‘contained’: a 10-year project around surrogate bodies, dislocation & mapping

A research, documentation and installation project, in development since 2018 (though originally conceptualised in 2009). With the plan to present an iteration of the experiential concept in Shanghai in 2020/21.

A shipping container holding and transporting stories from individuals and communities, with particular focus on those from the Chinese diaspora. Unlocked by visitors through projections, sculptures, audio recordings for an immersive audiovisual, tactile environment, plus an invitation to leave your own. Subverting the usual function of containers

“A travel agency for the mind, journeys to unique, nameless places in the imagination and memory of strangers”

Excerpt from my concept directions in 2009: during this first iteration I only reached the research, initial development and conceptualisation stage, though was unable to secure funding. Unfortunately I no longer have the documentation, renderings, videos and models.

My main focus has been on the idea of space, both personal and shared, and also on sharing that space, of bringing and being together. What interested me most was the possibility of creating space from what already exists, but
giving it a new emphasis and meaning; one derived from people that it is important to. I realised that the notion of place is very different from space. Space is something that is shared and public, whilst a place is personal and unique to each person. From here I found what are known as
mappa mundi’s, medieval maps which dictated more knowledge about the world as the people of the time knew it, rather than its geographical exactness.

Stage 1

First I would ask the general public to generate their own mappa mundis, tag spaces on an online system much like google maps, where they can indicate what places mean what to them, by descriptions, photos, videos, links, etc, this would then be fed to a general worldwide mappa mundi, where the land mass and, all geographical details and named, generally identifiable elements are taken away, eg cities, to leave a map made up of only experiences, feelings, thoughts on the world – a different kind of map of the world as we recognise it. This would be an ongoing element to my piece, where viewers from wherever they are in the world can view the map in this way, zooming into detail, following traces of another unidentifiable human in the world.

Stage 2

I wanted to take my audience member to a different place. But I wanted this to be done by another person with very different personal experiences and thoughts, Therefore I would select a number of different sites and ask for 48
participants from each site – all of which have created extensive mappa mundi’s. My current example I have 12 foreign communities. With these 12 I will send an empty 12m shipping container, with room for 48 50×50 allotments filled with dirt, where my 48 foreign participants will sow seeds in, as if creating a symbol/parallel life of their community. These will be brought back to the home site (London), and arranged in a formation like this. I will add a 1cm thick glass floor to the container, so an audience can walk on it, as well as lcd touch screen walls. As well as 4 wide-angle data projectors, which can at one time project on 4×3 allotments, pointing downwards.

Stage 3

The audience will enter into through a narrow passage, not being able to see the exterior of my piece, entering a central zone, where they can choose by colour which container to visit.

The audience member begins by entering the shipping container either on
their own or in a small group, so they do not interfere with each others’ experience. The doors close and they are left in pitch darkness for a few seconds, a voice of one of the 48 foreign participants will start to describe a space, one that they live in/grew up in/knew very well, this would be the place that the container was sent to. It is not about names and specifics, no mentioning of cities and exact places, just the descriptions of experiences and how they feel about the space they are in, how it makes it a place to them individually. I would like the viewer to experience some form of dislocation, not just purely physically, but possibly by feeling the emotions of someone else. Whilst this is happening, on both sides of the container will be slowly revealed panoramic views of the space. Different on both sides, around 2 on each side. The viewer is able to walk up and down the container as they wish. Fade to black again.

As this ends a red light will turn on at the far end of the container,
drawing the viewer to it, when they reach it they will be dictated
instructions on how to navigate through the rest of the piece. As when they turn around again, the data projectors would have lit up a detail out of every one of the 48 foreign participants’ maps, but only of the foreign participants who have set themselves to be online wherever they are.

On the left lcd screen will be the community mappa mundi. The viewer is then able to choose which foreign participant’s map they wish to view by standing on their allotment. Where at that point the community map will have changed to a personal one, and on the right lcd screen the participant is able to see close ups, such as photos, view videos, etc, manoeuvring through the map by touching the screen on the left.

My viewer would be given a set amount of time in a each container, and would be allowed to view others. As a result of my foreign participants being online and willing to share their personal experiences, they are in a way remotely allowing the seeds they sowed to grow, by giving the plants light to photosynthesise. Without this they would not survive in the pitch black container. With my interest in surrogate bodies, I thought I would be more revealing and worthwhile to as a result of communication and foreign, distant interaction, bring to life biological forms.

For the viewer walking a likely total of 20m or so, I wanted to experience something personal to another person, who they’ll never know or meet. Giving these unconnected, distant people a collective space, a portal, a way of being together, by recognising the fact that the space we share, the world, is a different place to each of us entirely.

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