Art, Cartography, & Representations of Mobility

Because the ocean is both mobile and a surface for movement, my studies of the ocean (and, by extension, the world of electronic communications) have long been interwoven with an interest in how we conceive of and represent mobility, and, in particular, spaces of mobility.  To this end, after publication of The Social Construction of the Ocean, I began to focus my research on how it came to be that we perceive of land as “naturally” divided into sovereign, territorial state-society units that are locations for spatially fixed activities (production, reproduction, etc.) and how, conversely, the ocean has come to be perceived as an external space of movement, beyond society. My research in this area has centered on European imaginations during the period between 1500 and 1800, and most of my work involves the study of maps, navigational manuals, and popular geography books from this era.

This research has been funded by a number of foundations and libraries including:

Key publications in this area include

  • Transportation space: a fourth spatial category for the world-systems perspective (in Space and Transport in the World System, Greenwood, 1998) | Website
  • Insularity, sovereignty, and statehood: the representation of islands on portolan charts and the construction of the territorial state (Geografiska Annaller B, 2005) | PDF (behind paywall)
  • Calculating similitude and difference: John Seller and the “placing” of English subjects in a global community of nations (Social and Cultural Geography, 2006) | PDF (behind paywall)
  • Sovereignty, territory, and the mapping of mobility: a view from the outside (Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2009) | PDF (open access)
  • Portolan charts (in Encyclopedia of Geography, Sage, 2010) | Website

I have integrated my interests in representation with my work on the ocean in a number of studies of cinematic and artistic representations of the ocean, in particular engaging the work of Allan Sekula. Pieces here include:

  • Review of The Forgotten Space by Sekula & Burch, Society & Space blog, 2012 | HTML (revised and published as ‘The ocean as forgotten space of capitalism”  in Allen Sekula: Okeanos, Sternberg, 2017 | Website)
  • Allan Sekula, obituary | Blogpost
  • Non-linearity in the ocean documentary (in Documenting World Politics: A Critical Companion to IR and Non-Fiction Film, Routledge, 2015) | Website
  • Maritime cargomobilities: the impossibilities of representation (in Cargomobilities: Moving Materials in a Global Age, Routlege, 2015) | Website

I have further engaged with Sekula’s work at a symposium with Sukhdev Sandhu at Nottingham Contemporary:

A further fusion of my interest in art, cartography, and the ocean can be seen in this gallery walk-through of Nottingham Contemporary’s 20130’Aquatopia’:

…and in this talk given at the ‘Perfect and Absolute Blank’ symposium at the BALTIC in Gateshead, England, in 2015:

Beyond my work on Sekula, I have considered issues of oceanic mobility more broadly in:

  • the ocean and transport / the ocean in transport / the ocean as transport, or mobilis in mobili (in Tidalectics, MIT Press, 2018) | Website

‘Art is Geography’
Click image for video

A further elaboration of my views on the intersections between art and geography can be seen in this presentation  from the 2010 Art + Exchange TedX conference in Tallahassee, Florida.

Although art has not to date played a major role in my Arctic research (notwithstanding a brief analysis of a Greenpeace installation at the end of Contesting the Arctic), cartography plays a large role in my Arctic work, particularly in my work with Berit Kristoffersen on ice edge mapping.

And finally, my interests in the problems inherent in mapping mobility have nurtured an ongoing interest in the practical possibilities for applying the techniques of time geography. I have explored this in

  • Testing the usability of time-geographic maps for crime mapping (with J. Derek Morgan; in Crime Modeling and Mapping Using Geospatial Technologies, Springer, 2013) | Website
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