Maps have become a method to representing the complexity we inhabit. Projects, initiatives, books, and articles from different fields that use terms, elements, or methodologies taken from cartography that show the potential of drawing a map that configures a physical or mental territory where it is possible to guess trajectories, plan routes and locate objectives. In recent years, the act of “mapping” – be it specific sites, scenarios or concepts – has been incorporated as an essential tool in different processes. On the other hand, the appearance of visualisation tools and the management of easily accessible databases, together with the development of locative media, has opened up a wide field of work to explore different types of information. Furthermore, the relevance of networks in creative work, the economic sphere and the configuration of power mechanisms have turned them into another field in which maps are essential for their understanding.
Hic sunt leones
Maps do not innocently reproduce a topographical reality. They are often used to legitimise a dominant position through a pretended abstract knowledge while desocialising the territory they represent. However, the impulse to construct representations of reality seems to arise from various human needs. Thus the prehistoric maps with their description of the everyday environment. Or the pointillist Australian Aboriginal maps that form the “songlines”: fragments of a collective discourse that make it possible to cross the desert and – at the same time – reveries of the ancestors. Stories that not only narrate a territory but re-create it every time they are told. Similarly, the Roman Empire organised the world according to a division between civilisation and the barbarians who lived places – beyond imperial reach – marked as full of ‘leones at dragones’. It is no coincidence that the golden age of cartography coincided with the development of the colonial empires of the 18th century, with maps depicting the routes of communication, the human groups to be redeemed, the resources they could exploit. Or to add other examples, the countless artistic maps that use graphic evocation as much as a conceptual approach, or tourist maps used to promote a specific image of their territory. In short, maps always correspond to particular interests. From the choice of the boundaries of a region to the determination of the content and its categorisation or the selection of the signs used, the decisions taken when a territory (whether its physical, social or economic presence) is translated onto a two-dimensional surface are shaped according to pre-existing social relations. Maps are based on power structures that exist everywhere since they originate and are produced everywhere. In this context, the possibility of mapping social movements, initiatives and self-organised processes is part of a re-appropriation of power.
Any map that describes and analyses a territory is revealing. Still, the maps we find particularly useful are those which allow us to make tactical decisions about possible actions. As the car_tac collective wrote: “What we like to call “tactical cartographies” are processes that try to investigate and express the complexity of the subjective activities of human beings as they happen in a territory, as a way of organising and producing thought. As a creative act, the map not only “traces” the territory but reveals previously invisible or unimaginable realities; it does not reproduce reality but proposes a way of looking at it. Although the map is not the territory, making maps are a way to organising ourselves, generating new connections and being able to transform the material and immaterial conditions in which we find ourselves immersed. It is not the territory, but it certainly produces territory”.