Friday, May 17, 2013

Making maps

Yesterday, as my students first guffawed and then sighed, I laboured with a fading marker pen over a dirty whiteboard in an effort to draw a map of 'Eua, the diamond-shaped, Manhattan-sized island which is the southernmost inhabited piece of Tonga, and almost the closest inhabited island to New Zealand.

Along with 'Iliasa Helu, I am leading an 'Atenisi expedition to 'Eua this weekend, and my drawing, with its childish lines and smudged names, was the only detailed map of the place most of the students had ever seen. 'Eua is notorious for its limestone sinkholes and caves, out of which huge banyan trees often grow, and into which reckless visitors occasionally vanish. "I think we need a local guide" one of the students said, after frowning at the vague details I had drawn on the board. "And we need a map that makes sense."

If only I had known yesterday that I am part of an exhibition dedicated to mapmaking being held at an art gallery on Auckland's fashionable Karangahape Road. I could have tried to impress my truculent students by telling them that curators Rachel Watson and James Wylie had taken an interest in the psychogeographic film I've been making about the Great South Road with Paul Janman, and had decided to show maps and footage from the half-finished project in the RM gallery.

Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to check my e mail yesterday, and so didn't get Paul's report about the exhibition Wylie and Wilson have called Exanded Map. I'm chuffed, nevertheless, that I've managed to get my name, however briefly, onto the wall of a gallery, despite never being able to the master the art of the stick person portrait at Drury Primary School art class.

My students are no strangers to map-making. A month or so ago I decided to enliven my Creative Writing paper by summouning a taxivan to the 'Atenisi campus and piling them into it. As the driver steered randomly through the mid-morning Nuku'alofa streets, scattering packs of pigs with his horn and cursing at a fat noble in an SUV, I gave an improvised lecture on Iain Sinclair, JG Ballard, and the practice of psychogeography, which I summed up in the maxin 'Get lost'. I got the bewildered taxi driver to leave us beside Nuku'alofa's quarry, a place where strapping young palm trees rise through the smashed windscreens of classic American and British cars. "This is the end of the line" I told my charges. "This is the graveyard of modernity. Forget about those war films you see, where tanks and jeeps and the bodies of marines lie ruined on a tropical beach: these are today's casualties of war." "It's not the end" Tevita Manu'atu, 2012 dux at 'Atenisi, replied, in an indulgent voice. "It's a new beginning". Perhaps he was right: recyclers were busy amidst the ruins, pulling healthy organs - unrusted carburretors, intact radiators  - from the diseased bodies of Valiants and Fords.

After we had found our way through the ruins of modernity to the Nuku'alofa waterfront, where we drank Fanta and hailed another taxi, I asked my Creative Writing students to create 'psychogeographic maps' of our journey, and of Nuku'alofa in general. Forget spurious notions of accuracy and objectivity, I told them, as I handed out the felt pens and crayons. Draw with your subconscious and your pineal glands. Think about Sinclair's epic walk along the M 25, that ring road that isolates London more surely than any wall, think about the semi-secret military installations he spotted through air that made his eyes water, the lungfuls of truck exhaust that almost saw him resort, like a climber in the Himalayas, to bottled oxygen.

Tevita was the first to finish his map. He had drawn, with a firm, unfailingly accurate hand, the allotments, plantations, churches, and roads of his home village on the weathercoast of Tongatapu.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Paul Janman said...

Hi there Scott,
Just for clarity, the curators of the show were James Wylie and Ruth Watson. Sorry for not giving my report sooner but I thought you were operating in uncompressed time and space because you have somewhat dropped off the map of late.

Nothing too much to say about the opening of the show - an 'art world' debut for the both of us. It was a casual and unpretentious affair with some interesting work of others surrounding our little 'objet' consisting of a laptop and some oversized headphones. The laptop linked to a website that I whipped up last weekend. People can have a look at it remotely here:

Many thanks to the curators and RM crew for propelling the project forward a notch. A fuller report about the whole show coming soon.

10:33 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for those corrections, Paul, which I've incorporated into the post. I would have taken more care, but Kik Velt was leaning over my shoulder and pulling at the back of my chair, as he endeavoured to rid himself of his last customer and close his internet café for the night!

You should tell Ken that I had kava in Kolomaile last night. I've got two contacts to call tomorrow -one of them is an old man who wants to tell me some old family stories concerning 'Ata...

5:43 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

So already you are creating an elite in Tonga Maps! I note:

"Tevita was the first to finish his map."

The First! Surely this is irrelevant? You must encourage ALL your suffering students not just single out Tevita, who, for complex psychological reasons, may well grow up to abhor or hate maps. He may grow up in a Ballardian world where geography as we know it is no more, the world in fact irremediably changed. But all his life he will recall the eccentric professor who cruelly pressured him to draw the "best" psycho-random map. He will forever recall the day he was lost in the terribly sad vehicle graveyard/(spare parts store for mechanics or artists etc). It seemed to him then that you wanted it to be The End. In fact, that it was not, or might not be, was cleverly pointed out...but now he is 80, and though not ill, technology has meant that time and space, as ideas, are now irrelevant, as is say, our concern with rust or dust or places or difference. He will recall some of your stories and ramblings of course and some of his and others' drunken episodes, but will have forgotten what Psychogeography was and his shame at being singled out as Tonga's first Minister of Psychogeography...

Yes it was a well paid job, but it was neither respected nor reviled. Neither good nor evil, uselful or useless...In fact its purport had become so obscure due to the mad ramblings of the strange Palangi lecturers (of the Hamiltonian-Jarman School), and the general decay of world structures and the loss of "space-time" etc that it was forgotten. (Or it was sleeping in some kind of Kava Cataonia).

He became like the protagonist of the sad (but exciting atatime0 post-colonial novel)'The Beautiful Ones Are Not Born', a Government Servant in a railway (or Psycho-Geog) system that seemed to run completely randomly, quite arbitrarly, and whose purpose, if it could be ascertained, seemed to be to piss off anyone wanting to actually DO anything or GO anywhere.(But these terms "do" or "go" had also become decayed, sad, and lost (after the rise of the great Lets Get Lost Movement) - and at the very least, suspect). This was caused by a general Lethargy (whose causation and origins were both multiplex and mainly either too obscure or forgotten) and because (for a complex of modernist and post modernist reasons of great obscurity) time and space and Logic - due to the twisting actions of the New Psycho-Geo Thought, had been electrocuted.

10:49 pm  
Anonymous libcom said...

amusing but irrelevant.

1:47 pm  

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