Ctrl-N/ journal: repository of texts, research and documents on cities, mapping, networks, psychogeography and the experience of places; Written and maintained by Olivier Ruellet.


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Archive for the 'summaries' Category

La Table de Peutinger · April 1st, 2009

La table de Peutinger, nommée d’après l’humaniste Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547) qui reçu la carte en héritage et la préserva, est la copie d’une carte romaine aujourd’hui disparue, représentant les routes et villes principales de l’empire romain ; elle peut être considérée comme l’ancêtre des cartes routières contemporaines.

Le format horizontal très allongé (6,82 m sur 0,34 m) ne permet pas une représentation réaliste des échelles de distance et de la topographie. La carte doit plutôt être vue comme une représentation schématique d’un réseau de routes, à l’image des plans de métros, permettant de se rendre facilement d’un point à un autre, de se renseigner sur les distances entre étapes. De fait, elle est considérée comme la première représentation cartographique d’un réseau. Elle figure des points remarquables (carrefours, thermes) ainsi quéune représentation simplifiée du relief. Les distances sont inscrites en chiffres romains le long des tracés routiers.

Détail de la carte représentant la région Provence - Bouches-du-Rhône.

Détail de la carte représentant la région Provence - Bouches-du-Rhône.

Copie intégrale consultable en haute-résolution : B I B L I O T H E C A A U G U S T A N A – Tabula Peutingeriana

Finisterre – A film about London · December 26th, 2008

Finisterre DVD coverFinisterre is a collaborative film project, part-documentary / part-music promo, between film-makers Paul Kelly, Kieran Evans and the electro-pop band Saint-Etienne, produced by CC-Lab and supported by Onedotzero.

I watched this film for the first time shortly after it came out in 2003, and remained fascinated by it ever since; after watching it again recently I was inhabited by the same irresistible feelings of nostalgia and tenderness. Beyond the innovative format of the film, which seeks to explore the possibilities of a 60-minute music-promo at the scale of an entire album, the combination of Saint-Etienne’s melancholic or energetic tunes and Kelly/Evans thoughtful shots successfully captures the alternating moods that London has to offer to the unsuspecting visitor.

The film starts and finishes with a train journey in and out of the city, dusk to dawn, unknown to familiar, and transports the spectator on a journey of discoveries and insights into the ‘London Nobody Knows’, through a succession of interviews of local artists and residents connected to the story of Saint Etienne, blended with powerful musical passages accompanied by imagery ranging from architectural patterns to urban scenes and walking crowds, always meticulously shot as stills documenting the city area by area, punctuated by an overwhelming voice-over narrative that features the observations and reminiscences of Lawrence. Finisterre sheds some light on London as a source of influence, inspiration and curiosity for many, offering a trip through the city that is largely reminiscent of a line of psycho-geographic films such as ‘London’, ‘Robinson In Space’ (Patrick Keiller), and ‘Orbital’ (Chris Petit).

The result is a touching tribute to London, marvelously conveying the essence of the place while forming a visual record and musical impression of the city today.

Finisterre film still

Windows of the mind · November 4th, 2008

Minimalist room. Photograph: Simon Upton/The Interior Archive

An article published in the Guardian Weekend last Saturday (18.10.08) looked at the peculiar and often overlooked psychology at work inside our homes:

After having relished open-plan living for years, the author admitted freaking out because of the absence of doors in the loft she just moved into – a reaction that seemed natural when put to an anthropologist’s vision of primitive human needs of seclusion and sociability, which doors (and walls!) are central to fulfilling.

Because housing design is taken for granted, Peter Carolin, a former professor of architecture, argues that “we’ve subsequently lost our sensitivity and awareness of psychological issues. This is because our houses and flats have become more commodities than homes – ‘buy to let’ has furthered this trend. We’ve lost the ability to be shelter makers.” We’ve lost sight of the basic functions of a house, which is to provide safety, shelter and privacy. Fire, used for warmth and cooking, is also a strong symbol of sociability.

Johnny Grey is at the forefront of new research into the relation between human psychological needs and how they’re met in housing. “Anything that’s in peripheral vision demands more brain action. Sharp edges or corners might cause anxiety, however subliminal, because we think of them as things to avoid.” Likewise, he discovered that things that are happening behind us increase adrenaline levels; “That’s why tables in restaurants where you can sit with your back to the wall fill up first”.

In his book A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander argues that low window sills (30 to 50 cm, so that you could sit at the window) aren’t a luxury but a necessity, because they allow us to look out and still see the ground. A room deprived from window space seldom allows you to feel fully comfortable or at ease, keeping you in perpetual unresolved conflict and tension. In contrast, long views out of the window means that we know where we are and therefore feel more comfortable.

Windows of the mind [article from The Guardian]

The invention of landscape · November 1st, 2008

The concept of landscape is inextricably linked to the idea of spectator, of first person; the landscape is created by whoever observes it. According to Gerard Manley Hopkins in Inscape, the very idea of landscape implies the active engagement of a human subject; It denotes the external world mediated through subjective human experience. It is not merely the world we see – it is a construction, a composition of that world. The lansdcape has first been a cultural concept that emerged during the feudal – capitalist transition between the 14th and 19th centuries, as a dimension of the European elite, to which are attached moral and social significations, and an indication of taste. All these cultural concerns had disappeared by the end of the 19th century.1

The landscape as an artistic and literary representation, implying a certain sensibility, a way of experiencing, appeared after the invention of single point perspective in northern Italy and its spread across Flanders then Western-Europe. Landscape painting emerged there as a recognised genre, alongside modern theatre as a formal art wherein human actions are presented in direct relation with a designed and controlled environment.

1 Denis Cosgrove (1984) Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. Croom Helm. p.213

Mapping the imagination – V&A museum exhibition to 27 April 2008 · April 9th, 2008

We all use maps in our daily lives, as sources of information about places, routes, networks or boundaries. Fundamentally, they are simplified schematic diagrams that employ a universal visual language through which we codify and comprehend our world. They offer us means of describing and understanding the untangible too – This exhibition looks at ways artists have used the language and the iconography of maps to express their ideas and experiences of place.
Although mapping is a method for gathering, ordering and exploiting information, the show reminds us that all maps are to some extend the product of the imagination: no map is truly the objective description of a place that it purports to represent. Every map is shaped, coloured, framed by political and social conditions and by personal experience or imaginative projections of its maker.

Journeys made visible

Through his ‘GPS drawing’ practice, Jeremy Wood has over time amassed a considerable amount of data about his personal displacements. His work All London Tracks features all his journeys, by car, foot or air, in and over London. The tiny dark threads that represent these journeys go round buildings or through parks, along roads, to give shape to his practice of the city. The practice of walking as an image-making process is also found in Richard Long’s work A six hour run from Exmoor to Dartmoor (1975) where the artist’s footprints has marked the landscape of a continuous line.
Langland & Bell’s Air Routes of the World (2001) offers an alternative view of the world map, where land masses are omitted and instead air travel defines the important locations.
London’s Kerning (N:B Studio, 2006) is a map of the capital stripped of every line, fill and symbol, leaving only the text to represent the layout and crossings of streets (In the art of typography, kerning refers to the adjustment of space between pairs of letters).

Colours and lines

The show featured a collection of pocket tube maps commissioned by Platform for Art, playfully subverting the map itself which has become over time an icon for London.
John Dilnot’s Map draw together colours from paint charts, which often bear evocative names: Here, those colour names are arranged on a map of Britain around the places after which they are named.

Revisiting the history of map-making, exploring the mind

George Andre’s Draughtsman’s Handbook (1874) is a large volume with a very utilitarian purpose: it was aimed at encouraging best-practice in map drawing. Stephen Walter Similands humorously imitates the iconography of 16-17th century maps in his condensed sketches of the geography of Britain.

During her time as an artist-in-residence in the neuro-radiology department at the Royal London Hospital, Susan Aldworth has questioned the possibility of our inner geography, culminating in her work Birth of a thought (2007).
Michael Drucks’s Druckland Physical and Social (1974) is a self-portrait exploring personal and political identity using the idiom of mapping.

Richard Dadd, Sketch to Illustrate The Passions: Patriotism, 1857

Richard Dadd, 'Sketch to Illustrate The Passions: Patriotism', 1857

Mapping the Imagination – Victoria and Albert Museum

IBIS la bicyclette interactive · November 18th, 2006

IBIS la bicyclette interactiveRob White’s “IBIS la bicyclette interactive” (2001) (IBIS the interactive bicycle) is an interactive installation inspired by a piece of text written by the author’s grandfather in 1909, in which he related his journey from England to Spain, through France and the Pyrenees. IBIS enables the spectator to explore that text interactively, thanks to an antique bike fitted with sensors, which gives the possibility to navigate through the time and space of the book at the desired speed.

Théorie de la Dérive (Guy Debord) · November 18th, 2006

In his text The Theory of Dérive (1956), Guy Debord seeked to convince the reader to let emotions resonate when looking at and experiencing urban spaces; The Dérive – the French word for an aimless stroll – institutes the city as a network of narratives, of experiences and events. Space itself becomes the product of inhabiting. “To dérive is to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. It is very much a matter of using an environment for one’s own ends, seeking not only the marvellous beloved by surrealism but bringing an inverted perspective to bear on the entirety of the spectacular world.” 1

The Dérive is somewhat related to Flânerie, a word coined in the mid-eighteenth century by the French poet Charles Baudelaire to describe the typically Parisian leisurely exploration of city streets by pedestrians, detached observers of the industrial metropolis. The Dérive can also be likened to the surrealist street adventures of André Breton 2, in which night promenades in the city are raised by a succession of dreamlike impressions and romantic fantasies.

1 Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationst INternational in a Postmodern Age. London and New York : Routledge, 1992.

2 André Breton, Nadja . Paris : Gallimard, 1927.

The Image of the City (Kevin Lynch) · November 18th, 2006

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (1960)In a particularly influential study about city-planning, Kevin Lynch conducted methodical interviews of inhabitants in three major US cities, asking them first to draw a mental map of the city, and then to give detailed descriptions of their trips as well as an account of the parts they felt to be the most distinctive. The results of the survey were then analysed, and Lynch identified how some aspects of the city were the most readily represented: He came up with an interesting classification system for ordering people’s “readings” of a city, composed of five items:

  1. Paths. Paths are the channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves […] People observe the city while moving through it and along these paths the other environmental elements are arranged and related.
  2. Edges. Edges are the linear elements not used or considered as paths by the observer […] Such edges may be barriers, more or less penetrable, which close one region off from another.
  3. Districts. Districts are two-dimensional sections of the city, which the observer mentally enters “inside of” and which are recognisable as having some common, identifying character.
  4. Nodes. Nodes are points, the strategic spots in a city into which an observer enter, and which are the intensive foci to and from which he is travelling […] Nodes are related to paths, since functions of nodes are typically the convergence of paths, events on a journey.
  5. Landmarks. Landmarks are another type of point reference but in this case the observer does not enter within them, they are external. They are usually a rather simply defined physical object: building, sign, store or mountain.

(Lynch, 1960, p. 47)

Lynch’s primary concern is the Image of the Environment: “Every citizen has had long associations with some part of his city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings.”1 The subject orients him/herself according to a visualisation of their environment in map-like form, heavily tied to the legibility of the city: the ease with which parts can be recognised and organised into a coherent pattern.

1 Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1960, p.1.

The image of Jersey City through Kevin Lynch's classification

Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography (Guy Debord) · March 18th, 2006

When writing Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, Guy Debord was seeking a new way of life in the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets:

“The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places – these phenomena all seem to be neglected.” 1

Debord observed how he could extract urban areas that had been drawn through and delineated by the emotional and behavioural responses to those spaces that conformist town-planning would ignore. His psychogeographic map entitled “The Naked City(illustration) shows the fragmented experience of pedestrian wanderings, where meaning is found through walking the streets instead of motoring through them, where it is the pedestrian who creates a mental ordering of the cityscape instead of the city forcefully imposing its structure upon the individual character of these experiences.

1 Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, in Les Lèvres Nues # 6, September 1955

Guy Debord, The Naked City (1955) Illustration of the hypothesis of drifting plates in psychogeographic