And Glass goes on to illuminate what makes these maps different, concluding that they ‘take a form [read: the map] that’s not intended for feeling or mystery and make it breathe with human life’ (2013, p.11). The apparent impracticality and the quality of ’human life’ could not be more obvious, at times painfully obvious, in the discrete maps that compose The Millbank Atlas. Each one bears the traces of what might be called its student-mappers’ fingerprints as they critically engage with cartographic conventions to conjure up an aspect of Millbank. Elsewhere, in an upcoming paper for Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education (2019, forthcoming), we discuss the maps’ subjective and experimental qualities and why this means that few are sufficiently robust or rigorous to stand on their own. Here, however, we want to suggest their practical significance instead accretes to them together, as a collection--as a community-based Atlas. This comes into view when we shift from prioritising the critical skills acquired by our students through producing their respective maps and consider instead the consequences of the project overall as a critical mass of cartographic experiments with broader reach.
From an institutional perspective, the project’s value is hitched to its status as a research outcome of Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Arts that models a practical approach to embedding research in the curriculum and in doing so, cross the boundaries that mark progression from graduate to postgraduate teaching and learning. This may help to explain why the Atlas is also one of few outcomes to be recently funded, published and distributed by Research at the College. But its authority as an academic output is only part of the project’s purchase. As Wood (2017) observes in his email to us:
I never thought to do anything with these [maps], much less involve the community in any way until with Robin Moore we decided to make the atlas that became Everything Sings (published in 2010) . . . I was excited to see how from the beginning you were into community involvement and into presenting and making a record of your work. Adding Wilfred Rimensberger’s perspective made a real contribution.
This points to co-investigation as core to the Atlas as a complex portrait of place. The project, exhibition and publication built a heterogeneous community comprised of established practice-based researchers, student researchers, lay participants and other members of the general public. What emerged was a micro-culture for hosting dialogue and pooling energy, time, skills and knowledge to address the threats and opportunities the stakeholders share. Key here is the project’s legacy. It mobilised counter mapping for the local communities of Millbank that coalesced in the Atlas as a community resource. This publication is being variously leveraged in funding applications for local projects as well as policy debates on local development. All this is to say that as practice-led research in the service of artivism/activism, the Atlas exemplifies the potential of curricular projects to not only meet the needs of their students and institution but also those of others beyond academia--when, that is, all are prioritised in the projects’ becoming.
How can ideas and/or practices of catalysis be considered with particular research processes, in relation to larger contexts and realms of art, politics and society?
In his opening keynote for the AoR 2017, the eminent anthropologist Tim Ingold drew a striking conclusion: [Whereas] mainstream science continues to think of art as a medium for the communication of its own findings,’ observed Ingold ‘[it is] now art, rather than science, that is leading the way in promoting radical ecological awareness’. In Ingold’s view, science has lost its radical ecological awareness in its search for the ‘new’, consequent to playing to the neoliberal data/knowledge economy where ‘truth is not a concern’. Science and more specifically scientists have drifted 'ever further away from their objects of study into a world of their own making' (Ingold, 2017). Importantly, Wood makes a similar argument in his quest to unhook mapmaking from the discipline of cartography. Tapping into some of the same epistemic anxieties that have crippled practice-based research in art and design he asserts the professionalisation of cartography tracked with its drive to be perceived as a body of knowledge, ‘one that progressed from the solution of one problem to that of another (as cartographers imagined other sciences)’ (Wood, 2010, p.121). And like Ingold, Wood argues for a different understanding of his field, one that is much more experimental. A similar sense of science, one driven not by disciplinary or corporate interests but instead by wonder and direct encounter is precisely what Ingold advocates for going forward. Crucially, this entails looking to its past, by approaching science in the way set out in a famous lecture by the nineteenth-century chemist, Friedrich August Kekulé. Here science is likened to pathfinding: walking delicately through the wood, paying attention, notting every twig, every fallen leaf. A pathfinder, according to Ingold and following Kekulé, 'corresponds with things in their formation' rather than being informed by what is already precipitated out; a pathfinder doesn't just collect but accepts what the world has to offer' (Ingold, 2017).
It is hard to overstate the resonance of this approach for us as facilitators of The Millbank Atlas. As should by now be clear, there are significant overlaps with the methods and ambitions of this project as practice-based art and design research and what both Ingold and Wood are calling for in their respective fields. Most immediately the Atlas shares with them a commitment to first-hand engagement that is as immersive as it is emergent. The project takes Millbank as it is, not as something frozen in a research report as a context for fieldwork. We called our brief for the project ‘Drawing Out’ to encourage students not only to literally draw their own maps (hand drawing was encouraged) but also figuratively ‘draw out’ facts and figures alongside hidden stories and histories of the neighbourhood. They were engaged in what Wood describes as ‘mapping deeply’ - mapping ‘the play of things and events that produce, that result in, that constitute the … neighbourhood’ (Wood, 2015, p.312). By paying attention, attending to things, the students were engaged in the type of research that according to Ingold and Wood has the power and potential for catalysis in the larger contexts and realms of art, politics and society.
How can artistic and practice-led research intervene in the realms outside the art world or academia?
We will address this final question by looping back to the programme of public events that activated the exhibition of the Atlas. It is easy to assume that intervening in the realms outside of the art world and academia involves doing so literally, by placing our bodies, minds and practice beyond these spheres. Yet as a two-way interface, the Atlas modelled something else. We have already discussed the curricular rationale that compelled our students to explore the College’s neighbourhood. And we hinted at the outreach of the curated conversation conversation. It engaged Millbankers by inviting them into the College, not so much as an audience to view the exhibition but part of the constituency, with our conversation keying into myriad others about their neighbourhood. For many, this public event was the first occasion they had ever crossed the threshold. Having never been invited on campus, they had no reason to attend. It seems that prioritising local community engagement has been subordinated to linking the College into an international matrix of leading institutions for art and design education. Yet the exhibition vivified how projects like the Atlas can make connections amongst diverse communities both in and beyond the sectors of education and culture. We contend that mapping initiatives have a special responsibility in this regard. Simply put, their sensibility, their capacity to negotiate proximity, relationships, adjacencies and other complex territorial dynamics makes them especially well placed to turn maps into networks. Or at least this is the invaluable lesson we learned through the community mapping session that featured in the exhibition.
Facilitated with Nicolas Fonti, a researcher based at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and a key member of the community-mapping initiative JustMap, our session brought together students, Millbankers and others from across London who are committed to mapping local value and safeguarding it for the people who generate it. JustMap uses methods that help to identify assets, dynamics, proposals and controversies. Upto this point, some of our students regarded the Atlas largely in terms of learning gain. Through mapping and remapping Millbank they acquired skills in spatial design to be redeployed in professional practice. On the one hand, our community mapping session put these to the test as they drew on the students’ hard-won knowledge to identify new sites for intervention and novel ways to design for change. On the other hand, it was through this session that we watched, before our eyes, the Atlas as a mapping project transform into an expression of solidarity as we connected with JustMap and other mapping projects. From map to network, we came to appreciate our place in a growing international community of practice-based researchers and projects that share with the Atlas a commitment to valuing place. This is not placed as an abstract location, but as the site for lived experience, with this shaped by social, cultural, economic, geographic, political, technological and other conditions. Insisting on the local impact of regional, national and international development is something that drives the Argentinian collective, Iconolasistas, to posit counter-mapping as a critical means for coordinating complex territorial viewpoints to support transformational practices for community-based change (2016). While in the short term the Atlas anchored change like this in Millbank, the project’s long-term consequences can only be imagined. Our hope is this project will encourage our students and others to set up their own local initiatives and link into the global network of counter-mapping that is mobilising practice-based research in the service of more equitable, sustainable and engaging futures for all.