EM – Embodied Map (2016)
A tool for urban mapping and performance art practices
By Alessandro Carboni
School of Creative Media, 2016 City University of Hong Kong
Prof. Jane Prophet, Supervisor
Abstract of the dissertation
Over the past few decades the contemporary city has been considered not as a physical object, but rather as a fluid, multi-layered entity criss-crossed by territorial, political, and social processes. I refer to Michael Batty (2013), Mathieu Hélie (2009), Bernard Tschumi (2007) – scholars of urban studies – and John Urry (2005) from sociology to consider the city as a complex and emergent system generated through dynamic relationships. As Tschumi suggests, urban spaces are continuously rebuilt whenever events interact. Scholars of critical cartography have noted that alternative modalities, new tools, and methods proposed by performers-as-radical-mapmakers to map the contemporary city have increasingly been used as tactics to explore, de-scale, and re-appropriate urban space against the dominant geographical knowledge (Wood, 2003; Crampton, 2005; Krygier, 2006; Dodge & Kitchin, 2009). In particular, performance art and the use of body as a medium have offered a new and fresh perspective on urban mapping. Such practices have explored the city as unquantifiable, immaterial, and as an embodied experience (Perkins, 2009). However, when such practices are translated into maps, the physical presence of the body is reduced to a disembodied visual display. I claim that this modality is still related to traditional cartographic understanding, specifically to visual and info-graphic culture.
No one, to date, has used the body as a cartographic tool to embody and represent spatial data collected in urban space. I argue that, to fully capture and represent the complexity of the urban space in the construction of the map, we need to reclaim the physical presence of the body, de-mediated as far as possible. The body has the capacity, in particular as used in performance art, to provide tools and methodologies that transform the embodied experience of urban space into maps. In site-specific works the performer is able to create a relation, a mutual exchange, between space and body. Furthermore, these exchanges can be reconfigured into a choreographic gesture creation process leading to the construction of a performance.
To remedy this gap, I adapt methods from cartography for use by performance artists and develop a toolkit for performers-mapmakers, so that they can systematically map and represent the city with their body. This thesis describes my investigation of the following questions: how can we use body practices (performance art and dance) to map the city? Can we adapt methods from cartography for use by performance artists? Which are the most suitable media for such mapping practices in, and representations of, the contemporary city? Can a body be a map? Can we develop a toolkit for performers, in response to the above questions, so that they can systematically map the city with their body? How can such corporeal maps best be represented?
I answer those questions by designing and testing the novel EM Toolkit for urban mapping for performers-mapmakers. The iterative design and testing emerged through case studies in Aarhus, Hong Kong, and Malmö/Copenhagen. It uses four principles: 1. observe; 2. capture (urban space mapping through corporal actions); 3. extract (selective re-enactmentof the actions in the studio); 4. transmit-corporeal map (choreographic score). My pre-existing skills, gained as a creative practitioner, were combined with tried and tested methods from social sciences and humanities to form a hybrid and interdisciplinary methodology. Specifically, Action Research theories and methodologies (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000) and adaptive and non-linear process action research cycles (Phelps & Hase, 2002) were used to design the activities in the case studies.
This toolkit contributes to performance art practice and performance studies. Specifically, it introduces novel thinking and techniques of use to scholars and practitioners working in the fields of urban studies, critical cartography, site-specific dance, and experimental urban mapping research. My EM Toolkit brings together my key findings in the form of a toolkit that future scholars and practitioners can use. Individuals involved in my case studies reported a deeper autobiographical understanding of place. The research findings have been successfully disseminated and discussed through conferences, workshop, and festivals and via an ongoing online blog.
Case Study#1 Aarhus – November 2014
Location: Kunsthal; Participatory IT/Department of Aesthetic of Communication, University of Aarhus; Media Architecture Biennale, Aarhus.
Case Study#2 Hong Kong – April 2015
Location: School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong; Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong – the case study was hosted by FUSE: Artist-in-Residence Program @ Videotage.
Case Study#3 Copenhagen/Malmö – June 2015
Location: Adaptive Environment Research Group/Intermedia Lab, ITU/University of Copenhagen
On going projects: