GPS Drawing [Gallery] [Maps] [Info]

An outdoor performance about the fold of the map and scale 1:1
Istres, France N43.51874 E4.99058 June 30th 2013

A life begins folded with a foetus in the womb. As we grow it is commonly expressed that life unfolds around us, and when we die we lay flat. My work in Istres connected this narrative of birth and life to the scale one and the fold of the map. The folding of a map is a system to reduce the size of an area of information upon which a much greater area has been reduced in scale. We need to scale because the world is too big to see all at once, and we need to fold for us to engage with this world.

GPS drawing by Jeremy Wood 2013

The foetus, measuring 1km from the top of his head to his bottom, was drawn on the Étang de l'Olivier in Istres; a body of water that represents the womb. It is connected via an umbilical tunnel to the Étang de Berre that has a male sounding name in French (Berre/père). The Étang de Berre is the largest salted lake in Europe with a channel at Martigues that connects it to the Mediterranean Sea. In French the sea is female, and homonymous to mother (mer/mère).

Staged on the Castellan Hill peninsula in Istres, overlooking the Étang de l'Olivier The Fold of the Map was a unique public performance in three parts. The show began with a warm introduction by one of the instigators of the project Thierry Kressmann followed by a short presentation of selected GPS drawings displayed under the shadows of the trees.

The second part of the episode took place within a circular stage surrounded by twelve rolled-up maps. Each map was an actor in a performance about the fold of the map written and compèred by Guillaume Monsaingeon. As each map was unrolled in sequence their cartographic significance and ideas were presented to the audience who gradually become enclosed in the space.

At the core of the performance was a reference to anthropometrics - a system of measuring and unitising that is based on the human body and its abilities. Our bodies are our first point of reference for measuring and understanding- the foot is a unit of length and distance, the picul is the carrying capacity of shoulders to quantify mass, and the nimeṣa is the time it takes for a person to blink.

As we unfold a map so our understanding of a territory expands and we are better equiped to navigate the intricacies of the space. So too with the sails of satellites, which unfold to capture energy that is required to propel them (and us) toward further explorations of space. The fold in orbit permits the view from above and an outward look into the depths of the universe toward a distant past, the knowledge of which guides us towards possible futures.

For the third part I had prepared a one metre square map of the area at scale 1:200 by walking along boundaries and outlining the features and furniture with GPS. This map was first used to determine the position of the entire group and (amongst some lively disagreements) we marked our position on the map with a pen. We did the same on the land itself, by wrapping plastic ribbon around the group, as we all huddled together. The circle on the map corresponded to the circle on the land we all occupied.

We had defined a sense of You Are Here, We Are Here, and I Am Here both at scale 1:200 and at scale 1:1. To give birth to the fold the participants were then divided between male and female groups. Each group was to determine a new position for the other through the fold of the map.

A new You Are here position was first created by a male volunteer who closed the map in such a way as to lay our current position on top of another elsewhere on the peninsula. It's like when closing a book the numbers on the opposing pages kiss. The folded map was creased along the line of symmetry that divided the two positions.

The map was then given to the female group to locate their new position and to draw around themselves with the ribbon at scale 1:1. Meanwhile the male group delineated the fold they'd created on the actual space across the peninsula with more plastic ribbon.

When the females marked their position on the land they then folded the map again to determine a new You Are Here position for the male group. This was repeated between groups without competition or a pre-defined ending. As with the folds of birth and life the process is ongoing.

With a dwindling number of participants - the You Are Here circles on the land growing smaller and smaller - we sensed that it was time to draw a conclusion. We had participated in an act of defining and seeking multiple You Are Here positions using our bodies. We had marked our position at both 1:200 scale and at 1:1 scale using the fold on the map to create these positions.

Making the GPS drawing

√Čtang de l'Olivier in Istres
Étang de l'Olivier in Istres looking towards the south-west

Initially I had planned to immerse myself in the water by swimming along the route of the drawing. As I trained my body at the local pool I began to realise the difficulties that would arise from holding a GPS receiver in one hand and paddling with the other; I'd be going around in circles. Even if I were to strap the receiver to my head, or construct a small boat tethered to my waist (as I did for I Was There and There I Was, 2011), I would still need to refer at regular intervals to the screen of the device to guide my sketches. So I requested we hire a kayak, and in preparation had a lesson on the River Thames.

When I arrived at the Étang de l'Olivier the sun persisted pleasantly but the 45km winds were so great that it was too choppy to venture out onto the water. I waited for three days. I contemplated the drawing at the edge of the lake and along the two hour walk to circumnavigate it's edge. All the while I saw no evidence of boats or swimmers, only the occasional fisherman casting their lines from the lakeside.

For contingency I created a GPS drawing of the foetus on the peninsula but I wasn't satisfied with the results. The area was just too small to capture the little fingers and toes. What I really needed was a motorboat.

The boat was skippered with calm and patience by Dominique Kermer. He steered as I directed with one arm outstretched to guide the course; I waved up to increase, and waved down to decrease the speed of the boat. Throughout the drawing he focused on the movements of my arm and I focused on my sketches and on the route via the tiny screen of the GPS receiver. Our concentration was so great we had little time to ponder the view.

It's a greater challenge to draw on the water than it is on land as there are no fixed reference points nearby to help judge direction or scale. The white wake of the boat soon dissipates and even when we stopped our position drifted along with the variable currents and winds.

Junior with map

All of Junior's GPS tracks shown together on a map. The drawing was made with three journeys onto the lake; when I checked the data on my computer after the first trip I realised I'd forgotten to draw his left foot. The second trip rectified the error in two attempts- the first attempt being much too big, and the final journey captured a scale at 1:1 on the way back to the Étang de Berre through the adjoining tunnel.

SCALE ONE- English

This was the fourth episode of a seven part series about ÉCHELLE UN produced by Thierry Kressmann and Guillaume Monsaingeon.
Supported by Marseilles Provance European Capital of Culture 2013 and part of Grand Randonez 2013.