Sabin, L. (2019). Atmospheric Cartography: Articulating Ecological Connectivity in Air. MRes Thesis. School of Communication, Royal College of Art.
My thesis is about engaging with atmosphere through 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.
Other cultures (Eastern, ancient, folk) have acknowledged an essential connection between self and spirit with breath, wind, air, and creation. Western philosophy, however, has attempted to explain the nature of existence without taking air into account, as Luce Irigaray argued in her 1983 book L’oubli de l’air (‘The forgetting of air’). Irigaray pointed out that we are dependent on air for our survival, so by dismissing it we are putting ourselves in peril.
Even now we understand ‘carbon footprint’ by way of analogy with being on land. A mark on the earth is something we can clearly perceive, whereas a gas in the air is diffuse and invisible. In reality, the air enjoins the land in a perpetual flow of matter.
We humans are beings whose place in the world must be understood atmospherically. Thus atmospheric cartography is about making our intra-actions with(in) air palpable.
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 ‘quality’ of air in terms of gaseous and particulate matter. Two are artists who map the subjective ‘qualities’ of air, playing with the senses to create an aesthetic 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.
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.