FORM OF EXPRESSION : TAKEN FROM THE CARTOPOLOGIST’S LIFE
TO BECOME A BETTER CARTOPOLOGIST
TO KNOW MORE ABOUT CARTOPOLOGY
Expected from you
spirit of initiative
performativity and interacton
Degree of complexity
TO EXPECT FROM THE FORM OF EXPRESSION
A testimonial of an uncertain cartopologist setting up a collaborative project. This Form of Expression is closely related to Context Nieuwstraat/Neustrasse. It is wise to first read that F.o.E.
Sunday, 7th of February 2021. One day before our arrival at the Nieuwstraat/Neustrasse.
I am a bit worried. I have met Eline several times and even though I have no doubts that living together for three weeks will not so much be an issue, I do have doubts about how the collaborative process will function. How to ‘do’ collaborative fieldwork? How to ‘do’ collaborative cartopological mapping? I have to ease my thoughts and make the best of my Sunday. I dedicate the morning to set up a framework to use during the field trips on the Nieuwstraat/Neustrasse so that I can enjoy an afternoon off. The framework I come up with combines a top view of the street on the left, called ‘Line’ with room for ‘Written notes’ and ‘Drawn Notes’. I do not enjoy such a framework to undertake my fieldwork. It shapes observation in a specific way and narrows down the endless possibilities that make fieldwork sessions, especially the first ones, so valuable. A framework risks to reduce the observations to a ‘fill-in’ process rather than having a complete open view to the field. So, normally I do not make these frameworks beforehand, but this time it is different, I will not be working alone. I hope the framework will help me to structure the unknown approach of the project, the fieldwork and the collaborative process. However, I wonder, did I really made that framework to structure the collaborative fieldwork, or because it gives me something to hold on to in an unsure collaboration where I feel intimidated by Eline’s more traditional approach? Because a framework could work as a training of the senses to prepare yourself for the fieldwork but I believe that is not the reason why I made the framework here. I made it to ease my thoughts and make the best of my Sunday hoping it will allow me to start collaborating tomorrow with enough confidence.
But wait a minute here… What is the point here exactly?
Because what kind of fieldwork is not unsure, messy and chaotic? So, why being so unsure about this collaboration? What is it that makes me doubt more?
Doing cartopological fieldwork is an intimate self-reflexive process. I operates as a participant-observer and I am intrinsically part of the field that is at hand. Rather than registering or recording, I question and reflect. I am vulnerable at start as I am ‘new’ to the field. Because I am ‘new’ and unfamiliar to it, everyday routines appear. At least that is what I experience each time setting up a new project. I have never been to the Nieuwstraat/Neustraße. I have no idea what to expect. Everything is new and I will have to anticipate the ‘behaviour’ of the street. Is it a street to walk or to go by car? Is it a street to meet and encounter or to get through to go somewhere else?
The longer I am capable to activate the ‘unfamiliar’, the more I question and the richer the observations get.
This curious, naïve and open attitude, inevitable for good participant-observation is perhaps what makes me doubt. How can I as a cartopologist and artistic researcher embrace this uncertainty and at the same time stand my ground among more traditional research? These turned out to be unnecessary worries. Because it is a superficial idea to think that only artistic researchers are insecure and worried about not knowing. Any good research, whether it is academic, artistic, cartopological or all at the same, time carries the hope to find something new.
Writing this, I bond with the anthropologists and ethnographers also starting a journey with only the starting point as a certain fact. I feel less alone. I should look into literature that confirms this affinity, also in related to artistic research. Ingold probably wrote something about it but maybe I can find other references.
Monday, 8th of February 2021. Around noon.
I arrived at the Airbnb apartment. Not much later Eline also arrived. Those first moments were clumsy. It felt as if we were in a summer camp trying to decide who is going to occupy which room and bed. So uncomfortable! I brought a lot of drawing materials, to make me feel more at ease. Eline brought an extra monitor which I found funny. I do not know what it was, but it came immediately clear that pretending and hiding behind a disguised framework would not bring solace. We both seemed to have been pulled out of our comfort zone to such an extent that simply being open to each other’s differences and uncertainty is the only option left. These first couple of hours right after arriving and before the first walk on the Nieuwstraat/Neustrasse appropriating the Airbnb were crucial to the project. We both seemed to be aware of the effect it had. It made us humble, and we were depending on each other to make the best of these three weeks. We did try to hold on to this open and curious attitude through the three weeks of the project. We protected it by not allowing a lot of distraction from other projects or project partners. We intentionally scheduled time to preserve it. Living together, so closely involved in each other’s personal life, we did not allow unspoken doubts.
Wednesday, 10th of February 2021. In the afternoon.
Back to the empty frameworks. How to proceed? After the first joint walk on the Nieuwstraat/Neustraße we both wanted to find a way to document our experiences and findings collaboratively. So, what did we do? We came up with yet another framework! It seems an odd unwise decision knowing that the previous framework stayed unused and empty but back then it was the only option to join our way of working, fieldnotes and reflections. Next to each other, divided with a black line. It was an attempt to combine different documentation techniques and styles coming from drawing and writing.
Friday 12th of February 2021. At the end of this first week.
I joined Eline’s meeting with Ben Highmore, one of her supervisors and we explained the idea of the second framework and how we wanted to proceed. He explained to us that making a framework is one way of experimenting with the collaboration, however expecting it to be fixed and invariable from the start is killing the experiment at the same time. Collaborating interdisciplinary is a wobbly process and anything that helps to get a grip on it is valuable. But Ben advised us to embrace the bumps on the road and to reconsider the framework and any other tool to make us reflect and consider the collaboration rather than smoothing it out from the beginning. And even though, as you probably can guess, we did not use the second framework, the making of the framework and the talk about it gave us the confidence needed to stay with the wobbly, chaotic, messy and unsure process. After all, at the end I should not laugh off the importance of making the frameworks. They helped me at the very start to be more comfortable. The second framework unintentionally steered Eline and myself not so much towards the Nieuwstraat/Neustrasse but towards each other’s working process.
The first week of our collaboration allowed me to change perspective and find peace in the uncertainty of collaborative research and fieldwork. Where I wanted to hide behind a framework at the beginning of the week, at the end I felt confident enough to let the doubt be explicitly part of the process.