The Situationists sought to destabilize the autonomy of cartographic mapping and helped reorient mapping practices towards cognitive and other methods to thicken the map beyond physical description / representation. These kind of alternative methods of mapping were not new as pre-modern practices have had large experiences of this until cartography took over as a colonial/modern method for navigation and land management.
Cartography dominated its influence over planning through its most powerful instrument – the map, which locates several objects for a simultaneous viewing, thereby creating possibilities to read relationships between them. For example, a map of a place simultaneously shows the railways station, roads, houses, hospitals, schools, police stations, trees, plots, pavements, street lights, etc. with actual distances between them. Use of such a map is not only useful to find distances but also to plan various routes to reach specific places. Thus one is able to establish and use relationships between two or more objects. Advanced users overlay information of multiple attributes like building use, availability of water supply, real-estate values, crime situation, etc. This facilitates users to establish many more relations like linking accessibility of buildings to public transport and its associated real estate value or concentration of crime in a certain locality, etc. By using such relationships, users may be able to find useful locations for living, doing business, services, amenities, etc.
However, several problems can be articulated regarding Cartographic Mapping – firstly, that they are developed for surveillance and control. The cartographic maps were patronized by the highest of authorities to control knowledge of the area, not only to navigate it, but also to collect taxes. These maps required great expertise to make and gave the map-makers and their patrons tremendous knowledge (and hence power) which the others did not possess. Secondly, that cartographic mapping is subject to problems of high abstractions, generalization and interpretation. For example, a small shrub may be sacred to a certain tribe and may be more important than a house. However for a cartographer, this may be simply a shrub, which he/she may even miss to note/represent if the scale does not allow it. This shrub may be generalized into a category of ‘vegetation’, or ‘shrubs’ and denoted in an abstract generalized code. In this way it loses its significance and gets represented as any other shrub in the map. And thirdly, that cartography is unable to capture soft data – on differences, on conflicts, on cultural aspects, etc. Practitioners of alternative mapping dealt with these problems of Cartographic Mapping – allowing mapping to be undertaken by everybody, using various languages and forms, and revealing relationships that cartography was unable to reveal.
Cartography grew into its full form in GIS (Geographic Information System) that connects spatial diagram to statistical information and thereby aims at bringing together various forms of information. The GIS is further strengthened by variety of tools – GPS surveys, biometric data, data form surveillance cameras, etc. On the other hand, the alternative mapping movements (in their efforts of finding new relations that the cartography misses) also grew into various independent forms – multiple access digital archives, social networking sites, blogs, CIBIL, internet lists and databases, and a variety of art (and other) practices / products that seek to show the unseen, expose the hidden and open the unknown.
Both of these – the GIS and the alternative mappings – today have created a context of Hyper Mapping. It has become difficult to hide from the map. Escaping the map was a strategy to survive for many. It is difficult to understand how the Police, the Municipal Authorities, the Pollution Control Boards, the Human Rights Organisations, the Environmentalists would respond after seeing a movie on street side video parlor; or a blog on jari workers; or a story of setting up house in a slum; or photographs of breaking down a ship; or a video on extracting metal from highly toxic wastes; and various other stories that may not be completely approved within the boundaries of legality and formality. The ambiguity about their existence and the difficulties of dealing with them allowed them to be overlooked – either knowingly or unknowingly. Hyper mapping ends up creating records on these stories – such records force action. Even though the real could have been overlooked, its record cannot be ignored. For example a study that mapped the practice of recycling plastic and celebrated entrepreneurship has been effectively used by groups that lobby to remove the recycling enterprises as all of these practices could be easily rendered unauthorized and polluting.
Mapping urban conditions is one of the prominent trajectories of my practice, which started with a critique of the cartographic mapping methods that are generally used by architects and planners to understand and intervene in the city. The biggest criticism of the cartographic map is that it is unable to capture the softer aspects of the city. My practice involved finding other ways to map these softer conditions and thereby conceptualize the city differently so that newer ways of intervening could be articulated.
As a response to the hyper-mapping context, I formulated the ‘de-mapping project’ for my Residency at Khoj, Delhi. This project started with a critique of the hyper-mapping context. I soon realized a pure critique was a paralyzing endeavor – it would make me dysfunctional. Moreover, I wasn’t against mapping, but was responding to the flirtatious urge of putting information about personal lives into the public realm and creating an archive – a commodity for consumption. Instead of stopping at the paralyzing ‘critique’, I decided to rather ‘engage’ with the hyper mapping context.
As I was working at the Khoj Studio in Khirki village in Delhi and also since Khoj has been building a large archive of Khirki in the past eight years, I decided to work with Khoj’s archive on Khirki village. The idea was to work with the maps of Khirki village (in this case the archive) and reconstruct Khirki – in a way reverse the process of mapping – de-map.
The final work ‘Stories of Here’ is a de-mapping project intended to engage with the archive of KHOJ on Khirki Village and tactically reconstruct stories of an urban village from various kinds of mappings that were available in the archive. ‘Here’ was used to denote several kinds of spaces –an Indian City, Delhi, an Urban Village, Khirki village, Khoj, etc. The stories are about a migrant barber, KT who discovers various aspects of politics in property and planning during his effort to improve the street fronting his shop.
The stories were accompanied by a series of seven collages that were put together using various kinds of material from the Khoj Archive. The attempt here was to smudge the material, overlap them with others, find relationships and playfully reconstruct the ‘Stories of Here’. The collages were about description of the village conditions, people and changing landscapes in various works in the archive; discussions on inadequate infrastructure that is prominent in the village; politics of occupying space in an urban village; conceiving the master plan and the standardizations involved; appropriation of plans and planning process; changing activities, work patterns and landscapes; and politics of mapping and representation in works of art on Khirki.
The project was developed with twin agenda – firstly, towards formulating a critique of the hyper-mapping context and secondly, towards opening up ways to engage with the hyper-mapping context.