eltono – navigator|commentator

[Re_Map] for those not in the know (it’s something we are occasionally specific about) stems from our combined interest in representation and mapping in architecture and the allied arts. In Urban Maps we write about Objects and Marks in the urban landscape; referring to art, both sanctioned and illegal. We are of the opinion that certain acts and events made by artists and/or graffiti writers, because of their temporal nature and the sites in which they occur, can provide a commentary on the city in ways in which the built edifices of architecture cannot. For example – the revelation and exposition of interstitial and residual spaces, the discourse between infrastructures and the city and ideas concerning entropy, space, motif, navigation and other experiential narratives. There are some artists that tread the ground beyond graffiti, but are influenced by its traditions and practice as well as being informed by other art that has inhabited the urban environment. Perhaps the most celebrated of these is Invader, not least of all due to his recent exposure in Banksy’s film. Invader’s work with maps is well known and he publishes these artefacts for collectors and fans to buy. Less discussed in terms of his works using mapping as part of his process is Eltono. Eltono has slowly and naturally migrated away from conventional graffiti to develop his own form of negotiation with the city over the last fifteen years, beginning with the mutation of his name into a motif and subsequently shifting from the use of aerosols to brushes and masking tape. Eltono’s ‘tuning fork’ device is intriguing in its negotiation with space and material as each time he applies it to a surface it is slightly mutated in colour and form in an intuitive dialogue with site. This act in itself is architectural, insofar as it carries contextual, spatial, formal and material meaning and can be interpreted using the same. It is in mapping though that Eltono has begun to develop new dialogues with the city, most markedly during a short residency in Vitoria at the Artium Museum.

Eltono’s early mapping exercises were most simply about making a record of his works in sanctioned environments and to accompany exhibitions or residencies. The first two published maps were from projects in Spain and Mexico, at Puerta Lumbreras and Tampiquito respectively. These maps were produced as a record of his interventions and in some senses challenge the graffiti norm which is to photograph, but not necessarily to geo-locate, works.

Map of Eltono's intervention paintings in Puerto Lumbreras

Map of Eltono’s intervention paintings in Puerto Lumbreras. Copyright Eltono.

Map of Eltono's intervention paintings in Tampiquito

Map of Eltono’s intervention paintings in Tampiquito. Copyright Eltono.

At Caochangdi in China, the act of mapping was inherent in the process of the project from its inception, in Eltono’s words:

At the entrance of Caochangdi there is a sign that reads “Caochangdi Art Village”. However, when Eltono came for the first time, he was surprised to find an almost tangible frontier dividing the village and the galleries. After spending a few days in Caochangdi it became clear to him that the people who come to visit the galleries often miss the village, and very few villagers go and visit the art galleries. During his one month residency in Caochangdi, Eltono decided to use his paintings to create a link between these two worlds. To begin, he mapped out the village including all of the tiny streets and alleyways, noting down all the doors he found interesting or inspiring. Entering into conversation with the villagers he explained the goal of his project and asked permission to paint their doors – this served as the first link between the artist and the village. Over the next several weeks, he spent time connecting with residents and painting, creating a path throughout the neighborhood filled with mysterious abstract images.

The subsequent exhibition entitled 1:1 addressed ideas of translation and scale; also present in Land Art and also discussed in terms of its relationships with architectural discourse – we recall Robert Smithson’s Non-Sites in this regard. The map that was produced was not simply a product of the act of mapping, but also an invitation to participation, another recurrent theme in Eltono’s work. In this way the map began to become a part of the work rather than simply a record of it. Invader’s maps have similar operative and performative qualities embedded in their production too.

Map of Eltono's intervention paintings in Caochangdi

Map of Eltono’s intervention paintings in Caochangdi. Copyright Eltono.

The residency and installation in Vitoria was called Deambular, from the Latin deambulāre; to wander. The entire project has been well recorded and written about by both Eltono and Javier Abarca. Here Eltono has taken his mapping activities into new territory and produced a static record of temporal events. During the eleven days of the residency Eltono placed paper versions of his abstract motif in locations typical of his usual sites, doorways, boarded up windows and gaps. These were installed using drawing pins and each day he would visit the site of the installation and record the changes to the motif where pieces or pins had been removed. As well as making this record he also used small, coloured stickers to record his own movements through the city streets. These daily traverses were colour coded and ultimately transposed to a map and scaled to the wall of the gallery to produce a series of abstract forms. The method for translation was much like that of a geographer or transport analyst in that the more frequently used paths were represented using a wider line. This classic mode of translation calls to mind the now seminal map produced by Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe showing all the movements made in the space of one year by a student living in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris and referenced by Guy Debord. Here though, Eltono moves past the Situationist’s production and into realms of mapping that are hard to locate, in terms of their genesis, other than having slowly emerged from ‘post-graffiti’ [1] practice. Debord would probably have ejected a collaborator from the Situationists for being too definitive or productive had they made work of this type, but it is precisely this act of mapping and representation that is of relevance to urbanism.

Eltono's workspace left as part of the installation. Copyright Eltono.

Eltono’s workspace left as part of the installation. Copyright Eltono.

The daily maps as recorded on photocopies. Copyright Eltono.

The daily maps as recorded on photocopies. Copyright Eltono.

The daily maps transposed onto the gallery walls. Copyright Eltono.

The daily maps transposed onto the gallery walls. Copyright Eltono.

The complexities of the contemporary city witness all sorts of attempts by individuals and organisations to try and make sense, rationalise or navigate and in some way Deambular provides a commentary on these forces, events and conditions. It is an attempt to order an experience of place as well as an ambient translation of motion. The routes are informed by pivotal locations of preselected sites for intervention, but also influenced by need – for food, for drink and for materials. In this way they are a negotiation between intent and necessity, possibly reflective of each of our engagements with the urban environment on a daily basis; one which is rarely made visible or manifest. Eltono, quite literally, frames the everyday and follows the Parisian tradition of Debord, de Certeau, Lefebvre – by design or by accident? There are other art forms that involve mapping, but the contemporary movement of mapping in art is quite different in its forms and discourses from those presented to us by Eltono and Invader. There is also a recent history of motion and the city – the work of Francis Alÿs with ice and with guns sping to mind – but this too is different from the evolution of methods attributable to certain street artists. The temporality of the marks made in the process and the personal maps made of the motion provide a loose and momentary ‘fix’ of one experience of place but can be seen to characterise the type of experience encountered by everyone. This ordering of the city is similar to the unpublished cognitive maps that we each construct in going about our business and the slight, and accepted, imprecisions in the placing of dots and in the translation of the maps are emblematic of the minor deviations from our own standardised norms. To understand this particular work as a commentary on the production of space is also to understand our own experience.

[1] The term post-graffiti is used here to mean very specifically art that draws on the graffiti tradition and methods but has moved beyond the simple act of applying a repeat moniker and has entered into a more sophisticated engagement with place. It was first coined by Paul Tschinkel when ART/new york issued the documentary video Graffiti/Post Graffiti (1984). It has subsequently been used elsewhere but can be viewed as a slightly pretentious phrase for ‘street art’. In this instance it is intended to form a distinction between art that adopts graffiti traditions and art that moves beyond them.

projection mapping / light space

Pablo Valbuena - Medialab Prado, Madrid

First brought to our attention via the digital archive slowly building on the excellent ICASEA blog attached to the UK/JP electronic art label, the work of artist/architect Pablo Valbuena challenges the perception of space by the direct manipulation of light to create complex geometric illusions. The use of form, space and light, highly conventional architectural terms, as layers of intervention and re_presentation through sculpture and projection mapping in his work is well removed from the prevalent employment of such.

Perhaps of most interest here are the interventions in urban space, rather than those in interior environments. The animation of the hard rectilinear landscape outside of the Medialab Prado in Madrid (2007) is a post-Tron digital dissection of space. It is remarkable how the aesthetic of cybernetic art has returned to a minimal and binary position. The works of Carsten Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda have consistently relied upon a retreat to minimal linear and geometric form that can be easily perceived as not too distant from the pioneering work of Lloyd Sumner and Roman Verostko.

Ryoji Ikeda - Datamatics

freeway amour / motorway love

A recent visit to Seattle, Washington left the author with some serious early morning syndrome as he struggled to adjust to Pacific time. With internet access this time proved invaluable in terms of researching a days activity. A particular fascination with the interstitial space beneath freeways had emerged that week as the US has much more in the way of aerial roads. Trawling the internet for Seattle freeway information brought to light this amazing shot by Matt Finnish on Flickr.

It is part of a set, one of them has the intriguing tag line “offramp with no destination in Seattle’s Montlake area“. This statement brought to mind the ‘stubs’ of junctions planned for Mancunian Way [A635(M)]  Photos here. A googlemaps search and subsequent examination of the satellite images revealed a most surprising piece of public intervention.

The date of available satellite imagery online is always questionable, just look at your own city and try and find buildings that you know have been recently constructed. The idea of making messages large enough to be seen from aircraft is not a new one either. Commercially, just near to Manchester Airport, the offices of the Renold Chain company bore their name from 1954. The building itself was an RIBA award winner by Cruickshank and Seward. There are undoubtedly numerous examples of the same commercial use globally. The idea has even perpetuated grafitti culture, Steve Powers, in his book The Art of Getting Over first brought to the author’s attention the 350 foot long piece by Saber at LAX. The story was further illuminated by Saber himself unpon the publication of Mad Society. This however appeared to be a different event, one of an appreciation of a surface and its visibility without regard for publicity or infamy, apparently an uncontrolled expression of deisre and a sound local knowlegde of available tarmac.

Renold Chain Company offices (1954) seen from above in the 1970s. Image from Cruickshank and Seward archive.

Saber, LA River, visible on approach to LAX. Image from Streetbombing.

A visit to the site was definitely in order to record this strange intervention and to see if time, or the authorities, had eroded the marks to the point they were no longer visible. The weather was typically Mancunian (that fine rain that soaks you through) and the exploration unusually rewarding.

Date stone of incomplete freeway works.

Access ramp with temporary (permanent) concrete barriers in place.

Words; you can make out ‘GINA’

Big heart

The walk back revealed a good piece of adaptation by the local skateboarders who had fashioned a ramp, using minimal material, to the rear of the concrete barrier.

Probably one for the Temporary Services crew.

Upon return an internet search revealed local press had picked up on the act of love and were asking the question ‘Who is Gina?” The comments make for an entertaining read, whilst not reaching a conclusion.