The ArtMaps project links the Tate collection directly to Google Maps, allowing the user to explore the relationship between individual objects and location. This may take the form of exploring the works as they appear on the map on your laptop, maybe entering discussions and editing the locations yourself, or using the mobile site, finding objects that have connections to where you are at the time and linking your own location to its representation in the past. As an artist I am interested in both the sense of place and the structural use of space and find both ideas relevant to the project.
On my personal website I have characterized two strands of my work as a creator of sound installations, the first as dealing with place and the second as dealing with space. This distinction separates out two facets of location which are of course interrelated and I hope to tease out this relationship a little below in an attempt to locate the ArtMaps project itself and think about its potential to restructure the user’s relationship to the Tate collection.
For now I’d like to keep the two notions separate. The distinction I am presenting is in no way absolute and is really just a way to separate two aspects of my own work over the past twenty or so years but reflects a wider conception that space is a broadly mathematical concept, a system of relationships while place is experienced, shaped by historical and social factors. These concepts have been widely theorized by writers such as Lefebvre, Bachelard and Tuan and take in a wealth of ideas that go beyond this simple dualism but in my own work the distinction works like this:
Space in my work is structural. I am fascinated by the notion that we conceive of structural relationships per se in terms of space. In my own field this has most obviously manifested itself as the musical score in which the temporal and pitch relationships of musical notes are conceived in two dimensions. It has also been manifested in two fundamental spatial metaphors for the passing of musical time identified by Johnson and Larson (Something in the Way She Moves, 2003), one in which music is thought of as moving past a stationary listener and one in which the listener moves through a musical landscape. Our understanding of music, even at its most abstract is structured through spatial relationships.
This conception of space carries no specificity as to a particular location: its history, its use, its geographical features etc. Often in my work the spatial relationships that structure the work are indeed directly mapped onto the space of the listener as it is in my recent installation The Exploded Sound, in which the listener explores the inner structure of sound by walking through a field of loudspeakers, each carrying individual ‘partials’ of complex sounds. This allows the listener to gain an embodied experience of the inherent spatial structure through an exploration of and movement through the physical space.
I am dealing with place when my work involves a specific reaction to a site or location, when the sounds I use evoke the sounds of a place or the feeling of being there, its history or social use, its architecture or topography. These works may be site specific such as the installation Living Steam from the late 90s in which I processed and re-situated sounds from the engines of the Kew Bridge Steam Museum in the main engine room itself, creating a kind of concerto for live and recorded engine sounds or they can merely evoke a place or a reaction to place through the use of field recordings as in a recent sound poem ATC Zero. In another early installation at the Oldham Art Gallery I used a combination of Oral History archive and industrial sound to explore the conditions of industrial Oldham and the radical movements that grew up there. This work deals with place as it is experienced.
So how do these notions of space and place play out in ArtMaps project and how might ArtMaps develop in the light of these concepts?
On my computer looking at points on a map representing individual works I am struck by the abstract nature of the experience. I learn about the distribution of artworks’ subjects, I can zoom out to see different countries – how many works does the Tate own from each? – and zoom in to focus on a city or a region. I wonder what this information tells me, how does it structure my understanding of the works. Each piece somehow still seems separate, located but unconnected.
I desire to have the complexity of the works’ relationship to their locations revealed to me. Each individual object in the collection has a multi-layered relationship to place. A good example is the painting Annonciade 1961–77 by John Lessore. In Tate’s online catalogue he describes the evolution of the work:
The one I submitted was shown at the Beaux Arts [Gallery, at his one-man exhibition] in 1965 -it was no.2 in the catalogue – after which I gave it to friends who still have it. These were painted at 6a Meyrick Road, Battersea – since demolished. A small painting of an armchair and the couch from the same point of view done at that time is in the possession of another friend. The couch was bought further down Meyrick Road for 10/- in 1958 or 9. ‘I went on with the other, unsubmitted, painting when I came back to England in 1963 or 4, in my mother’s house in Camberwell, keeping the couch but putting my wife Paule where the black girl had been and my infant son in place of the lower half of the other figure and changing from the Battersea window to the Camberwell one. In this state it was shown in the same exhibition as the other one: it was called ‘Paule and Remi III’ and was no.8 in the catalogue.
‘In the Autumn of 1965 I took it to my new home in Peckham. I worked on it intermittently for several years but was never satisfied – there must have been a break in the early seventies; I forget exactly when. During all this time the couch was seen in front of the window in the back room in Camberwell, but in 1975 or 6 I moved the couch further back on the left, took out the figure of the child, introduced a desk I had inherited in about 1971 from my cousin Catherine Powell, and changed the window to that of the studio in Peckham with the view as it then was. The garage in front has since been knocked down. The houses beyond are in Bellenden Road.’
It is clear from this that the work owes its present form to a multitude of locations even at the point of creation, quite aside from other possible relationships to place such as exhibition venues, biographical details of the artist and models etc. At present the work has only one entry on ArtMaps but it is worth considering how the complexity could be represented as a network of points, which would tell us much more about a work in a single glance.
Similarly, relationships between works in the catalogue could be revealed as networks of points on the map giving an insight into the way location interacts with other factors. The Tate collection’s online catalogue gives the user quite sophisticated access to meta-data, enabling you to see related works automatically (“You may also be interested in…”) as well as allowing you to cross-reference widely. The entry for Anonciade for example gives you links to other works that refer to the Annunciation, works featuring reclining figures, works featuring windows and other works bequeathed to the Tate, as well as works situated in London, or in Peckham in particular (it is currently the only one). If ArtMaps could plot a map of all works related to the Annunciation this would be genuinely interesting (who would predict that Peckham would feature on such a map?). The possibility of structuring the collection through spatial relationships on ArtMaps in relation to other non-spatial meta-data could be genuinely valuable and allow the user to take in a network of ideas in a glance.
What about a sense of place?
Switching my map to satellite view – or even better, accessing the mobile site from my smartphone when I am out and about, the sense of place starts to assert itself. What are my feelings about the place where this work was painted? What was it like at the time? What do or would my other senses tell me about this place that will help me to understand the work. To explore these ideas further, I would hope in the future to be able to link ArtMaps to other web based projects that look at place in different ways. I like the way Google Earth lets you overlay historical maps onto the present. Could this tell me more about Turner’s London or Constable’s Suffolk? Historypin is a project which maps historical photos in a similar way to Artmaps. A simple link might allow me to link a painting to a photo to find different representations of the same place. Radio Aporee gives me instant access to sounds recorded all over the world and the British Library’s SoundMaps includes local dialects and traditional music. All of these can extend my engagement with the Tate’s works in a creative way engaging the imagination and evoking time and place.
While writing this I have been thinking about the Art of Memory as described in Frances Yates amazing eponymous book. She describes how scholars in medieval times were drawn to an ancient system of mnemonics in which items were to be remembered by associating them with mental images, which in turn were distributed in familiar or, in some cases, invented locations. These would later be navigated in the mind to retrieve the images and reconstruct the text or sequence of ideas to be memorised. Two things strike me: The first is the way this system draws on our inbuilt propensity to use spatial metaphors to structure our understanding. The second is the importance the medieval writers attach to finding images that arouse emotional affects (p. 10), and choosing places according to ‘what “moves” them most’ (p.64). This idea ties the structural use of space with the emotional impact of a sense of place. The emotional resonance of place aids the imagination in reconstructing the journey, while the physical layout of the spaces (which later developed into the elaborate ‘memory palaces’ of the Renaissance) structured the order of the memories.
My hope for the ArtMaps project is that it might similarly engage both intellect and emotion, allowing users to structure and re-structure the collection into new and interesting relationships while at the same time stimulating the imagination.