How to become a trespasser or how to produce a crack in the map

The dérive and choreography as critical urban practices

Etcetera 1 Dec 2005English

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Contextual note
First published in Dutch in Etcetera: Martin Nachbar,Hoe word ik een indringer, of: hoe maak ik een scheur in de kaart', Etcetera, nr. 99, dec. 2005, pp. 35-36.

On August 22, 2005, Jochen Roller, Katrin Schoof, David Bergé and I meet at the Weltzeituhr at Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Our plan is to follow people and document this with photos and notes. Each one of us chooses a person and embarks on a dérive of following strangers.

First, I go down to the subway drift on the various levels underneath Alexanderplatz. When I find a man whom I want to follow, I don't reflect on my choice. Soon after, I see something that I am not supposed to see: After having taken the train to Ostbahnhof, he first goes to the self-service photo counter of a drugstore to look at the photos of other people. Then he enters a newspaper shop, goes to the porno shelf, grabs a Playboy magazine and browses through it.

Afterwards the man continues running his errants, going to the post office, supermarket and shoe repair shop. Probably it was his wife who sent him on these errants and he took the opportunity to secretly insert two moments of excitement, that approximately fulfilled his secret passions.

I am starting to think about the city as a tangled web of interests and desires. Spaces are created not by the urbanists' planning or by the architects' buildings but by people's passages that all follow interest, desire and passion - to earn and spend money, to not get wet, to plan, to build, to get rid of ragged space, to learn, to eat, to be seen or exactly not, to see, to have sex...

Somewhere on the way out of the supermarket I loose the man. But as I am following a new thread of thought now, I don't mind. I start to go back to Weltzeituhr on Alexanderplatz, the meeting point with my colleagues, and I place the thought about passages that make a city's spaces next to the western entrance to Ostbahnhof, which I pass on my way to the train (like this Russian poet who, during his walks, placed his thoughts in the streets of Petersburg, creating some kind of songline that he would be able to "sing" when passing the "imprinted" places; thus, he wouldn't forget his ideas, unlike me who has forgotten his name...).

Strolling through the station, I recapitulate: a city is made of passages and these passages are guided by various interests and passions. Let's concentrate on the passions and imagine a city full of passionate passages. Such passages would lead people constantly to niches, hidden or not, places of intensity that would be able to produce a crack in the official maps that we know from the a-z's or tourist guides. The passengers would glide or fall through the cracks just like Alice who fell through the well to land in her Wonderland. A city of such kind would consist only of intensities. It would be inhabited by passionate city-dwellers, who would not seek for happiness... So or similar, goes the tale. I place it next to the train ticket vending machine in the station hall, before I turn left towards the platforms.

I am realizing that the man whom I have followed has shown me a possible understanding of our work an mnemonic nonstop: When embarking on a walk through one of the cities, our attempt is to find holes and cracks in the official maps, so that we can crawl through them and map the city in a different way to the one we might find in our tour guides. We don't literally trespass onto forbidden territory, but we leave the commonly agreed on passages of a city. The result of our practice is a heightened perception and an ability to play with the situations we encounter. With this, we create passages that enable us to leave known territories (of land, but more so of perception); we de-territorialise and ideally, our passages become lines of flight. The space gets perforated, so that our passions can leak into the city and vice versa. I have trespassed into the man's niches of passion. The man (who slipped through his very personal photo and porno shelf cracks) leaked right into my brains.

But at the same time, our recording these passages and the events taking place during them (in notes, photos, by collecting objects and physically) means that there is a re-territorialisation taking place. The line of flight leads or leaks right into a process of choreographing. At one point we always leave the lines of flight in order to process the collected data and re-organizing them in choreography (which, in the case of mnemonic nonstop includes not only the creation of movement but also the dealing with language and visual elements).

In the meantime I have gotten a ticket and on the train. Shortly before getting off at Alexanderplatz, I leave the last two paragraphs on the slightly worn seat next to the doors. The moment I step over to the platform, a question crosses my mind: Having thought so much about maps - what are they? Or rather, how do we treat the notion of map for this project? And what is a possible link between topography and choreography?

I go and take a look at Berlin's train and subway map that hangs next to the ticket vending machine on the platform. I see lines in different colors attributed to different subway and train lines. They pass through little circles that all carry names. These are the stations. Most of them I know by name, some less I have actually passed, and a few I haven't even heard of. I understand that this map makes someone else's knowledge and experience visible to me who haven‘t made this particular experience. My senses have not (yet) had immediate access to the visualized objects, in this case some of the train stations and how they are connected by the train and subway lines of Berlin. Maps do this by translating three-dimensional space into the plane of a sheet of paper or by transposing a physical experience into an image. A reader then translates the two-dimensional image back into a three-dimensional inner landscape or into a physical experience by going to the indicated places, stations, roads or streets. The engravings of the print and the engravings of the reader's nervous and other physical systems go into a process of exchange.

This moment of exchange and translation is of particular interest for us. If we depart from the idea that maps make visible knowledge and enable experience through processes of translating between different kinds of engravings, then we can include the activity of choreographing in the notion of mapping. A choreography makes visible an experience through repeatable actions that are engraved in the dancer's/performer's body. This map is read by an audience and ideally there are cracks in the map through which everyone involved can crawl through and trespass onto yet unknown areas, probably creating some meaning.

The map that I have been looking at while thinking the last two paragraphs seems to have changed through my staring at it. It looks as if there is a crack running through station Alexanderplatz. I am not sure if the thoughts have come through this crack to me or if it was me who has created the crack with my thoughts. Not placing anything anywhere, I quickly turn around and leave the platform to go to the Weltzeituhr where I meet Katrin, David and Jochen.