Mapping Our Time: An Archive 'en Plein Air': Some Scattered Reflections

Maurizio Bortolotti

The archive is a categorization of reality, an attempt to order it especially when it is scattered and not immediately comprehensible. The show is a way to put together very different things as well. So, the idea of the archive seems to match that of the show really well, particularly so because the former is a way to give a shape to a lot of different stuff that today has no shape at all.

Indeed, the epoch is so complex and events happen so quickly that we don't have the time to give a permanent meaning to a great part of our experience, including art. In that sense, the show as archive is a way to react to an often incomprehensible and multi-layered reality by offering a temporary solution. Collecting diverse material means to provide it in an order. Many contemporary shows can be seen as the realization of the idea of the archive because in this ordering novelty is potentially carried forward. Putting together odd art works can appear quite unusual and has the same effect of novelty, yet might be at the same time misleading in assuming an overview. In that sense, a conspicuous part of shows today can be seen as the triumph of the idea of an archive, yet, in the task of reframing past perceptions into new ones, that never previously existed, there is a discrimination to uphold.

The archive is problematic also as an abstract frame because it is a general categorization of reality. Collecting is a way to put different works into a-causal, abstracted relations, from an 'intention' conspired between them. They are connected to each other only by criteria of a simplified sequence or order, following the decisions of an archivist or curator. And sometimes the content is just the novelty-effect of this sequence. So, in the archive there is a troubled relation with reality because the process of abstraction is hidden inside its approach.

I think that another way to deal with the question of the archive is that of thinking at it as a map. Indeed, the map could also be a kind of archive. Mapping is a convenient way to put reality safely inside a concrete frame, and it is also a way of creating, not an abstract, but real equivalence. In fact, thinking of a show like a constantly redrawn map, and not as an authorising picture, with a grand narrative, tells us a lot more about a specific context and, at the same time, becomes a concrete mirror of our time. So, mapping could become a curatorial instrument allowing us to interact directly with a local (or specific) area and space /time. And mapping is a metaphorical way to act directly with a concrete reality in which art is strongly embedded.

For instance, one of the hottest questions of our time is that of globalisation which arises once again as the issue of modernity. However, if we think at the entire question of globalization it is quite clear that it means modernization, especially in those countries which from the perspective of the west haven't had a real modernity until today, particularly, in the South-East Asia and in some other regions of the world. And we can verify that the idea of modernity in those countries is quite different from the western one if we apply a certain use of vocabularies at variance. It could be defined in two words like "local modernity" because this idea of modernity is not connected with some general expectations about the life and the future, which are also quite abstract concepts. It is more a representation of real expectations of the people in terms of concrete desires about present life. Indeed, these expectations are in some way like small visions, which are part of their everyday life. And all that could be summed up as tensions that go through the social life of each area in which we can recognize a local modernity. In that sense each is different from the other, because, in local terms of modernity, there are kind of different expectations due to the local community.

Map as Metaphor

So, the map as curatorial instrument or tool, is an interdisciplinary use of metaphor. A map translated as such is more useful if, rather than as providing and reinforcing conventional language about space and topography, it might produce certain vocabularies that make it possible to enter, in specific sense of 'passing through' an area, a people, or loosening / crossing along the borders of a territory, or envisaging some new 'human' social landscape. The map enables us to see the small grounded or pragmatic utopias within the vernacular aesthetic already embedded into the everyday life of citizens. Indeed, a map might be even more useful if it undertakes processes of adapting and constant correction, as a way to focus, to alter the focus, or reflect an area as conglomerations of formative points, from any view, regarding the past, and its mutual conception and over-determination of futures. But to use language in a new categorical sense, not as a medium to introduce metaphor applied as an elucidation [as intervening and explicating between sorts of meaning; or as the cartographic operation of representation and diagrammatic function as a territorial mechanism of control] but as something much more complex- as the distinction between familiar and unfamiliar uses of ' noises and marks' [D. Davidson]. In the metaphorical transfer from the literal, the possibility to overcome old perceptions, to analyze acceptable, naturalised cognitions of so-called shared structures of reality that language-users master and apply to understanding realities, is more affective. Using the map as metaphor, not to capture [to make meaning distinctions] or enclose [make interpretations of] the social space, is instead a reconfiguration of past time to present time, like a multilayered, open structure. By the means of, for instance, presenting the plan, the map, the drawing, the notes, the noises and marks, as a show, in the realizing of an art project places the metaphorical at the same level as the experience. This is the work the map might perform as a curatorial tool, in situ, and as facilitation of overcoming prescribed meanings, revealing the connection between the different levels and performances inside a process of defining social space. And this has a lot to do with the present time of a certain place, the time-specific experience from within it as an instance of modernity. The works that constitute an instantiation are placed to create a strong connection between the time and space and the living metaphors of the social space of a specific context's unfamiliarity. If a vision of the place is to offer such a productive unfamiliarity, in time with specific modulations, the metaphorical use of the present is the material, the map, which will help us get busy developing a new theory.

Building up a show with the map means to arrange works, to multilayer levels of reality, both familiar and unfamiliar, to highlight the imaginary produced in the process, using the imaginary, the code, as adhesive for connecting all the different levels. So, mapping the real conditions of life of a particular space - mainly to be located in an urban area - means to show how the imaginary produced by the small utopias are developed by the people living inside that social space. Making a show 'like a map' is also an attempt to discover a local reality, only insofar as giving a representation of it in which art is strictly connected with that social space. And this means to consider art as able to take part in producing concrete reality, or at least to be strongly connected with imaginaries. Mapping is a way of framing a particular time/space situation that represents the surroundings, and the conditional modernity we are living and acting out.

Using the map as a metaphorical model for a show means using different kind of works and different means for realizing the general display; like video, the Internet, pictures and projects made as direct interventions into the context where the show has been realized. All of them are essential part of an attempt to offer a main vision to/from a local area. This is the best way to connect all materials with the locality of the context where the show is realized and with the general context of the globalization. The map is a tool for investigating the connection between art and social processes, keeping in mind the background of the general process of democratization, which is in a complex process of translation, in the last decades due to the migrant shifts and accelerated processes of communication.