Random Cartographies Experiment #1

Working title: Manufacturing Geographies: fold, flatten, stitch, slacken, stack ... over again

In beginning to advance these experiments, I realised that I had retained one preconception, not left it at the door of the classroom/course: I was still working on the premise that, as a Photomedia major, I should conduct experiments through the photographic medium. Paul's discussion of the expectations of the experiments in class on Thursday challenged this preconception. While some of my experiments will use photographic image-making, some do not. Responding to the Alexandria site means giving myself over to the possibilities of different media to follow the potential chain of each experiment.

This first experiment begins the process of responding to the idea, context and materiality of 'Alexandria' using the spatial concepts of folding, multiplicity and process (i.e. that all space is a product of the folding of multiple relations in an ongoing process). My intention is to respond to the materiality and context of the site in developing the experiments.

Alexandria is both a classical city of scholarship and learning (a city of the book, of papyrus) and an inner-city industrial suburb of Sydney undergoing a process of de-industrialisation and gentrification. This process is borne by the Dunlop-Slazenger Factory at Bowden Street, Alexandria, and the adjacent make-shift car park and dump site for waste and discarded products. In my field visits I have found a range of artefacts I can put to use in experimental processes exploring 'Alexandria-as-folded-space'. One compelling artefact is a discarded photocopier ...

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The photocopier: an image-making device; a machine that makes multiple copies - that is, it produces folded objects (multiples); technology that uses paper to reproduce knowledge, information and ideas.

The photocopier is a 'folding device'.

I began to use the photocopier, in situ, to experiment with folding space by creating (and, by association, teaching myself how to make) origami buildings out of A4 photocopy paper, and then flattening them within the photocopier. (Note that the idea of 'flattening space' is closely related to the idea of 'folding space' - in the discipline of geography, 'flat ontologies' constitute a debate within 'relational geographies' that examines the way multi-scalar, relational and folded spaces are flattened and refashioned over time by 'metamorphic' processes.) The origami buildings represent, in a sense, the construction of the local built environment. More generally, the paper buildings are used to represent the folding of space, albeit in a straightforward symbolic manner: space is folded to create the geography and architecture of the building.

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But flattening them in the photocopier extends the symbolic return - it speaks to the flattening of space; the promise and failures of devices/processes that manufacture space (such as the photocopier); and the process of image creation as another form of folding and multiplying spaces in a virtual rather than physical sense. (Note: the reflection on the photocopier glass is also a form of multiplying space through image making!)

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In flattening folded space in the photocopier, folded space has been flattened, transformed, metamorphosed through pressure. While this exploration is, of course, an independent experiment, it has nonetheless been informed by work in contemporary art that uses the construction and destruction of model buildings to scrutinise the multiplicity, mobility and ephemerality of place-making. Two artists are particularly notable. Peter Garfield's Mobile Home/Harsh Realty (2000) comprises the construction of small-scale models of suburban bungalows, which were flung into the air and photographed as they fell to the ground in various states of destruction. Garfield's work comments on the fragility of place-making and the mutability of space (including architecture). Do-Ho Suh's ongoing series Fallen Star (2006-2012) concerns the metamorphosis of place, buildings and architecture in a context of social, cultural and economic change. The works involve model houses and buildings crashing into each other and, in the process, being transformed into new permutations of everyday space. Metamorphasis here is about cycles of destruction and rebirth of spatial formations over time and across space.

Noting the cyclical, transformative and 'recycled' nature of space and place in the work of Garfield and Suh, I consequently sought to take my experiment about the complexity of folding space further: I decided to take the flattened folded structures and photocopy them again in a working photocopier. This then becomes a process of reproducing - of multiplying - flattened folded space. It completes the idea of flattening the folds, as well as extending the role of image production in the construction of physical space. I took the flattened paper buildings to Office Works and produced a pile of photocopies (c. 25) using various dark/light settings to capture the flattened folds of the paper, and in various arrangements. I photocopied both the roof and 'underside' of the structures, converting 3D folded space to 2D flattened space.

(Note: I will bring all the photocopies to class.)

But I wanted to take this experiment further still. Space is not just folded and flattened. That is not the end of it. Space can be folded again. It is also stitched, unstitched and restitched (captured in the metaphor of 'urban fabric'). Space is held together and falls apart in various (metaphorical and material) processes from folds to fabrics. And space, like time, is also cyclical.

To capture these spatial processes I decided it would be interesting to return to the very processes of the Random Generator for Random Cartographies that located Alexandria in the first place: that is, the process of scrunching, of randomly folding and crushing, paper. This is precisely what I decided to do with the photocopies - I paired roof and underside copies, and crushed and flattened them. Then, in the same process as the Random Generator, I drove map pins through the flattened balls of paper to see what arbitrary relational geographies eventuated; in this case, arguably relations between buildings (and the of the 'gaps' within and between buildings) in a suburb rather than, as with the Generator, suburbs in a city. I unfolded the two pieces of paper (top/underside) and placed them side by side on a board, and then used map pins to locate the pinpoints where and through which space was again folded upon itself. In returning to the generator process and using it again in Experiment #1, I intend to speak to the process of making and remaking space as cyclical and recursive.

But this time I also wanted to go further as well. Paul had suggested using a twine/thread to connect the map pins in the generator experiments. I decided to deploy this device in Experiment #1, as a way to explore the notion of stitching or weaving space - and particularly to explore the way processes of folding, flattening and stitching space are co-existent operations. I connected the thread through the map pins across both 'sides' (top and bottom) of the folded-flattened-refolded space in order to signify (1) the interplay of 3D and 2D conceptions of space, and (2) the co-existence of different place-making processes. I then loosened the thread from one pin, letting it slacken and hang, to signify the uncertainty and uncontrollability of the very place-making processes.

I sought, thus, to respond to the context and materiality of the Alexandria site - of the decaying buildings, of the changing land uses, of the dumping sites, of the recycled toponymy - by conducting an experiment that explored the production of space as folded, flattened, stitched and slackened in a recursive process. These are images of the outcome of the experiment (which I will bring to class):

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I feel that this experiment is ongoing. Like the production of space, it is processual and unfinished. There are steps and stages, but these are not hierarchical or necessarily linear. Rather, each is another opportunity to extend the experiment and to explore how practice-based research in art can provide insights into the qualities and processes of the spatial. Thus, the above 'outcome' is not a final product per se. It is simply where I have reached with this line of experimentation at this point in time (and space!). Here is a collection of images from the process up till the point of presentation in class:

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After the presentation on Friday 23 January, I received some excellent feedback from Paul and the class. While some of this will feed into the other two experiments, I wanted to use some of the idea to take this first experiment a little further before moving on (recognising the first experiment is an exploration, a process and unfinished). These ideas included:

  • Photocopying the origami buildings before flattening in order to consider the interior and exterior architecture of the structures. (I have begun this for Experiment #3.)
  • Stacking the origami buildings in different ways - a means to rebuild the architecture and consider the folding of space in different ways. Stacking relates to the process of stacking paper in the photocopier and stacking books in the library. (I will take this up in expanding Experiment #1, but, more explicitly, in developing Experiment #3.)
  • The photocopier is also a folded devices (arms, lid, drawers, etc).
  • Use photographs from reconnaissance - bring them into the experimentation. (I will do this in Experiment #3.)
  • Stacking other items from the site. (Will be part of Experiment #2.)
  • The discarded photocopier also speaks to obsolescence of objects and technologies. True - refashioning place involves processes of divestment as well as recycling.

To take Experiment #1 a little further before turning to the other two experiments, I wanted to bring in the process of stacking as well. I collected the origami buildings I had flattened during the experiment, and stacked them using a skewer (they wouldn't stand up otherwise), which I think speaks to ideas of layering space and time, and rebuilding place, as well. By themselves, however, I'm not sure how much symbolism they convey. The experiment is a process - and a narrative - and the flattened buildings may not convey complex ideas about folding, flattening and rebuilding alone. I therefore decided to bring together the different products of this experiment: the photocopies of the flattened buildings, the origami buildings themselves and the locative map (the random generator). Assembling the pieces together creates a dialogue that, I believe, speaks of the recursive processes of place-making through folding, flattening, rebuilding, stitching and unravelling - of places at different scales, from the suburb to the building, from neighbourhood to architecture. To continue to think about this as process, I both stacked the origami buildings and scattered them (as if they may have collapsed again). Different stages of the assemblage are shown below:

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So the stages involved in this experiment are one set of ways in which I was thinking through the recursive construction of Alexendria - and the deindustrialising site - as a spatial process of metamorphosis, multiplicity and transformation. Space is relational - a product of relations between entities - and as these entities and relations change, so does space. In the context of a specific site, this is place-making. Place is folded, flattened, stacked, stitched, unravelled, endlessly. My experiment is a response to my engagement with the folds of Alexandria.