Notional Geography

“What is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps.”

Gregory Bateson, in “Form, Substance and Difference,” from Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)

An atlas is a visual depiction of knowledge: a gathering of geographical information compiled and collated to bring before our eyes, in a systematic way, a whole multiplicity of spaces gathered into a single volume.

To make an atlas is to reconfigure space, to redistribute it, to redirect it: to dismantle it where we thought it was continuous; to reunite it where we thought there were boundaries. Bold red lines draw borders across a page, dividing a paper space based either on features of the corresponding actual landscape space or an arbitrary human imposition.

In December 2001, I visited the United States for the first time. We spent New Years at the Ogilby Sand Dunes just outside of Yuma in the Algodones Dunes area, which sit on the border of Arizona, California and Mexico. At midnight we welcomed in the New Year with the usual fanfare and then went to bed. Laying in the RV trying to get to sleep at 1am, the California New Year celebrations from the camp site next door started, delayed because of the different Daylight Savings timezone. On one side of the line we celebrated the New Year an hour earlier than the neighbors barely 300m away. I could see the flashes of their fireworks on the inside of my closed eyelids.

The next morning we rode quad bikes out to the US – Mexican border. At that time, it was marked with a stone obelisk in the middle of the sand dunes (similar to this). The especially consequential red line on the map was denoted by a singular point in an otherwise continuous stretch of sand. Now, a large barrier fence runs the length of the sand dunes, clearly imposing the human line on the landscape space.

I have been working with the idea of borders and edges in relation to maps and actual landscape for over a year which has resulted in a number of paper constructions. The unresolved incarnation pictured above is tentatively titled Globe. Pages from a 1970’s Readers Digest Atlas have been geometrically divided and then reconstructed using Magnus Wenninger’s polyhedron and dual models. The dismantling and reassembling process  returns a flat mapped paper landscape to its original three dimensional form, creating a new space lapse in the translation. The Bay of Biscay now borders the Gulf of Alaska to build a new body of water; a man-made sea on a man-made globe. The two areas are 8104 km apart as the crow flies, but in Globe they are neighbours. They sit side by side and fold away from each other and then back towards another notional geography.

Yolunda Hickman
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  1. #1 by Jill Sorensen on September 21, 2011 - 10:44 pm

    hi Yolunda
    thanks for making a post. your created world is quite fascinating, i am enjoying imagining the seas and lands created. this process draws my attention to the blur between how our brains processes imaginary information and what we believe to be factual. it seems that my faith is the only difference in looking at your map of a place i have never been (and believe to not exist) and a map in an atlas of a place i have never been (but believe to exist). maybe my imagination is freer because it has no responsibility to factuality with your map.
    it also reminds me that we have a lot of imagined maps, maps of places distantly remembered, places returned to in dreams and the shared fictions of books. i can imagine entire globe of fictional places from books i have read. while i know they do not exist the world, their proliferation in my memory is no less substantial than that of a real but un-visted part of the physical world.

    • #2 by achronologicalmanor on September 23, 2011 - 1:38 am

      Thanks Jill. Your response in regards to the imaginary places versus “un-visited part of the physical world” reminded me of these quotes from ‘Everything Is Illuminated‘, by Jonathan Safran Foer:

      ‘…a remembrance of a time before our planet was so small. When this map was made, I thought, you could live without knowing where you were not living.’ p. 223

      ‘It is possible that she is the last person on earth, I reasoned, who does not know about America. Or so it is nice to think so.’ p. 223

      All these places and spaces exist simultaneously to my present space, but because I am not existing in the other spaces I can’t even be sure that they are there even though I may know of their existence from a map, a travel documentary and friend’s holiday photos. And then all the other places I do not know, and will never know. The places where no human has set foot still must exist.

      And when these places are compared to imaginary realms well-traversed by readers, surely, although they are fiction, they must be more vivid to the human consciousness? For how can I think of a place I have never been, or don’t even know exists as other than a generality, when I can faithfully recall Hobbiton, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Lilliput, Vermillion, The Island of the Day Before, Stardock, Discworld, Rillanon, Macondo…

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