In a World of Their Own - Notes


Len Breen, 2007

'In a Word of Their Own', was an installation constructed at the Hetley Road Studios, Shepherd's Bush, London W12. The installation was viewable from the 27 September to 20 October 2002.

The exhibition and installation represented Part 2 of a visual 'Discourse on Maps', their functions and meanings. Part 1 was exhibited at the same venue in 2001. [1]

1 - Exhibition Elements

The installation - in two studio rooms - comprised:

a circular wall mounted mandela (approximately 2 metres diameter and 40 cm deep), which was made up of shredded maps of world countries;

thirty 'evidence' bags containing the 'forensic evidence' of shredded city maps from around the world;

an interactive shredding event where pages from the local street directory (in this case, Greater London) were selected by visitors, then shredded by the gallery assistant using an office strip shredder, then 'authenticated' and sealed into 'forensic' evidence bags;

a black bin bag, stuffed to overflowing with more shreddings.

Also included as part of the exhibition were a poster and exhibition notes.

A formal discussion with visitors and art students was also an aspect of the installation.

2 - Element Details

A very large collection of country maps was assembled and categorized - mainly by colour. Using an office shredder these were systematically strip shredded then reassembled, in bunches grabbed from the mass of shards and stapled to the backing disc, as a large mandela, symbolically representing or alluding to, the earth. This was facilitated by a sufficient quantity of blue shreds/shards found on many country maps (Iceland being one example). This was centrally fixed on an end wall of the studio/gallery.

Thirty individual town and city maps were shredded, bagged and tagged in transparent pouches and displayed on adjacent walls for scrutiny.

Additionally, visitors were invited to select a page from several large 'A to Z' street maps of London, shred their selected 'territory', place it in a 'forensic' evidence pouch which was then numbered, signed by the artist and tagged and, on payment of an administration fee, retained.

A large bin bag was stuffed to overflowing with colourful map shreddings and placed at the focal end of an adjacent long exhibition space. What of shreddings? Discarded, trashed, burnt, recycled - all represented by the refuse/trash/bin bag. The quantity: overflowing,

Visitors were invited to make readings of the installation and discuss their conclusions informally with the originator.

3 - Interpretations/Definitions

'A World Of Their Own', refers to the individual's relationship to world through the symbolic representation - the map.

The installation comprises a number of approaches to the map which aim to unsettle this relationship. The viewer is challenged when maps are systematically 'dismembered' through a shredding process, requiring the spectator, the viewer, to reconsider their personal perceptions of home and location, and identity and alienation, which the map would otherwise affirm.

Identity, in this instance, is considered to be relative to nationality, residence, allegiance and occupation. It further implies security, community, personality, as well as alienation. It combines both the personal and the political.

The aim was first to establish a connecting narrative visual language, first using various printed international city maps that are shredded then packaged, to create three-dimensional, visual and tactile statements.

The packages, or compositions, would make allusions, or references to, certain objects in the visual world.

The spectator, audience or viewer was then invited to make readings, through interaction and comment, of the compositions. Finally, the artefacts would be made available through the medium of the exhibition to the visiting public as an integrated project.

4 - Using Maps

The map is a graphic representation of many things. The primary representation is that of geographic location. It is also a representation of how human beings, geographically and nationalistically, identify themselves. In doing so they also may identify that place from which they do not come, or perhaps, did once come from; a place they do not know or one they might need or wish to know, or travel to. They identify, in this context, the existential duality of self and other. The denizen and the èmigrè, the resident and the traveller, the wealthy and the poor, the place of peace and the place of war- each pair extends the value that the map may represent in current discourse.

The research has examined how the presentation of the map can articulate and extend this discourse using unique techniques to create a new visual language. In doing so it seeks to enhance knowledge and understanding of these issues.

5 - Shredding

The shredding of documents (printed on paper in this instance) - data/information - is carried out for many reasons; security of information, secrecy, the relegation of surplus information, the efficient control and management of waste, and covering up or discarding of drafts and mistakes. Shredding has played a significant role in popular information processes - the press: politicians and accountants have been both 'saved by a whisker' or 'hoisted on their own petard' when shreddings have been meticulously reconstructed (reference US Embassy in IRAN). But shredding can also mean destruction, loss, alienation, separation, and particularly the loss of home, identity, culture - the loss of human rights.

The forensic evidence usually associated with crime scenes (see CSI Las Vegas, CSI Miami, etc.) and stored in evidence bags or containers and tagged for later scrutiny, lends itself to the creation of new meanings and extensions to the visual language in this context. Physical evidence so collected indicates that some crime has been committed. Colonialism, imperialism, the setting of state borders by such authorities without reference to resident cultures, social organizations, etc, being crimes on a vast scale.

5 - Further Research and Questions

The history of making maps.
The future of 'hard copy' maps.
The nature of maps to surveillance, control and the state.

Len Breen 2007/2014

Learned References & Wise Notes:

[1]      Breen, L. [2001] Exhibition: 'Everybody's Got To Be Somewhere!'
          Installation using 296 sections of maps. Hetley Road Studios, London.

[2]     See: The Hostage Crisis - 30 years on.

[3]     Maps used come largely from folded road maps and country road
          directories/volumesand are largely doubled sided.
          These provide double-sided colourful 'shreds' or 'shards'.

[4]     Further reference see: Tufte, Edward R. [1983],
          'The Visual Display of Quantative Information', Graphics Press.

[5]     Also see: Tufte, Edward R. [1990], 'Envisioning Information', Graphics Press.

[6]     For a more up to date reference see: Harmon, Catherine. [2009],
          'The Map As Art. 'Princeton Architectural Press.