Not only are maps the antecedents of systemic models, the first maps, according to Jerry Botton’s wonderful book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, are descriptions of creation.
They describe what exists and, by implication, how it came into being.
Homer conceived of the world as a disk, Anaximander as a cylinder. Interestingly it was Parmenides who believed the world was round because the universe was. I can remember from my youth, D. H. Lawrence’s description of the dynamic relationship between man and “the circumambient universe” (“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment.”). That last phrase gave me an image. I understood that I was surrounded by the universe. The implicit image is that of a circle or globe. How can I tell how far this apprehension is a product of an instinctive response to experiences that arises from the operation of the senses?
When the sun is up, light is all around us. Sounds emanate from every direction. Air surrounds us. Is this circumambience an extrapolation or is it culturally determined?
It is difficult to imagine a time when people didn’t come together to share their sense of the shape of the universe. By this last phrase I mean: what people believe exists and how it came into being. At a certain point in the development of our lives together here on earth, religions started to organise this collective believing and thinking. Providing, ordering and organising rituals and developing symbols that could co-ordinate people’s beliefs has involved all kinds of constraints and inducements. To hold sway over people’s sense of themselves in the universe is a massive endeavour and it is unsurprising that this has been deeply connected with social and political organisation.
Whether I espoused a particular brand of religion or whether I was trained in any orthodoxy – neither of which I believe happened to me – it is protestant christianity that is the dominant liturgical orthodoxy in my social group. These shaping influences arrive in one’s life as a set of assumptions rather than as dogma learned by rote. Or maybe that is the liberal carapace of this particular brand. The residing apprehension is that god, belief and the shape of the universe are deeply personal issues.
It is, of course, possible that the personal or private quality of this process of decision or discovery is an illusion. Or it may be that you really can only go so far on your own. What a given human being construes to be the borderline between the known and the unknown may be an inner movement that is timeless but in each social instance it must take on a specific form of expression. Joseph Campbell in his investigation of human mythology alights with vigour on the conception in Indian philosophy that being is configured by two interrelated processes. One is the marga which is continuous movement of creation, ‘the way’. The other is the desi which is the specific phenomenal form undertaken by being in particular social circumstances. Without the marga the desi would be meaningless, random substance. Without the desi the marga would be incapable of being perceived. Words float over this binary dialectical structure, reflect it but fail to provide absolute definition.
There is a moment in the process of meditation when, after the attention has been sufficiently concentrated, the consciousness is opened out and the focus can be on that which is infinite and timeless. This moment of being in the void holds the conscious being at the centre and, at the almost simultaneous moment, the centre is everywhere.
It is evident from Brotton’s work that maps always presume a centre. To begin mapping you have to know where you are. So the original maps being descriptions of creation also means that they arrived out of an articulated sense of the borderline between the known and the unknown. The moment of being just referred to in the meditative process is, in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, synchronous with the unity of the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’.
In Brotton’s introduction he quotes Mircea Eliade’s Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbols, (trans. Philipe Mairet Princeton 1991):
“In the case of the Babylonian world map, Babylon lies at the centre of the universe, or what the historian Mircea Eliade has called the ‘axis mundi’. According to Eliade, all archaic societies use rites and myths to create what he describes as ‘boundary situations’, at which point ‘man discovers himself becoming conscious of his place in the universe’. This discovery creates an absolute distinction between a sacred, carefully demarcated realm of orderly existence, and a profane realm which is unknown, formless and hence dangerous.”
This sense of being – the discovery of consciousness of place – this renewed transport between the inner and the outer is also a description of how things come together in art. It is the vibration of meaning. If this can be made and not simply given then the experience is one of authenticity rather than dependence.
These ponderings contain the guiding principles of the work this week for me.
In conversation with Caroline Moore, the video practitioner who is working with the young people at College Park School (see Gaza Opening Signs at College Park School) we talked about how the work there was developing in terms that caused her to reflect on why she had undertaken participatory, rather than ‘signature’, arts. My assertion was that all true art is participatory. It is activist. It is contrary to the relations that characterise our society where production is divorced from consumption and where consumption is passive. To create is to resist.
This is what makes our Gaza project work, not just of aid but, of resistance.
Can we generate this spirit of activism and resistance around the mappa mundi project? By using an interactive online space in conjunction with people’s making can we engage people in creativity, can we activate people?