Hunt, Ashley »A Worldmap: In Which We See ...«, since 2004 (ongoing). PDF Version of the Map, Detail. © Ashley Hunt
In his works, artist and activist Ashley Hunt focuses on the shadowy sites and intransparent relations associated with globalization. In the interview reproduced here, he discusses his project A World Map: In Which We See... about the issue of order and complexity in the globalized world, and about the impossibility of actually imagining global space.
A World Map: In Which We See... is a conceptual mapping project about the subject of globalization on which you have been working since 2004. I’m eager to find out what it is that we get to see on the world map.
AH: The ‘World map’ functions like a research template. It draws upon many stories, actors and histories that I had been encountering before 2004. In this way, on the map are things that come from what you might call different spaces of explanation or narrative, whether these are human rights discourses, the discourses of economics, political philosophy, grassroots activism, cultural and political resistance, or first-hand anecdotes. The map is filled with concepts — concepts that explain globalization, what it does, what it shouldn’t do, or how one might survive within it. It charts these kinds of concepts, the figures and effects they imagine, and it suggests relationships between them, allowing them to compliment each other, crash into one another or cancel each other out.
AH: An important thing about the map is that there are several ways to talk about it. Globalization means many things. One thing we observe about capitalist or neoliberal globalization is a particular kind of movement of things back and forth between over-developed countries and underdeveloped countries — movement that produces unequal relationships between people. For example, we commonly see jobs and manufacturing shift to underdeveloped political and economic spaces, where people are willing to work for so little that it makes economic sense for a multi-national to actually relocate an entire production process — factories, plants, offices, distribution centers, building new infrastructure, etc. In places that already have little or no environmental regulations, labor laws or obligations to provide workers with healthcare or decent conditions. Local governments acommodate these companies further, suspending their own laws to create free trade zones, side-stepping local, democratic accountability, and drawing economic networks between the powerful of each place. Meanwhile, it leaves whole communities of people literally stranded in the place that the corporation has left behind, while opening up the exploitation of communities in the places to which it moves. In both places, promises of democracy and human rights are hollowed and emptied out, as questions of survival replace the sharing or participation in governance and the protection of rights. In terms of the map, this is conveyed through the basic political concept of “statelessness,” as it characterizes the position of two contemporary figures: the figure of a refugee and the figure of a prisoner. This is not to suggest that they are the same, but to see them, side by side; two positions that have as much to do with globalization as any free trade agreement does.
In a sense, the way one organizes information in space reminds me of the process of 'mind mapping' - do you mind if I call it this? However, while mind mapping is usually about reducing the complexity of an issue, the 'world map' provides so much information, that to grasp it all is really very difficult. What was your idea behind this?
AH: Although I would not refer to it exclusively as a mind map, I do think that a part of what its context as an artwork does is allow for reflection on the map’s own subjective production. I tried to build it so that a there would be a tension between what might seem like practical or objective information and the way that this information falls into conversation, undermining itself and placing itself into question. What I find important is that when encountering the map, one’s train of thought can take on cyclical movements that, while presumably moving toward some kind of a conclusion, tend to keep branching out irretrievably, so that its knowledge once again seems out of reach, questionable or contested, and one has to decide where they’re going to stand. There is something ethical about conceiving knowledge in this way, questioning easy, feel-good answer, or learning to live among complexity and uncertainty while still be able to act.
“Global space” is still a very abstract idea - the visual representation we end up with is more often than not a geographical world map or a picture of the earth from outer space. Globalization, by contrast, is associated with interconnectedness and networks of people, information or politics. You talked about your decision to map out information instead of geographies: does this mean that "global space", in your opinion, has more to do with relations than with location? And could the ‘mind map’ be a medium for grasping this?
AH: One of the things your question turns on is the difficulty, or even impossibility, of having a kind of pictorial representation of globalization. Such representations, based on forms of visual realism, are often inadequate for ‘showing’ globalization; turning eventually to strategies of metaphor and metonymy, starting with what appears to us as concrete. But it is interesting to consider that our most concrete experience of globalization might lie attempting to figure out how things do indeed relate to one another, wherein the knowledge of our location may not be geographical, nor optically perceivible, but relating to our position within a set relationships and transactions, ideas and concepts that exert very real influences upon us. In this way, globalization is a collapse of space and time, a collapse that betrays pictorial representation. When flying from Chicago to Frankfurt, I cannot relate the actual spatial movement of the plane to any lived spatial experience; instead, space is obliterated for me, whereas I comprehend space much more in the ten minute walk from where we are now to the ZKM. Therefore, my concrete reality is perceivable through an already abstract relationship, and a conceptual one: “I traveled from Chicago to Frankfurt”. To return to your question then, I wonder if a mind map might not be an abstraction of our concrete relationships, but may actually be a form of representation closest to our actual experience of globalization.
‘A world map: In which we see’ may be downloaded here as a pdf. How the ‘World Map’ became a new object in the workshop, and what Ashley Hunt understands by the term ‘response-ability’ is scheduled to be posted on his The Global Contemporary artist page presently.