To describe the urban wilds as liminal spaces feels quite natural; it encompasses my interest in them as rich spaces of encounter, at the interface of human-nonhuman relationalities. Yet, the idea of the liminal has a tendency of relegating complex happenings into little other than fleeting thoroughfares - deprived of their own situatedness. My research and practice is trying to articulate these unique happenings of the urban wilds, and over the last six weeks I have been busy in situ with Millers Pond Local Nature Reserve to understand the unfolding more-than-human relationalities. This week, in the dry heat, I worked with others to explore collaborative mapmaking as a means to trace these happenings.
i. finding a focus
Armed with blank maps, before we set out to explore I extended an invitation for us to consider if we have a particular interest area in mind for our maps. For myself, I found intrigue in the discarded, the overlooked, and the out-of-place—a desire to bring attention to the forgotten narratives that dwell in the margins. Others, guided by their own sensibilities, delved into sensations, sounds, or the silent narratives of nonhuman creatures. Our diverse interests formed a constellation of perspectives, intertwining to weave a tapestry of collective understanding.
ii. tracing the unseen
With our themes in mind, we embarked on our exploration of the nature reserve. Step by step, we allowed ourselves to be guided by intuition and observation, in a slowness. The first discarded bodies to hum out to me were a peculiarly located array of chewed sticks, found in the middle of the field, far away from the woods — stories of encounter, repurpose and play. Others attuned with the melodies of birdsong, the roars of traffic - simultaneously there, here, and everywhere. With each encounter, our maps began to take shape, capturing embodied footsteps within the space, and all the encounters with others.
iii. collaborative cartography
After a very hot walk, we returned to the study centre to reflect on our experiences and turn our attentions to a larger collaborative map. Here, we were able to layer our encounters together, into one knotted collaborative cartography. Through dialogue and negotiation, our map shaped out beyond individual perspectives, emerging a collective narrative of our more-than-human encounters. Boundaries of 'themes', 'categories' or specific lines of inquiry fell away into blurred and fuzzy lines intra-layered into a fluid weaving of dynamic encounters and relations.
It feels that in the practice of mapmaking lies a practice of placemaking - a collaborative and embodied process that transcends the mere representation of physical space. Experimental mapmaking can unfold as a vessel through which we engage with the essence and spirit of a place, through an exploration of all its emergences and relation - human, nonhuman and otherwise. As we carefully trace the contours of the land, mark the points of encounter, and intertwine our individual narratives, we breathe life into the very fabric of place, and with it community. In this way, mapmaking feels to me as a form of alchemy, transforming lines and symbols into a collaborative happening that evokes a sense of belonging and deepens our connection to the more-than-human world. It is through this process of placemaking that we can come to know and honour the relationalities in all their histories and imaginings that coalesce to make place what it truly is.