highlight the work of Francis Alÿs, an artist that proposed performances in two of the most controversial borders worldwide: the US-Mexico border and the Green Line in Israel.

These examples deal with the strictness of the borders, demonstrating how an aesthetic approach can be used as a mode of interpretation of cultural aspects regarding space in contemporary society. By recovering Critical Cartography investigations to support discussions about borders in arts, this study also raise questions about the arbitrary delimitation of spaces that are otherwise composed by diversity, power relations and conflict.

Benjamin: Modernidade e Pós-Modernidade

“O que Benjamin realizou com o Trabalho das Passagens – a construção de uma imagem da própria época – coloca-se analogamente como tarefa para seus leitores ‘pós’-modernos. A rigor, seu legado como crítico da cultura e historiógrafo só será resgatado plenamente na medida em que a pesquisa contemporânea souber elaborar, através de sua obra, uma visão tão clara da “pós”-modernidade, como Benjamin a conseguiu, através do estudo da obra de Baudelaire, para a Modernidade dos anos 1920 e 1930. Trata-se de enxergar, através da interpretação dos textos benjaminianos, as forças históricas atuantes dos tempos pós-modernos.”

BOLLE, Willi. Fisiognomia da metrópole moderna: representação da história em Walter Benjamin. 2.ed. São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2000. p. 26

As ruínas de Anhalter Bahnhof

Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof

If the ‘arcade’ counts as the best material witness to nineteenth-century Paris, as Benjamin famously argued in his massive historiographic fragment, The Arcades Project, surely the railway – perhaps Berlin’s Anhalter train station – would have to count as the best material witness to German/Jewish modernity. It was, after all, the railway that literally unified Germany in the late nineteenth century and connected Berlin to Western and Eastern Europe in the twentieth – in splendor, emancipation, and horror(…)

Both the railway and the arcade thus became the symbols and proof of their epochs: railways represented progress because they were the technological realization of mobility, speed, and exchange. They also became the first mode of transportation to move the masses, from the formation of mass politics to the implementation of mass deportations. And, finally, both the arcades and the railways eventually fell out of favor, overtaken by some other formation imagined to be faster, more fashionable, more progressive, more opulent, and more destructive. The heady heydays of the arcades and the railway may be over, but their constitutive dreams are still legible in the surviving remains. The physical ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof and its varied cultural testimonies may be all we are left with, but it is from these remains that we can map the cultural geographies of German/Jewish modernity. The Anhalter Bahnhof represents a paradigm of modernity, one that is already grafted, as a dialectical image, onto these cultural geographies.

PRESNER, Todd. Mobile Modernity: Germans, Jews, Trains. New York: Columbia University Press. 2007. p. 2-3

Índices e rastros


“Observar um rastro no chão, um bilhete de uma viagem feita no passado, uma fotografia, assim como contemplar um espaço em ruína, pode envolver o esforço de pensar na existência à luz das perdas: são situações em que um fragmento, um resto do que existiu pode ajudar a entender o passado de modo amplo e, mais do que isso, entender o tempo como processo, em que o resto é também imagem ambígua do que será o futuro. A politização da interpretação do conceito de rastro sugere seu entendimento como um termo de mediação.” (p. 109)

GINZBURG, Jaime. A interpretação do rastro em Walter Benjamin. In: SEDLMAYER, Sabrina; GINZBURG, Jaime (orgs.). Walter Benjamin: rastro, aura e história. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2012.

O rastro é um índice do passado. Como “presença de uma ausência”, ele imediatamente nos remete a uma memória sensorial. O índice acima me remete ao chão molhado, as azulejos encardidos, ao vendedor de milho assado e ao cheiro particular do RER na entrada da estação Cité Universitaire.

Qual é o motivo da inundação de registros indiciais, especialmente os fotográficos, nas redes sociais? (“estive aqui”, “comi isso”, “comi alguém” etc.). Se o índice nos faz pensar na “nossa própria existência à luz das perdas”, como na citação acima, talvez o excesso dos índices digitais nos indique justamente a fugacidade das experiências contemporâneas, que teimam em se eternizar em nossos celulares. No fundo, por medo de “perder o momento”, não aceitamos que o tempo “é um processo” e que passado já foi.

Na verdade, acho que sempre foi assim… a diferença é que agora tentamos, cada vez mais, transferir nossa memória para os dispositivos digitais (como se eles fossem capazes de registrar toda a sensorialidade envolvida em uma experiência passada…)

As impurezas da pós-modernidade


“O serviço de separar e eliminar esse refugo do consumismo é, como tudo o mais no mundo pós-moderno, desregulamentado e privatizado. Os centros comerciais e os supermercados, templos do novo credo consumista, e os estádios, em que se disputa o jogo do consumismo, impedem a entrada dos consumidores falhos a suas próprias custas, cercando-se de câmeras de vigilância, alarmes eletrônicos e guardas fortemente armados; assim fazem as comunidades onde os consumidores afortunados e felizes vivem e desfrutam de suas novas liberdades; assim fazem os consumidores individuais, encarando suas casas e seus carros como muralhas de fortalezas permanentemente sitiadas.” (p.24)

A menos que esse refugo seja incorporado à própria lógica do jogo: tornam-se consumistas, compram eletrodomésticos, pagam consórcio e frequentam shoppings. Mas, ainda sim, continuam sendo “outros”, que não se misturam com os do lado de cá da fronteira. A falsa integração só ocorre pela força do consumismo.

Acho que é mais ou menos isso aí que vem ocorrendo no Brasil nos últimos 15 anos.

“A modernidade viveu num estado de permanente guerra à tradição, legitimada pelo anseio de coletivizar o destino humano num plano mais alto e novo, que substituísse a velha ordem remanescente, já esfalfada, por uma nova e melhor. Ela devia, portanto, purificar-se daqueles que ameaçavam voltar sua intrínseca irreverência contra os seus próprios princípios. (…) A pós-modernidade, por outro lado, vive num estado de permanente pressão para se despojar de toda interferência coletiva no destino individual, para desregulamentar e privatizar. (…) A mais odiosa impureza da versão pós-moderna da pureza não são os revolucionários, mas aqueles que, ou desrespeitam a lei, ou fazem a lei com suas próprias mãos – assaltantes, gatunos, ladrões de carro e furtadores de loja, assim como seus alter egos – os grupos de punição sumária e os terroristas. (…) A busca da pureza moderna expressou-se diariamente com a ação punitiva contra as classes perigosas; a busca da pureza pós-moderna expressa-se diariamente com a ação punitiva contra os moradores das ruas pobres e das áreas urbanas proibidas, os vagagundos e indolentes.” (p. 26)

BAUMAN, Zygmunt. O mal-estar da pós-modernidade. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1998.