joshua neustein texts
Mapping Out Strategies of Dislocation
by Irit Rogoff

"Geography (is) the eye and the light of history... maps enable us to contemplate at home and right before our eyes things that are furthest away" (Johan Blaue, Le Grande Atlas, Amsterdam, 1663)'

"Mapmaking as a form of decorative art belongs to the informal, pre scientific phase of cartography. When cartographers had neither the geographical knowledge nor the cartographical skill to make accurate maps, fancy and artistry had free rein"

(J.    Wreford Watson, 1972)2

Joshua Neustein's paintings of maps plunge us directly into the midst of a major contemporary debate concerning the relation between object and subject in image making and their foundations in epistemic structures. These paintings of maps, which abdicate neither their right to the status of art nor their obvious association with cartography, serve as a visual discourse on a major post-structuralist polemic, namely the location of theories of cognition within the framework of ideological positions. In their very insistence on their right to live out such a duality and in their formal properties they combine a scale alien to map making with an austerity alien to picture making, Neustein's maps continually demand a confrontation between the conventions of both traditions and most importantly, between the implications of these conventions as modes of perceiving the world.3

The two modes juxtaposed are the tradition of scientific linear perspective and mapping as an artistic form. Linear perspective as thematised by Alberti was not just the process of binding the picture to vision and visual perception, but also the definition of what he chose to term a picture; it was not just a surface, but a plane serving as a window for a human observer whose eye level and distance from the plane were the essential factors in determining its rendition. The making of the picture was defined by the positioned viewer, the frame and the definition of the picture as a window through which an external viewer looks. The emergent humanist approach of the Italian Renaissance, which increasingly emphasized the new role of the spectator in relation to the picture, was carried into the pictorial world itself when Alberti insisted that all appearances of things are purely relational. Furthermore it is the human figure alone which is capable of providing the measure of whatever else the artist cares to represent.4

The consequences of affording man, the positioned viewer, the determining role was, as Erwin Panofsky noted, the beginning of the dissolution of any pie ton al equality and the establishment of a qualitative process in which each planar direction and each object was measured in termsof its own intrinsic worth.5 However this process had far greater implications than the provision of a fully articulated technique for the organization of pictorial space. As Panofsky saw, the history of so-called scientific linear perspective could equally be seen as the triumph of a sense of reality founded on a notion of objectivity and on the creation of a distance between subject and object. Similarly it could be described as a triumph of overcoming the irrational will which denies the distance between subject and object. The increasing refinement of linear perspective allowed for a fixing and a systematization of external reality and for an extension of the individual ego which controlled this process.6 The legacy therefore was the construction of a world view which is founded in notions of objectivity and rationality and the recognition of a central beholder who possesses these qualities and reconstructs the world according to them. Within such a reconstruction there is little room for~a plurality of narratives or view points, constructed through the binary opposition of difference, being enacted. Furthermore the logocentric reconstruction of space could not be played out without the colonization and appropriation of that space and its insistent anchoring in the beholder.

The mapped view on the other hand suggests an encompassing of the world, without asserting the order based on human measure that is offered by perspective pictures.7 This tradition of picture making, has its roots in Dutch art of the seventeenth century and paralleled the expansion of navigation and oceanic travel. The Dutch experience of "the other'; connected to the colonial and mercantile contacts, ushered in a recognition of other cultures, other geographies, linguistic and economic possiblities. Some aspects of "the other" were subsumed by European perspectives, other aspects remained intact, developing along the same lines as the commodity markets. This duo condition led to a formulation of a non-relational language of visual representation. At its center we find the astonishing concept of the unpositioned viewer which insists on the plausibility of the view from anywhere or nowhere. Dispensing with the positioned viewer and the entire logocentric construct allows for a multiplicity of habituation and a pluralism which transform the mapped view into a variety of perspective modalities of collective, national or individual narratives. For all its expression through easily recognized conventions of knowledge, the mapped view in picture-making nevertheless recognizes that "the geography of the mind is in the last resort, the geography of the mind"8. Joshua Neu stein's maps are located within a new discursive space which is formed out of the tensions between these two positions. They encompass within themselves an entire range of contemporary possibli ties of making images and the dialectical tensions and binary opposites which form a challenge to the traditional concepts of epistemology These paintings can be read as the formulation of a cognitive theory which is in itself imbued with uncertainty concerning both the empirical and the spiritual bases of logical positivism (on which any cognitive theory must be founded.) We find easily read cartographic texts, which in their very corporeality signal fundamental absences and challenge the conventions of the systematized relations among perception, verification and representation. Thus for all of their cartographic detail these paintings set up a strategic resistance to an empirical reading. Within their space the domination of a fixed position is abdicated while simultaneously normative codes of empirical verification are constantly spun around in an interior debate on the nature and validity of representation.

If these images are not maps according to the traditional European conventions of cartography as picturemaking, what are they? They can be read instead as meditations on the issues of boundaries and definitions, and the interactions between these two. They have their genesis in the mid 1970's in a series of works done in Israel, such as "~I~rritonal Imperative" and "Sculpture for a Moving Border" which create a speculative visual discourse on the illusory nature of the stability of borders. In the first instance these works have to be viewed as site specific since they provided a reflection on a particular sociolpolitical situation in which borders served a supreme function. The geographically limited State of Israel encompasses within its recent history a wide range of shifting borders; some designated by international mandates and others resulting from armed combats: Green Lines which invoke memories and intentions and heavily fortified ones which protect all the previously specified borders contained within. Historically the narrow strip of land which is Israel today has been traversed with the borders of numerous conquests and settlements, ancient and modern, each of which defined its achievements by establishing its boundaries. Within the perpetually volatile political situation and amidst the considerable debate on the validity of boundary lines determined by conflicting sets of political and ideological beliefs, clearly distinguishable borders have become a parallel to the achievement of coherent identities.

While not wanting to privilege biography as an analytical tool, one must nevertheless recognize the degree to which moving borders and shifting identities in the art correlate with the artist's own itinerant history The maps, Neustein says, "began in 1980 with the intention to map out the whole world as a form of 21st century landscape"9.

To begin with the maps seemed to be charting out a geography of the heart, since many of them have at their center the city of Danzig, Neustein's birthplace and the point from which he set out "to refugee throughout the world;' as he puts it. The city of Danzig, which he set up as a kind of medieval "coeur du monde" is placed within vast expanses of unspecified and undifferentiated European and Asian terrain. This process of non-empirical location is further complicated when we begin to ask which Danzig is being referred to? Free city of the German Reich between 1872 and 1918? Free international city during Weimar Republic populated by Germans, but located in Poland? Or is it Gdansk, birthplace of the Polish Solidarity movement of the 1980's? What emerges then are the parallels between moving borders and shifting identities which cannot be tied down to national or cultural emblematic entities and cannot be signified by conventions of cartography. Instead declarations of subjectivity replace pretenses of objectivity within these maps, defying the traditional view of cartography as the manifestation of increasing human control over the world through knowledge and articulation. This taxonomy is supplanted by narratives of memory, of dislocation and incoherence In which the small familiar spot that is Danzig is set bobbing about in the vast dark expanses of its continent, its geographical location providing it neither continuity nor coherent identity. So much for the positioned viewer and for the vast bodies of rational knowledge at his disposal to construct and chart coherent narratives!

In the paintings of the past two years, the terrains have been separated into clearly defined autonomous entities. Their interiors, however, are still unmarked by the cartographic conventions of epistemic structures such as national boundaries, economic or historical geography. Executed in steel gray tones with severe black outlines and occasionally enlivened by metallic hues and iridescent surfaces, these works invoke, in spite of a playful legitimation and flip attestation, a seriousness of purpose through their austere monochromatism. Their surfaces are marked by a seemingly detailed concern with topography and terrain which is indicated by formations of fine black powder which denote mountains, rivers etc. It is only after considerable scrutiny that the viewer realizes that these details, in fact, do not indicate any reflected realities of the supposedly mapped surface. Instead they formulate an illusionary visual language of cartographic credibility and proceed to deploy it for purposes of critical obfuscation, rather than clarification. It is the fact that these images do not agree to function in the way in which we expect them to function that alerts us to their real discourse, a discourse which addresses itself to representations of knowledge which stand in for bodies of knowledge, and which perpetuate assumptions about verifiable realities. If these textural and tonal suggestions with which Neustein covers his maps are not the significations of geographical realities, what are they? Perhaps they are atmospheric qualities, contributing a dimension of individuation to continents whose interiors are undefined. It is these playful dualities which are constantly enacted on the surface of the work, and which make their close observation so rewarding. The interiors are fluid, open to limitless redefinition, suspending all the rules and conventions of transmitting knowledge visually, while substituting some nebulous notion of atmosphere for all the unnamed entities that filled those boundaries. But what kind of atmosphere is this? Is it the banality of continental stereotypes or is it the signification of genuine stratospheric hazes and cloud membranes which serve to further obscure that which Is so hard to decipher. Neustein himself says of maps that "they have elusive defining properties and a certain virtue of indiscernability" alerting the viewers, that strategic plays with the very concept of decoding are being set up before us. 10 Instead we are presented with large scale outlines of continents, executed with painterly bravura whose very corporeality emphasizes all that is absent - the impossibility of rendering that which constructs them from the inside in the form of myriad coexisting pluralities. Like Michel Foucault in "This is Not a Pipe:' Neustein's art makes claims that visual language is discourse, not reality and that the way in which one alludes to the other in the late Modernism period has to be carefully rethought, particularly when it is harnessed to images which are supposedly self-evident conveyors of objective information.

Of late Neustein's paintings have acquired a layer of objects, most of them object trouv~es, which are superimposed over the painted surfaces of the maps. The nature of the objects themselves seems extremely humble to begin with: metal cones, sticks and grids, geometric shards of glass etc. Their juxtaposition with the maps however engages two very different levels of language, neither of which is usually subject to any form of critical interrogation. Does "Ultraviolet Catastrophe" (~987) allude to some aspect of the continent's present state or is it another atmospheric component that combines with the lines and textures to enhance the work's realism? These found objects seem to be the signification of another discourse, one that is parallel to the usage of cartographic images as purveyors of absolute knowledge and in which these .2, maps/art objects are in turn viewed as commodities. The artist himself says of them that, "the platforms, objects of industry, that are superimposed over the maps are not so much planar dimensional extensions of the map matrix as they are scrutinies, discrete annunciations of commodified products." In other discourses, such as those of mass media advertising, the combination of maps and markers of industrial production has undergone an almost complete process of commodity fetishization and has become the signification of distances traversed by modern .2, transportation or of markets conquered and goods distributed over vast global expanses. For Neustein, they serve to enhance the liberating potential of the mapped view which does not serve specific and easily identified vested interests. If anything the cones, grids, geometric poles and cut glass locate the work deeper in the sphere of art since they also relate to avant garde art's break with simplified form and abstraction. The hallmarks of the early 'heroic' years of modernism and epistemic structures combine to call attention to their status as language.


Another dimension, that of time, has been introduced into these

paintings, since these works are significations of certain, unspecified continuities of histories and legends, languages and images which together make up the global culture. Superimposed on the paintings are the archaeological artifacts of industry and the ersatz debris of space satellites. The very impossibility of their coexistence within separate time frames; maps as eternal and unchanging, and industrial objects, reflecting the transient presence of their production, is strongly protested in these works. The counter epistemic nature of Neustein's maps, the unspecified .2, interiors of the outlined continents, provide conceptual refutation of such convenient assumptions. In "America Under Glass" (1987) the industrial debris is mobilized to denote the limitation of the visual base of cognition. Numerous shards of transparent glass piled over half of the map serve as the very opposite of the glassed and frameds urface which protects the work and facilitates its viewing. At the same time as the glass obfuscates the image, the work, mounted on a set of legs and assuming the form of a low table, expounds a whole range of puns concerning 'coffee table art' and other ways in which art have been packaged as ingratiating commodities.

In early modernism, bricolage is the transformation of communal industrial debris from easily decoded conventions to strategic interrogations, in a way that processes of perception have been inevitably imbued with meaning and loaded with ideological positions. Here Neustein has achieved by their reformulation as art, not by the classic sense of early modernism which served to undermine the holy status of art, but by engaging in the contemporary issues of representation and the validity and legitimacy of images as conveyors of meaning. The strategies of dislodging and dislocating which Joshua Neustein employs in his art (not determined solely by autobiographical narrative, but are surely informed by it), are part of a modernist assumption of engaged art, indivisible from other concurrent issues that are being debated in the public sphere. Their ambition in combining several modes of signifiers within a discourse on the validity of representation and coding of the epistemic foundation of knowledge, lends them an aura of remarkable optimism. What Gramci had termed 'the pessimism of the intellect which is countered by the optimism of the will" is here played out in a highly individualized rewriting of the assumptions of both knowledge and memory The mapped view, previously the stronghold of the unpositioned viewer, is expanded to encompass limitless pluralities in which differences are conceptually constituted.

Irit Rogoff, rofessor of Visual Culture, Goldsmith University, London. Excerpt from Terra Infirma: Geography's Visual Culture, Routledge, London, 2000.