Like the term eco-poetics, eco-mapping draws its discursive power from the oikos, whose etymological traces are manifest in both the ecological and the economic. We use itto signify a bio- rather than an anthro-pocentric approach to the complex relationships between cartography and planetary ecosystems. We agree with Donna Haraway that it is the capitalocene, and not the anthropocene, that figures the threat of mass extinction for all biotic and abiotic life.
In our last post we briefly introduced three closely related terms: “deep-,” “thick-,” and “forensic-” mapping. Each of these concepts expresses the potential of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to produce maps with extensible, networked, and interactive strata of information. In their combinatory potential, their dynamic interrelations, and their outward, investigatory ethos, these GIS maps offer a lively and potentially useful parallel with vital strains in contemporary poetry and poetics.
What does it mean to describe a map as embodied or a mapping practice as locative? With the exception, perhaps, of cognitive maps lodged deep in the brain, most maps are scratched, traced, drawn, stitched, or plotted on rock or sand, parchment, paper, cloth, or a pixelated screen. Every map, if it is to be readable, makes use of a signifying system to locate or fix the position of something in relation to something else. The map, as the saying goes, is not the territory but an abstraction of the territory, not a place but an idea of place that takes material form to support a plan, route a journey, mark ownership, establish zones, and/or underwrite an ideology. So why, then, do we identify a cluster of maps that use the affordances of GPS, GIS, and remote satellite imaging as embodied or locative maps?
Trevor Paglen’s work mingles print journalism, experimental cartography, and conceptual art to document and critique contemporary warfare. His photographic series include treatments of CIA black sites, drones, military insignia, and the architecture of intelligence agencies. The Other Night Sky, for instance, captures images of classified American satellites; Limit Telephotography pictures restricted military bases and installations; another untitled series depicts the headquarters’ of the three largest US intelligence agencies: the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Our term “tactical mapping” draws from three related sources: (1) Michel de Certeau, who uses the term tactical to denote the situational, makeshift activism of groups that form to “compose the network of an antidiscipline” (xiv); (2) the members of the Creative Art Ensemble, who argue that tactical media “is situational, ephemeral, and self-terminating” and advocate “the use of any media that will engage a particular socio-political context in order to create molecular interventions and semiotic shocks that collectively could diminish the rising intensity of authoritarian culture” (“Tactical Media,” n.p.); and, finally, (3) Rita Raley, who draws on de Certeau and the Creative Art Ensemble in her book Tactical Media (2009) to describe artistically-driven forms of digital resistance.