No maps for us

Light flares out from the lens as the camera points upward through the tree branches — it’s an image only a camera could create.

On a number of occasions during my HIAP residency I visited The Maritime Museum of Finland at the Maritime Centre Vellamo, Kotka. Its collection of objects, photographs and archival material forms a cultural history with navigation being central to the story of people, industry, war and dis- covery.

During one visit I became intrigued with a display of a model ship placed in the centre of a square grey plexiglass panel. Attached to the ship were string lines that extended to the four corners of the base. In navigation, this is referred to as lines of position — a line between the observer and an object in real life. It immediately drew my attention because unlike so many of the maritime objects in the museum—mostly elaborate scaled replicas of ships and seafaring vessels—this display used a different visual language. It was a visual representation of a navigation technique as op- posed to a replica or model. I quickly took a photo without giving it too much thought and moved on, but it soon became my lasting impression of my visit.

1. museum navigation 1.jpg

The history of navigation and its specialised knowledge have been implicit in the research and work I’ve produced over the last few months in the studio at HIAP. Aside from the history as presented by The Maritime Museum of Finland, I became interested in how navigation was evidenced in the vernacular, the patterns of use and routes taken that I see and use everyday in and around Helsinki: paths trodden by tourists visiting the island; passages negotiated by the Suomenlinna Ferry; navigation of the Helsinki archipelago by the large passenger liners on their way to Tallinn or Stockholm.

Navigation is prosaic. In many instances It is simply a tool to get us from one point to another — between home and a destination. It moves from being an instruction to something that is learnt and habitual. As we refine and adopt our preferred routes, navigation loses its authority — it is a master of its own obsolescence and the temptation is to explore, to lose ourselves.

These ideas have crossed my mind recently as I negotiated unfamiliar spaces in and around Helsinki, largely with the help of GPS. However, it is one of Joe Frank’s absurd radio monologues Ascent to K2 in which he describes the preparation for a fictional ascent of one of the world’s highest mountains that resounds best and resonates with the nature of being:

“… the last thing you want in life is a map, because you see only what someone has seen before you. People are forced to use all kinds of maps to make their way in life, we’re all hemmed in by maps, too often our lives are mapped out for us, codes, rules, regulations, precedents, pre-conceived notions of right and wrong pile up until by the time you’re an adult you’re just drowning in the formulas of other people’s lives. So, no maps for us…"

Over the last three months my studio practice has investigated these relationships melding ideas of navigation with thoughts of local orientation, global migration and personal experiences. How we not only navigate ourselves but move with us objects, ideas, memories and beliefs.

In the studio, paper stencils were used to mask out the areas of an image that represent light, and which, during the process of painting were covered with the over-spray paint. The used stencils were then re-formatted into an intuitive map-like designs, pinned together and sprayed over again, to create secondary works directly on the wall, binding the image to the architecture. I think of these positively as residual pieces, intuitive topographical maps reminiscent of Helsinki’s archipelago.

I like this inversion of perspective, from an image that looks upward toward the sky through the trees to one looking down on the landscape, inverting the original image. The work is at once a wall painting, a plan view, contour map and a guide, somewhere familiar but not quite, fictional yet reminiscent.

The used paper stencils were used in other ways as well. Rearranged and pinned to the wall, photographed individually to form a digital archive of autonomous shapes and layed out in a plan cabinet drawer as if being preserved for some future use.

The HIAP residency has been integral to the process of another project that involves multiple stu- dios and time periods. Before leaving Melbourne for Helsinki I extracted a part of my studio wall (consisting of paint, plaster and cement) and cast the material into a cement disk form measuring 15 cm diameter by 1.5 cm deep and packed it in with my luggage. In the HIAP studio I removed a section of wall measuring the same size and inserted the cement disk, covering it with plaster and paint to match the existing studio wall. The project will conclude when I return to my Melbourne studio and insert the section of wall from the HIAP studio into the space left vacant.

This project is one of exchange and care. It resonates with notions of loss and gain, of things hidden and known. When we move away from home we take with us our possessions, memories and beliefs, leaving behind spaces to be filled. This project examines the significance of these exchanges and how we navigate the world we live in.

Text by Mark Hislop. All photos courtesy of the artist. 

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