Since January 2022, we’ve been immersed in Measuring Humanity’s latest project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Active and Creative Communities Arts Development: Social Prescribing, Sustainable Strategic Planning and Breaking Down Barriers across Sectors in North Lanarkshire – now called Art is Everywhere – one of nine place-based Knowledge Exchange awards across the UK.
Place matters. We’re mindful and critical of empty agendas that turn their gaze away from structural and commercial determinants of health.
Art matters. It gives us access to a person’s unique circumstances, their anxieties – often linked to structural and commercial determinants of health – and the strategies they use to defeat distress and push back against the system.
We’re part of an ever-growing movement creatively engaging in place-based work from the bottom-up – working with the most unequal communities in our society – rather than parachuting in from the top-down to make decisions about their towns, environments and services without their equal and active involvement.
Using a range of arts-informed approaches (dance, theatre, photography, film, fine art, murals from upcycled materials, digital art, podcasts and more), Measuring Humanity is co-producing with a range of communities in North Lanarkshire from early years to school children; college students to healthy aging demographics; multiple ethnicities; people in care and others to address inequalities through the arts. Our arts-informed work continues to posit art and creative-relational inquiry as evidence alongside traditional qualitative and quantitative measures of evidence.
More than ever before, we’re creatively connecting with communities in a way that helps us understand the nitty gritty of their realities. In a way that helps us reimagine alternative futures.
We’re now at the stage of creating North Lanarkshire’s first cultural and arts asset map; identifying and celebrating the People and Places that breathe life into the neighbourhoods we’re mapping.
We’re also mapping out the Processes and Power dynamics at play as we try to reflect and represent spaces that resist representation.
With this in mind, I asked a Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry Research Fellow, Scott Davis, to reflect upon the following questions: What is a map? What can a map do?
Scott Davis – Impact Research Fellow, Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry
Over the last few years, maps have increasingly occupied my thoughts as to how swiftly they have become an integral part of my everyday life. Whether it’s finding out what stage of the route my next bus has reached or prompting a friend to ping their live location to me at a new haunt they’ve found, I feel part of an increasingly collective desire for us to consistently know where we are situated within our immediate environment.
The need to always understand our spatial relationship between object and subject may feel like a new phenomenon but I suspect this impulse has lain restlessly dormant within us, explorers at heart; now awoken by the technological revolution of our digital age. The democratisation of digital maps – pocket sized, portable GPS systems available to anyone with access to a phone and signal – has carved new possibilities.
Despite this, some of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had have been in the absence of maps, such as embarking on long walks, finding my way through sheer intuition. Whether that be stumbling across hidden enclaves in what I thought was a familiar place or the adrenaline rush of arriving in a new town, with only my wits (and helpful locals) as guides.
This has led me to consider the question as to whether maps have a set of limitations that cannot be overcome?
While a journey on a map can be easily represented by connected pins to a more accurate degree than ever before, it was the advent of enlightenment thinking that mostly informed our present understanding of what a map’s functionality should be. Consequences of scientific and industrial revolutions that triggered fundamental changes within societal relations and our understanding of reality, resulted in maps that were somewhat stripped of their spirituality. The “angels and monsters” removed. Instead we mapped our realities through abstract and functional systems – cartographically depicted with mathematical rigour.
Did we lose something important in this reductionist approach? Narrowing the complexity of our territories into a single dimension, resulting in journeys that have lost their stories and the feeling(s) that places evoke as we travel through territory now unrepresented?
Should we try to recover the ability to re-texturise our maps with experiences, histories and the way places “affect” us? The late, great fiction author Hilary Mantel once remarked that:
“…history is no more “the past” than a birth certificate is a birth, a script is a performance, or a map is a journey”.
Echoing the sentiments of scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski:
“the map is not the territory – the word is not the thing”.
The notion of attempting to capture what may resist cartographic representation is an attractive proposition within social policy and has the potential to offer a fresh (dare I say richer) perspective into understanding the context of our places. Map creation afterall, is an act of poiesis – bringing something into existence that did not previously exist – a new, unique representation of that spatial reality. In this moment the cartographer wields a potent power and shoulders great responsibility.
So what possibilities do we have to capture the uncapturable? How can we cartographically depict elusive moments that affect people in their places across time and space?
One potential answer would be to not only map spatially but also for ‘affect’. A creative collaboration of map production through artistic methods such as painting, drawing, dancing or other art forms could be one practice of “mapping for affect”. Cooperative creativity offering an opportunity to capture subjective meanings within the place being mapped and democratising the representation of reality to the people living within the territory.
The concept of attempting to map places in this manner has resulted in wider reflections across all my academic work. Now, when I conduct research, I do not try to follow a strict roadmap with pre-determined outcomes. I allow myself to get lost in the darkness, trusting that I can navigate out through the literature and fieldwork – recognising that the journey is as important as the destination. During research fieldwork, capturing of people’s inner thoughts and sub-conscious processes – can often be lost in part, due to the restrictive, standardised methods of data collection (e.g. interviews, observations, statistics) and what is currently considered as acceptable ‘data’ within the academy. This outlook is gradually improving as we push the needle on it, and this step-change in what is considered ‘data’ allows us to capture our fieldwork in more creative, arts-informed ways. In ‘Art is Everywhere’, we are now also able to present our findings through layered mapping concepts.
Lastly, I reflected upon how we ourselves enter onto a map – be that literally or perhaps metaphorically into a philosophy or discourse – we bring with us our own unique lived experiences, our pre-conceived ideas of how things are, how they came to be and the limits or potentialities of what could be. These are rarely seen but can be ‘felt’, which is why it’s crucial for the team at Measuring Humanity to explore strategies of ‘mapping the invisible’ in our ‘Art is Everywhere’ project and beyond.