(re)tracing: Explorations in Counter-Cartography
I was very fortunate to participate in artsUNITE’s virtual residency: Unmute, which was held throughout March 2021. For this residency I decided to work with maps and memory (see Unmute Showcase video below).
I came to Canada 6 years ago and am not able to go back home in the foreseeable future. With my upbringing in post-war Iran, and also being an immigrant to Canada, I have been taught to embrace nostalgia and melancholia. I have flirted with feelings of regret all my life. This residency for me was a start of what seems to be a long research project. An attempt to map memories and places that I am not able to walk on anymore or even if I can, trying to map its relevance with the passage of time. I continue on my journey of making useless art in an attempt to find meaning in some aspects of it. Maps are always made and used for a reason. Reasons like situating someone, navigating in a space, etc. The user of the maps, activates the maps by passing through/over the places that those maps show. But what is a map good for if you can’t use it? What does a map do if it is not accurate at all, and it is incomplete? What do a series of incomplete and inaccurate maps do when they are overlaid on top of one another? I have been trying to pose these questions in my research and find some answers for them, and it has been very tough and at points unfair, to find an answer to these questions.
I wrote a few letters throughout the Unmute residency to an unknown friend that I am going to read a couple of them now. Maybe these letters contain parts of the answer I have been looking to find.
Letter #1: Regarding Time
Time washes everything away. Life goes on and on, with no end in sight, and here I am. Sitting in my chair and writing this letter to you.
Does time wash everything away? Do we let it do that? What parts of our memory we choose to forget and what parts do we choose to remember? Is that process of forgetting and holding on to memories even a choice?
I write this as I hear the sound of what seems to be like ten violins in my ears and with a smell of what seems to be fresh cut grass in a giant football field. I have a feeling same as the feeling I have every time I’m in an airport. A calm and sad feeling mixed with nausea and hunger at the same time. Every time I’m in an airport I get these feelings, as if there is no coming back from where I’m going. So maybe time does wash things away. It washes everything away but our melancholia. Days, months, seasons and years pass, but our melancholia stays intact.
Letter #2: Regarding Purpose
This is not my country and I don’t care about these places and these maps. Yet I’m here again, sitting in my chair day by day and drawing these maps. My goal is not to be accurate. I don’t have any goals. Better than that, if you are looking for a purpose in this letter, let me release you from your duties. These letters and these maps are as useless as it gets.
Letter #3: Regarding Borders
What does it mean to not be able to pass through these mapped spaces anymore? Why does a map exist if you can’t use it? I try to avoid drawing borders in my maps. I sometimes even go over the paper and break the barriers and limitations of this 18*24” transparent paper and draw on my desk unconsciously. I try to be as borderless as possible in my depictions of spaces. Maybe parts of it is because whenever I’m passing through the imaginary borders of an airport, I am worried if I am going to be stopped or let through or questioned. Whether it be in Iran, Canada, or anywhere else. Borders have always been a place of fear for people like us. Here I am, a Kurdish- Iranian immigrant, sitting in my basement in Oakville at 3 AM, and writing to you this.
Next up for this project, I am working with artificial intelligence and GANs(Generative Adversarial Networks) to produce a series of AI generated maps of a collective memory. I will share more about that in the summer as I work through the challenges of working with AI and machine generated maps.