Lately we seem to be surrounded by them. It might be all the travelling we've been doing … for the past few years we've been to several new places (mostly cities) and have relied on maps to help us out for short trips and - now - on a more long term basis. After about six months in Berlin, we are still reliant on various maps (mostly google maps, we have to admit).
However, we suspect that this mobility doesn't completely explain why we feel the need to make some new maps of our own. And, why we seem to know a lot of people lately who are in love with the idea of mapping - artists, and others, who are taking-on the aesthetic and conceptual challenges of creating interesting and useful guides to the spaces we share. Just this month, we attended an Enable Berlin session that was full of various groups and people who were all actively conducting mapping projects. As well, we've come across a project by Your Neighbours called City Crawlers Berlin which aims to be a comprehensive and collaborative collection of maps based on open data sources.
We've started a few mapping projects of our own lately and have more to come on the horizon. In this post, we share a bit of our working process and discuss some larger issues that may have to do with the mapping trend we seem to be experiencing.
Since arriving in Berlin, we've been getting around, and practically relying on, the BVG's system and especially the U-Bahn. There are photo booths scattered throughout the system, mostly located at the main transfer systems and for the past several months we've made a point to stop and take a picture at these booths. For only 2 Euros you get a perfect picture - well, at least they can seem perfect, depending on how much you like spontaneous and sloppy, yet charming, photography technique. As a collection, they make a really good record of our various adventures around town. These photos make us wonder about their connection to the actual space of the city and more specifically the layout of the U-Bahn system in which they were taken. As we view them together we inevitably draw connections between photos and unintended narratives begin to form. We're interested in re-plotting the collection on a new map, a kind of parallel BVG system, to take these surprising connections into account. The result, tentatively called 'Waydowntown', will be a growing and imaginary city infrastructure, one based on experiential association. Some images:
We're also hard at work at building the code for a sonic mapping project which at this point has the title 'SoniCity'. This project, which should be ready for beta testing in December, is our attempt to take GPS data of daily travel and turn it into sound. Eventually, we'd like to do this live and make it possible for the listener to play with the variables we use on the data sets. In this way, people will be able to 'play' the city. As we work on this, it become more and more striking at how much in common sound and movement have. At the most basic level, sound is motion, so it probably shouldn't be much of a surprise when it becomes really satisfying to link velocity of travel to rhythm and tempo, or to think about how changes in elevation can relate to changes in pitch. As a mapping device, sound is a fascinating tool. It allows us to map mobility, as we've just described, and it allows for the map to exist in time. As well, because of the innate expressive capacity of sound, we can allow the listener to feel something of other's experience of moving about the city. We've uploaded a quick proof-of-concept here:
On a more speculative note, we've been wondering about why there is currently such an interest in mapping. The first word that comes to mind is integration. There seems to be so much digital information bouncing around these days and maps happen to be a profoundly powerful tool for integrating all types of data. They are a lateral approach to making connections, they are intuitive, they are expressive, and they are highly flexible in terms of the type of information they can contain. And of course, they help us to orientate ourselves in the midst of brand new territory. All of these processes can occur at various scales and for various purposes. Besides their functional uses, maps symbolize discovery and orientation in a digital age.
Perhaps there is also a desire to relocate ourselves in actual, real, three dimensional space, after long hours on computers and so much time being socially networked. This, combined with the drive towards sustainability and DIY culture, spotlight our localities. Despite all the hype to the contrary, physical connection to place is an extremely powerful force. Taking time to explore, map, and share information about the places we live is a way to bring the digital and real together.
The next step for us, as we complete our current map projects and embark on new ones, is to attack the problem of bias and opinion in the representation of data. As always, we're extremely interested in unpacking power relations, and allowing our projects to adequately reveal their inherent power dynamics.