Becoming a Cartographer is Easy!

This article has been published in akumassa (September 2nd, 2015).

English | Indonesia

From left to right: Mahardika Yudha, Bagasworo Aryaningtyas, Ricky Janitra and Prilla Tania
From left to right: Mahardika Yudha, Bagasworo Aryaningtyas, Ricky Janitra and Prilla Tania

I was surprised, even though the surprise should not have been a new thing, when I realized that what we had been doing all this time at akumassa was not only the usual journalist work, in other words, hunting for news. In short,akumassa and its eleven associate communities in ten cities also the native residents who contributed in this activity seemed to become a famous Titan in Greek mythology, Atlas.

Well, maybe that was a bit hyperbolic. Essentially, the work that was done in thatakumassa program was how the residents were able to ‘move the city’ into documents that can be read by the wider community: akumassa was trying to make a map. “If possible, we should be more sophisticated than Google map!” said Otty, akumassa Program Coordinator, one day, when she was speaking at the akumassa workshop in Serang.

The surprise and the amazement came when I entered a modest gallery in Tebet Timur, South Jakarta. On June 7, 2012 evening, I took the time to attend the opening event of DRIFT: Pameran Seni Multimedia (DRIFT: Multimedia Art Exhibition) which was initiated by ruangrupa Jakarta. How could I not be amazed? A simple thing such as little narration could be transformed into a very incredible discourse.

Look at the example on a video titled Jejak Harian Keluarga Ina (Ina’s Family Daily Trace) (2012) by Prilla Tania! On the video, we would see some hands were making a series of dot and line which made a certain pattern and on the left corner we would see sentences that explained that those dots and lines were a trace of individuals in Ina’s family, such as her father who was going to work, Ina who was going to school, her mother who was going to the market, and so on. “The traces of family members’ interaction in the city in one day was narrated by Prilla Tania in a mapping of the pathways which had legends in colors and lines.” That was a quote of the information inside the DRIFT exhibition catalog.

Prilla Tania’s work.
Prilla Tania’s work.

I remembered the activity which had always happened in a series of akumassaworkshop in every city that it had come to. The exciting activity which had included creative hands of all the workshop participants was drawing a map. Starting with a dot, which was usually the location of the associate community office which participated in the workshop, the pencil or the pen then drew lines that created streets or building symbols which gradually showed the shape of the city that the workshop took place: the highway or footpath, the railway track, the town square, the river, or buildings such as the sidewalk stall, the supermarket, the food stall, and so on. All of them were moved into the A3 papers which were joined together to become a very large sheet of paper to accommodate the recollections which were stored in every workshop participant’s mind.

They had been recording and writing the mass stories they got as native residents. The result was a manual version of a resident-made Google map which was also interesting with the display on the computer screen which was connected to the internet. That map, which was the result of the participants’ collaboration in their spare time, might even have a more complete and detail information. If Google was only able to provide the data about the famous places, such as this museum and that building, or this office and that library, this map had information about this stall and that satay house, or somebody’s tire repair shop and some gang’s hangout place, and so on. Not only highway and exclusive places, that manual map also contained tiny path and unique places which were not captured and could not be translated by the satellite.

Again, I could not deny that the DRIFT exhibition had the same discourse as what akumassa was fighting for about the city (or village) with individuals who integrated themselves within the mass as community members in it. The interactive work by Prilla Tania – a work that invited the exhibition visitors to draw their own version of a map on a wall, with a red dot as the center of Jakarta, which was the National Monument (Monas) – actually had the same attitude with the map drawing action in akumassa’s workshop.

The visitors drew a map in Prilla Tania’s work
The visitors drew a map in Prilla Tania’s work

A little different from Prilla Tania. Bagasworo Aryaningtyas had his own way to ‘move the city’ into his multimedia artwork presentation. This artist made an artwork which had the idea about the mapping of tiny paths or alternative routes that he passed through every day on his RX King motorbike. Through the use of video which was synchronized with the screen display of cartographic representation of Jakarta and its surrounding areas, in my opinion, Chomenk (the nickname of Bagasworo Aryaningtyas) with his work Skala (Scale – 2012) was trying to present the competitor of Google map which maybe forgot to consider the importance of tiny path for certain contexts, especially for the residents’ needs. Just like akumassa, that work was countering the greatness of the mainstream discourse which was used by the social media users or other internet facilities all this time.

Bagasworo Aryaningtyas’s work.
Bagasworo Aryaningtyas’s work.

Well, of the three artists who were involved in that exhibition that was curated by Mahardika Yudha, the Ricky Janitra’s work made me ‘overturn’ my head a bit because I was confused. That work titled Anti Difraksi (Anti Diffraction – 2012) which was presented by Ricky, according to the information in the exhibition catalog, tried to present the mapping of the city through the sound. This was the quote from the information about that work:

“…sound, especially in Jakarta, has its own characteristic which can become a unique identical sign and has a tendency to intervene the space and public silently. In this art project, Ricky Janita maps the sound intervention trails on the street… This work plays on the collisions between the sound and picture code, which often happens in Jakarta, which is developed from the character itself.”

“Wow, it’s pretty cool!” I said to myself. “Even drawing a map can be as strange as this!”

Ricky Janitra’s work.
Ricky Janitra’s work.

Since I was still technologically illiterate relating to the computer codes and the like, I could not imagine what technology that could translate the sound into a map. However, according to the DRIFT exhibition, which was held from June 8 to 16, 2012, that thing was already presented in Ricky’s work although I could not see clearly the visual display of the map except a tutorial video for the visitors about how to ‘draw a map’ – or more precisely, how to interact with that work. That tutorial video was displayed near his installation work.

The visitors interacted with Ricky Janitra’s work.
The visitors interacted with Ricky Janitra’s work.

Maybe I could not talk much about that Ricky’s work. However, as an akumassa’s participant who had already learned about how important the things related to space (city) and the aspects which were close to the mass and community, I realized that Ricky’s idea about the sound was cool. The sources of audio and visual which were spread all around us were the important elements to describe the community: how the places we lived were actually, and how people’s interactions within them were shaped.

In this very sophisticated era, surely the activity of making a map did not use complex conventional ways anymore like a cartographer had used to make it. The technology was the main key. However, that did not mean that we, common people, could not make a map, right? That thing was said by Mahardika Yudha in the DRIFT Curatorial Introduction:

“The understanding of this map does not end with the geographic representation which shows the site of land, sea, river, mountain and other physical forms on a picture; or an area representation which states the border or the characteristic of that area’s surface, but also a person’s understanding in mapping the characteristic of the city he or she lives in from various point of views…”

Mahardika Yudha as a Curator at DRIFT Exhibition.
Mahardika Yudha as a Curator at DRIFT Exhibition.

What I understood from it was that, in other words, every person could make their own map about their daily activity and space. At least, it was done by their recollection of the signs that they saw and heard. Furthermore, Mahardika, in his writing, said, “…other than directly go to the field, now the community was helped by the presence of internet which could create virtual simulation space to do the mapping…” So, the map was not just a domain for the experts who understood geography or cartography anymore, but it became something more functional because it presented as a thing that could be used by the community in accordance with their needs.

To make that matter clearer, I had another story. I remembered a few days ago, on the morning when I had opened the website of Twitter, one of my friends had tweeted “The traffic jam on Juanda Street is really bad, man!” completed with the information of the location where he had tweeted, a feature provided by Twitter. Then, that tweet was responded by my other friend, “Poor you, ha ha, while I’m here cooling down eating boiled noodle. It’s raining… RT The traffic jam on Juanda Street is really bad, man!” My other friend lived in Bogor.

From that illustration, I could say that my friends had been ‘making a map’ and I, who had read the tweets, had been a person who was ‘reading a map’. It was more effective than opening the city map which informed about the circulation flow of the public transportation in Depok or weather info in Bogor. The act of making a map like that, according to Mahardika, was, “…it isn’t always to make sure about the information correctness, including the geographical position, but to make sure how far the needs of information can be fulfilled more.” Maybe it was the conceptualized main idea in that DRIFT exhibition. Simple, but in my opinion, amazing.

However, there was something that bothered my mind at that time. In its publication, it was said that this exhibition was one of the efforts to show the development of the artists in using sophisticated technologies efficiently in making multimedia artwork, especially its correlation with the social media phenomenon. When I was in that gallery, I saw that those three artists still concentrated in audio-visual medium only and did not explore further on the use of the social media itself. In my opinion, the social media was not only a representative audio-visual, but it was a matter of the relation between individuals in a certain distance and it could be said that they were always connected. Maybe it could be represented by Chomenk’s work with his map simulation, but what I really expected was a more solid presentation about the users of the social media such as Facebook or Twitter as an artwork that created a map about the city and its citizens.


Well, maybe that was a little experience of mine meeting the map-mapping discourse. The conclusion is, all sounds or voices, pictures, writings and everything in the community are important elements in making a map. And the map itself has already been saved in our mind. We just have to transform it into a work that can become a narration to be read by others. Can this article of mine be called ‘map’ too? *

2 thoughts on “Becoming a Cartographer is Easy!

  1. Pingback: Jadi Ahli Kartografi Itu Gampang! | manshurzikri

  2. Pingback: Kumpulan Artikel akumassa | manshurzikri

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