Map Marathon

16–17 October, Serpentine Gallery, London

My map fails en route to Map Marathon. Feeling concerned about the way, I reach into my bag for the A-Z only to find the relevant pages stuck together and directions obscured. By the time I find Exhibition Road, I feel compelled to break into a run. I approach the Royal Geographic Society at 12.06pm, and follow the throng outside to look down on a garden featuring around a dozen individuals/performers sporting brightly coloured costumes/sculptures and standing very still alongside an oboist playing something Baroque-sounding. I consult my timetable: it states that Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones should be addressing us. But there are absent—there has been a deviation. I deduce it is the work of Luigi Ontani, ‘AuroborusSerpentine’. Ouroboros of course represents self-reflexivity or regeneration. This impasse between audience and players lasts some 25 minutes and sets the tone for the day.

Comprising 46 hours over two days, it wasn’t called it a marathon for nothing. The idea of the Mobius strip has been creeping into my thoughts since I read Marathon participant Russell Hoban’s Amaryllis Night and Day in preparation for his presentation. The Mobius strip is akin to Auroborus or an infinity sign. A well-known visualisation of non-orientable surfaces, of which the Mobius strip is the definitive example, follows thus: if an ant were to crawl along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. The hypothetical ant walks the strip without any measure of its progress. Our need for signs and totems to mark progress—which is perhaps one way to think of maps—is something worth reflecting on. Disorientation—achieved in many ways, not least the durational element of the event—was a clear objective of Map Marathon.


Hans Ulrich Obrist includes poet Edouard Glissant’s notion of mondialité, approximately translated as ‘worldliness’, in his introduction. Another rationale was the concept of the derive (origin), in both environs and the body. Obrist also cites the work of sociologist Bruno Latour, which describes scientific practices as a means of reconsidering paradigms of knowledge production. John Law’s 'After Method', makes much reference to the work of Latour and Woolgar concerning theories of the ragged nature of knowledge production.


Particular realities are constructed by particular inscription devices and practices, or perhaps they are constructed by particular maps. Law’s argument deserves to be quoted at length: ‘Reality is secreted. Notice that this posits a sort of feedback-loop. Statements stabilise and then recycle themselves back into the laboratory. This means that once they are demodalised, yesterdays modalities become tomorrow’s hinterland… It is not a matter of words representing things. Words and worlds go together. Propositions… include realities, include a collective. Include and grow from what I am calling the hinterland… Some kinds of standardised inscription devices and practices are current. Some classes of reality are more or less easily producible. Others, however, are not, or were never, cobbled together in the first place. So the hinterland also defines the overall geography—a topography of reality possibilities.’


Feedback loops, hinterlands, deviation, Auroborus, Mobius strips, ‘reality’ manufacture—these key ideas are built into Map Marathon’s agenda. The reconceptualising of how we understand the idea of a ‘map’ is significantly facilitated by the format of the event, grouping together presentations from about 30 individuals each day. Some are involved with digital representations of data and statistics, a a surprising fascinating element of the timetable. Others are directly concerned with the politics of ‘ordinary’ maps and map-making. Richard Hamilton’s conversation with Eyal Weizman about his map of Palestine, is earnest and rousing. Yet other artists are more obliquely concerned with mapping the human body and gender. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge closes day one with a plaintive musical lament on pandrogeny. There is also discussion of maps in relation to narrative. Matt Mullican’s stand-out performance deals with codes and mapping within his paintings/ performances: it is brilliant and deceptively light-hearted.


The cumulative impetus of Map Marathon makes a strong case for epistemic and ontic negotiation within the cartographies of knowledge, and demonstrates the potential for the different sorts of maps we might navigate ourselves. My thoughts are analogous to frequent geographical lost-ness, but perhaps there is no need for despair. A decent sense of direction is useful, but not always necessary.

Kathryn Elkin is an artist based in London