On Trying to Map A Life




In March 2012, on the invitation of curator Alfredo Cramerotti, I gave a performance-lecture, ‘On Trying to Map A Life’, for the We Are The Time conference at the Studium Generale Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam.

I talked about the graphic history and politics behind our surprisingly recent idea of progress, and its implications for the question of how to map a life.

At the core of this was a visual analysis of my abiding passion, Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century fictional autobiography, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67). I argued that the novel is a kind of anti-map that mock-fails to fix, edit and order the unruly, messy and vital temporality that constitutes a life.

My question was, what does Tristram Shandy offer us now? We map our individual and collective life on social media, I suggest, in ways that innovate little on 19th-century models of historical progress. So what does social media look like through Tristram’s kaleidoscopic lens? And what if we made other kinds of map in his spirit? Ones that aren’t linear or parcelled up; that fail to disclose their contents; that connect us in a communal rather than competitive sense?

At the end of the lecture, I invited the audience to join me in an experiment. We unrolled 10-metre scrolls of paper across the width of the auditorium to make what would be both an individual and collective life map.

The scrolls were then exhibited as How to Map A Life: Project Room, at Rongwrong Gallery, Amsterdam.

You can watch me give the talk here, alongside presentations by Fay Nicholson, Sally O’Reilly and Tai Shani.

Images from top: drawing our life maps at the Acadamie; the exhibition at Rongwrong; two details from the scrolls.