I came back from winter break having found a focus. If I want to explore narrative structure, why not play with a form that is intrinsically linear?
Maps are essentially a story about how to get from point A to point B. There might be multiple paths, but we generally assume that we can only take one at a time and follow them in a specific order.
Yet there is an element of suspension of disbelief that we allow for in paper maps. Take a map of Scotland for example. In many cases we know that islands are further away from the mainland than they seem, but we imagine the intervening excess ocean. Shetland and Orkney are often in boxes at the bottom of the map, when we know they are far to the north. Never mind the places in the world where boarders and country names can change on a daily basis.
Digital maps, however, are expected to be accurate and up to date. If we look at Google Maps, arguably one of the most popular maps available today, it uses a version of the Mercator Projection. At close scale, such as street level, this projection is quite accurate. Yet at a more global scale, the projection distorts the size and shape of objects the further they are from the equator. In this way, continents like Africa look markedly smaller than Europe, South smaller than North America. Whether we’re aware of it or not, there is inherently a fiction even in the maps we hold to be truth. So there’s an interesting plasticity to how truthful we expect maps to be.
As I played with maps, I found another vein worth exploring. Often maps are interacted with in a folded form. I wasn’t aware of it, but there are a multitude of different map folding techniques. When maps are folded, suddenly sections of the map that aren’t geographically connected are juxtaposed, making new paths that may visually make sense, but can’t physically exist.
Could this kind of visual play be utilized to break down linear narratives? If a story was laid out in panels instead of map content, would the reader try to form new stories depending on how they unfolded the object? This led me into exploring a number of different folding methodologies. I became interested in play and how the reader’s engagement with the physical object could change the course of the narrative.
[Link to process portfolio of Folding Narratives & Map Books]
To compliment this studio work, I dropped into a class called Mapping the City. While this class wasn’t my official elective, they were interested in interrogating similar areas as my studio work, so using these briefs as jumping off points was useful. The two projects that I found particularly resonant were making a map from a fictional work and creating an alternative map of the city.
During my explorations, I came across old maps from my first visit to the city 6 years prior. Revisiting these journals made me realize how we form our own personal maps of cities. We may live in the same place as someone else, but our vision of the streets will be vastly different. For my alternative map of the city, I asked a number of friends to contribute places that mean something to them: bars they frequented, places they have lived, their favourite cafe, whatever they considered important. I then layered these points onto a map, but did not label them. I wanted the user to go to these locations and form their own connections. They might end up at the place my friend intended, or they could find someplace entirely different. The map becomes the reader’s map of Glasgow, and each person will find a wholly different city to the next person to use it.
I decided to use the map of a fictional story as a chance to deconstruct a non-linear narrative I think is quite successful. I wanted to physicalize the narrative in order to pin down the mechanics of how time operated within the book. In the graphic novel Cages by Dave McKean, time is fluid. Characters look through the windows in the house they live in and see into the future and the past. I decided to try to make a flip book version of the house. Each page would show what actually happened during that day, while allowing the reader to also see what the characters perceived to have happened during the same span of time.
[Link to process portfolio of “Cages” Map]
This work also fed into the comic book elective I was taking. That work developed concurrently, and on a parallel track to the studio work I was doing. There are very specific ways that readers engage with comics and structuralist constructs utilized. My work for the course engaged with these conventions. The map and folding work I was doing informed how I played with content and vice versa. Concepts of reader engagement and identification from comic books, fed into my studio work, while I tried to subvert traditional reading methods inherent to comics to aid narrative deconstruction.
[Link to portfolio of map comics]