Note — Apr 11, 2021

How to Map Nothing

Last week I almost included this talk by Sharron Mattern but I rarely share videos in this section. Thankfully, Alexandra pointed out the excellent piece linked above, which covers much of the same terrain. I’ve often shared articles that in one form or another are about some type of obfuscation, this one looks at what is not usually mapped, how it can be, and who is doing the hard work of surfacing and representing that “nothing.”

Whether it’s the work of people not benefiting from the privilege of living a minimalized life during the pandemic (and otherwise), or communities, minorities, actively racist erasure and the counter concept of refusal, or an ableist ignorance of differently abled people, Mattern attaches a lot of ideas together and covers LOADS of information, people and topics to better grasp and further look into.

Creating these new maps also connects to one of the fundamental threads of this newsletter, the Asby-Benjamin manoeuvre; speaking (map making) about the futures we want in order to reify them.

Postcolonial literary scholar Isabel Hofmeyr reminds us that “the myth of the empty sea, is largely the product of European imperialisms and their map-making traditions in which the sea becomes blank space across which power can be projected.” […]

A lack of valorization and long history of underfunding such services; the prevalence of black-boxed, automated technologies that defy comprehension and repair; a tendency to prioritize innovation over upkeep — all contribute to the obscurity of vital but uncharismatic systems. […]

Through her work to map global solidarity economies — worker co-ops, co-housing communities, community land trusts, care work and barter networks, credit unions, participatory budgeting, and so forth — Pavlovskaya realized that maps can serve as “tools for social transformation”; that they can “produce worlds instead of simply reflecting them.” […]

The multidisciplinary collective BlackSpace has drafted a manifesto calling for designers and planners to “reckon with the past as a means of healing … and deepening understanding”; to center Black joy and lived experience; to take the time to build trust and deconstruct hierarchies; to ensure that designers act as “humble learners” who “walk with people as they imagine and realize their own futures.” […]

Nothingness, then, for all its presumed vacuity, is a multi-faceted thing: it embodies ways of knowing, it has ontological agency and politics, it has degrees and dimensions.