My MRes thesis is about engaging with the atmosphere through multidisciplinary mapping practices. I bring together innovative approaches to cartography that move away from land-based maps to articulate human relations with air and its variations over space and time. I call this multidisciplinary field of knowledge ‘atmospheric cartography’.
Cartography is not simply a representation of an area. It is a process informed by perspective as well as values. Maps, in turn, inform the perspectives and values of the navigators that use them. Given that maps of atmosphere are less prevalent and have less historic conventions than land-based maps, now is an opportune moment to constructively question their generative processes.
A mark on the earth is something we can clearly perceive, whereas a gas in the air is diffuse and less visible, hence the widespread adoption of the metaphor ‘carbon footprint’. In reality, the air enjoins the land in a perpetual flow of matter. Atmospheric cartography is about making these intra-actions with(in) air palpable.
‘Other’ cultures (‘Eastern’, ‘ancient’, ‘folk’, ‘indigenous’) acknowledge an essential connection between self and spirit with breath, wind, air, and creation. Dominant strands of Western philosophy, however, have attempted to explain the nature of existence without taking air’s qualities into account, as Luce Irigaray argued in her 1983 book L’oubli de l’air (‘The forgetting of air’). She pointed out that we are dependent on air for our survival, so by dismissing the element we are risking oblivion (‘l’oubli’ has a double meaning).
Cartography is a way of articulating perspectival relations between selves and the world. The research methodology I have devised involves interviewing four ‘atmospheric cartographers’, i.e. people who map airspaces. Two interviewees are scientists who endeavour to map the objective and normative ‘quality’ of air in terms of gaseous and particulate matter, aka pollution. Two are artists who map the subjective ‘qualities’ of air, thinking through sense experience to create an aesthetic, enfleshed engagement.
I embrace a holistic definition of atmosphere as meteorological and emotional. So my approach to mapping atmosphere unifies scientific and artistic points of view on a spectrum from ‘perceived objectivity’ to ‘perceived subjectivity’. I conclude that the artistic and scientific approaches complement one another and give rise to an understanding of being-in-air that is both informed by systematic observation and holistic experience. My concluding pages contain a list of principal observations, which could be read as a manifesto for atmospheric cartography.