The position of the shadows indicates that we are heading north. This is confirmed by our GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver. After some days exploring Kitakyushu, we have already acquired a certain sense of position, and it is not without a certain proud feeling from slowly becoming able to determine our trajectories in an environment that we do not know, that we start to play little games among us. Someone will make a straight comment such as “We are going north,” or “Further up that road there should be the golf course,” and await, with a small node in his stomach, the reaction appearing on the screen of the tiny receiver. More than often, we smile.
A GPS receiver may come in many forms. Basically it is an antenna, a few circuits, receiving and sending radio signals to a constellation of 24 satellites floating around the planet Earth. Some receivers are located on the earth and are used to determine, through a process of triangulation, the position of any GPS receiver turned on at that time. Our receiver is blue and carefully manufactured in such a way as to be comfortable hand-held. It is curvy, and mat rubber is placed at key points to create friction with the skin of the fingers. Because there are few buttons, it can be used with just with one hand.
Triangulation, what a surprise! When we decided back in Milano, long before coming to Kitakyushu, to buy this small machine and to use it for the purpose of drawing a map of this place, we did not have the clue that a GPS works with triangulation. In fact, the time that a signal takes to go back and forth to a satellite determines the position of the receiver. But the satellites that you need to determine the position precisely equal three. This is triangulation. A GPS is three dimensional, so it uses three points of measurement and spheres to determine a single point. You measure every point from two positions, and then trace circles to fix them on paper. Triangulation is the thing that we were taught in architecture school to measure and then draw either existing buildings or public spaces. So is its application in a GPS just a coincidence?
Feelings of uselessness, what are we doing here? We just walk around, take pictures randomly, and try to get an image of the place where we are staying. But we seem to be lacking the whole meaning of it. The idea of making a map (not “mapping,” which seems to have been an infectious term in esthetical practices throughout the last ten years) we happily adopted, but probably did not sufficiently question before coming here. Maps are everywhere in Kitakyushu; we come across them constantly, so our whole fantasy of imitating ancient explorers and geographers soon vanished. We are experimenting while doing. The final result, if there will be any, will address issues of representation. It will be unfinished, rough, and raw.
It is a clear day; the air is cold and transparent. We are on top of Mount Sarakura. The view is stunning; we see far away places, where later next month someone else will go. Now we can try to understand where we have been moving during this time. The minute elements, which we encountered in our daily exploration, are now displayed as if in a diorama. We see the close relationship between the water, the hills and the factories. The rest is a sprawling and diffused accumulation of houses.
Geography, if this can be named as such, is a matter of domination. Michel Foucault somewhere wrote that the geographical horizon is a strategic device. From here we have the impression of grasping in a single glance the territory and yet also bomb it with imaginary artillery. The buildings can be seen as targets. An unpleasant feeling of familiarity clots different memories: the shelling of Sarajevo and the forts placed on top of the hills surrounding our hometown, Genova.
Indeed, a GPS is a military device developed by the US Army. The CAD software we are using to transform the co-ordinates that we are collecting into a drawing also is a technique developed for the US Air Force. Knowing that Kitakyushu was the intended target of the atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki adds a more bizarre feeling. Does a zenithal view coincide with war? Maybe our map has to acquire a different altitude (or attitude): it should become a diary of our explorations.
Tobata, Nishi Kokura, Kokura, Moji, Mojiko. We are heading east. We are seated on a JR train. After so much walking we thought that our knowledge of the city needed to be expanded. Using trains allows us to have a broader experience of the territory, but they also reduce it to a series of lines and a collection of objects visible from these lines, as pearls on a string. Here again the sea becomes invisible: an incessant sequence of warehouses, factories, industrial equipment, containers, cranes, and oil tanks creates a wall between the city and the water. Again, a higher viewpoint is needed. In Mojiko we find an observatory deck on top of a tower. Green and barren hills, a strip densely packed with buildings, and finally the sea, seem to be the recurrent features of Kitakyushu. There seems to be more activity in the water than on the land as ships unremittingly cross the bay. We are closer to the ground than from Mount Sarakura; our glance recalls that of policemen lurking behind closed curtains so as to spy possible suspects. Even the pictures we are taking have the same texture as stolen stills from an investigation.
CAD (Computer-Aided Design) was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in the 1960s to meet the data display needs of the US Air Force. It transforms numerical information into vectorial drawings, thus allowing permanent manipulation of the picture. CAD stands at the beginning and at the end of our process; at the beginning, because all the data (latitude, longitude, height) recording our movement across Kitakyushu are transformed into an electronic drawing, and at the end, when we used the same technique to design our installation in the gallery space. This installation is basically an enormous table made of wood, measuring 8 x 8 meters. The table arrived this morning at the gallery space. A local carpenter company has manufactured it. It is a piece of art in itself.
We registered a crucial moment of passage between the cartography imagined and programmed as an allegory, a mythological narration. Maps became tools for movement, discovery and exploration. When perspective was invented, projective geometry set itself as an objective science, aiming to double the real with a measurable representation of it. Again, the theme of domination emerges; maps become secrets, proudly owned by kings and generals. In the late 18th century, triangulation became the system for preparing precise maps of the territory owned by a single power, for defining boundaries and limits.
Our map today is an ambiguous object, a subjective narration of disorientation, but also a record of a manifest reality—a collection of curiosities, like a cabinet des merveilles, or a heterogeneous atlas of distinct representations.