Home Towards a subjective collective cartography

About towards.be

Towards is an attempt to represent the territory of Brussels in a subjective way which leads to the creation of a collaborative tool for subjective mapping.
This is an emergency website of the project! still in full evolution, but we want to share what we already have.

Two years ago, not-for-profit organizations Recyclart, City Mine(d), Constant, and the graphic designers from Speculoos launched the project “Towards a subjective collective cartography,” whose aim is to examine questions concerning the subjective representation of the territory of Brussels and to promote the passing on, exchange and pooling of those questions…

Currently, the project is carried out following two different trends: on one hand the creation of an atlas of Brussels and, on the other hand, the conception of a software (TRESOR).

A project in different stages (See events)

At the beginning of the project, nine artists of various fields and generations were invited – each according to their affinities with the choice of the subject and with a personal formalization of their data – to design a subjective cartography of urban interventions in Brussels. Their work was then the subject of an exhibition, and of a first publication that, far from only shedding the light on the particular reading of the territory by those artists, also put together their experimentations in an attempt to achieve a collective mapping out.

Despite the technical and conceptual difficulties, that trial proved very useful as regards what happened next, insofar as it triggered a series of new interrogations. How to represent subjective territorial data? How to classify that data and make the connection between two pieces of data? Which relevance and which form to give to a prospective collective cartography instrument?

Since then, there has been water under the bridge and other events dealing with similar concerns took place. From the setting up of a Webblog to the gathering of new maps, from the running of workshops (workshop 2, workshop 3) to the organization of practices in situopenstreetmap party, the project was sustained bit by bit by the knowledge and the experimentations of numerous contributors. But even though the knowledge that ensued from those contributions is abundant, it is nevertheless still raw and worth being clarified, synthesized, revisited or even completed. The second issue of the TOWARDS publication represents then the opportunity to draw up an inventory of fixtures of what has been done, to pass this on, to begin to think about what still has to be done and, of course, to prompt any person who would be interested in the project to take part in it.

And, what is next? First, the actual carrying out of those instruments and the putting to test of their results as platforms of consulting and production of knowledge of the city. Then, avoiding that these knowledge and experimentations remain mere intellectual speculations and trying, if possible and necessary, to convert them into actual forces of transformation…

Towards a subjective collective cartography?

One might think at first sight that the very fact of venturing the necessity for going towards a subjective cartography automatically presupposes that there is another way of mapping, an objective one, that one must grow away from… But the truth is, this dichotomous division between subjective and objective cartography is easily questionable. Even the most allegedly true map is actually only an intellectual abstraction, a certain look at a certain reality… Cartographers being no neutral agents, they always choose to “spatialize” or to “temporize” one element instead of another, to relate certain pieces of data and no other, according to certain graphic codes and no other: according to the data that is being used, to its processing and visualizing, the results can change radically. On that account, a map is always subjective, and this whatever its level of rooting in reality.

So, it may be useful to specify the title of the project: the aim is in no way to give up a so-called objective cartography to head for a subjective cartography, but to think about representations that would come to terms with this subjectivity in the approach of the territory and to promote the plurality of cartographic visions. In Brussels, map drawers and actors of the urban issue are for that matter more and more numerous and their skills less and less compartmentalized, which implies the appearance of new knowledge and know-how that one must absolutely take in account: although urban action used to be able to occur without or even against those many actors, or if need be with them, in a form of concession wrung out of or generously granted by the authorities, things are entirely different today…This going from urban action only arbitrated by the authorities to participation dynamics ushered in notably by various struggles mixing artists, associations of citizens and activists constitutes what architect Benoît Moritz calls the second phase of urbanism in Brussels (le deuxième tournant de l’urbanisme bruxellois).

In such a context, we think that it would be interesting to exchange ideas and practices from our various approaches to cartography and to centralize those energies. This is why we directed the project towards two different and nevertheless concomitant trends of development: on the one hand the carrying out of an atlas of Brussels taking up various maps (real, imaginary, artistic, anecdotal, psychological, geographic, town planning, amateur, professional, regional, local, etc) and, on the other hand, the creation of a software (TRESOR) allowing to consult these maps, to draw parallels between them, to play with the parameters that define them, to complete them, to publish them, to produce them or to use them within the scope of personal projects…

With the passing weeks, months, years, new faces of Brussels would see the light of day and a new form of memory would take shape: the memory of urban struggles, of unofficial interventions, of association positivism, of the richness of the actors of Brussels… The memory of a new vision, far from tourist clichés and community negotiation. Such is the interest of developing advisory and collaborative instruments of subjective cartography: comparing those various faces of Brussels with the more official or statutory maps that divide the capital of today, confronting them to the latter or including them to it.