Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Drawing like a State: Maps, Modernity and Warfare in the Art of Gert Jan Kocken

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Drawing like a State: Maps, Modernity and Warfare in the Art of Gert Jan Kocken

Article excerpt

For all their aesthetic fascination, maps are instruments. They figure ulterior realities to facilitate work in and on them. And much of this work has been the moulding of the world by modern states, according to projected visions of what an inspired or rational society should look like.

That is the message articulated in a series of map-based artworks by the Dutch artist Gert Jan Kocken (b. 1971). Produced between 2011 and the present, the works are titled Depictions of Amsterdam 1940-45, Berlin 1933-45, Rome 1922-45, Rotterdam 1940-45, Munich 1933-1945 and Battle of Berlin 1945. Depictions of London, Lodz, Stalingrad, Vienna and Warsaw are in construction. For sake of expediency, I refer to them collectively as the Depictions. Each work is comprised of between 23 and 124 found maps, as well as plans and aerial photographs, which were produced or instrumentalised by belligerent states during the Second World War (though Depictions of Munich, Berlin and Rome treat the longer periods of National Socialism in Germany and Italian fascism). Having been sourced in various archives, this mass of found material has been scanned and painstakingly collaged together in hundreds of digital layers using Photoshop to form six composite wholes. These were then printed for exhibition on walls or mounts stood apart in gallery spaces. Depictions of Munich, reproduced as Figure 1, gives an impression of the wider series. (1) Although all the maps assembled in a particular work figure the same city, they do so from different perspectives, at different times and for different purposes. There are maps derived from both Axis- and Allied-identified states; maps annotated by states-people and by foot-soldiers; maps that project imagined futures and others meant only to figure existing situations. There are maps used to plan cities and others to commit acts of urbicide; maps that preceded hostilities and others that outline prospective peace. The documents of which the Depictions are comprised are thus disparate, indeed often overtly opposed to one another. All are nonetheless united in presenting the city as an object of state practice, often war.

This article explores connections among cartography, modern states and warfare, as they are articulated in these artistic assemblages of maps. Unlike the many art practices that engage cartography's rhetorical power to enact notions of nationality and statehood, Kocken positions mapping primarily as a practical instrumentation of the state. My argument takes as its point of departure Zygmunt Bauman's metaphorical conception of the modern state as the 'gardener' of society: a diagnostician and designer that surveys received conditions and replaces them with planned alternatives. Unpacking Kocken's artworks alongside this theory shows how the Depictions present cartography as both an instrument and record of state struggles to consummate confected designs in social reality. Attending closely to the juxtaposition of state plans and maps in the artworks, the article advances several critical understandings of cartography. First, I argue that maps serve prospective social visions even where they appear narrowly representational. Positioning future plans beside maps in situations of radical transformation, Kocken brings to focus the interventionism implicit in state cartography. Then, drawing from Stuart Elden's work on calculability of modern space, I show how maps have ontological agency in the artworks, stressing that it is only through mapmaking that these cities emerge as 'plannable' at all.

If the Depictions crystallise the entwinement of maps with the modern worlds fought for by states, it follows that Kocken's artworks assemble a reflection on modernity through maps. Accordingly, I unpack how Kocken presents the various functions that constitute transformative state projects. Discussion focuses on his interrelation of different artefacts, drawing on their material histories to show how some rendered existing conditions legible, others projected alternatives, while still others helped realise them. …

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