This study focuses on the convergence of art and cartography, whose approach provides relevant discussions about the critique of scientific maps. In the context of the Critical Cartography, Jeremy Crampton says that a critique is an investigation of the assumptions of a field of knowledge, not a disapproving judgment. In his own words, “critique is a political practice of questioning and resisting what we know in order to open up ways of knowing”. In that sense, contemporary art plays an important role not only to discuss the relationship between power and knowledge in cartography, but also to propose other categories of thought. Embracing aesthetic purposes, artists use maps as an expression against the false neutrality of the formal cartography, which considers a map as precise tool to represent space based on strict conventions. J. B. Harley says that a map will always be a partial representation and cannot be exempt from its ideological inclination. Thus, the explicit manipulation of the cartographic language in the context of visual arts can uncover other qualities of the space, making clear the partiality of the maps. Therefore, we emphasize the potential of artworks to communicate different insights about how we experience and live the contemporary space.
Among several map properties, there is a crucial visual element: the representation of borders, understood here in a broad sense as an arbitrary delimitation of a certain space. In general, borders are based on political decisions, often involving tensions and power dispute. Therefore, scientific maps have to clearly communicate these borders according to strict rules. However, people’s perception of the real space could not exactly correspond to this rigid definition. This scenario leads to the following question: how the intersection between art and cartography can improve the critical thinking about borders? By questioning borders, we suggest that art is able to show that real spaces are characterized by liminal spaces or thresholds, not by absolute or strict separations. Contrasting with borders, the notion of threshold not only indicates the separation of two ambiences, but also includes aspects of transitions, gradual change, movement. Therefore, this concept connects space and time, allowing a transition between two points, experiencing limits, testing forces, leaving the comfort zone, risking new approaches.
From this perspective, we highlight some artworks: first, we selected an image of the installation called Area Restringida (Restricted Area), an artwork created by Mateo Maté. Using barrier poles, Maté created a restricted area in a shape of the whole American continent, which is also under surveillance of a camera and security agents. Visitors are blocked by these “borders”, preventing them to trespass the installation. Second, we’ve chosen an artwork called Upotia, created by Nicolas Desplats. The artist created several paint buckets, labeling them as upotia: the ink supposedly could be used to set the frontiers of an imaginary land. Referring the famous concept of Utopia, Desplats brings some interesting discussions about the “cartographer’s perfect dream” of tracing an ideal frontier. Finally, we highlight the work of Francis Alÿs, an artist that proposed performances in two of the most controversial borders worldwide: the US-Mexico border and the Green Line in Israel.
These examples deal with the strictness of the borders, demonstrating how an aesthetic approach can be used as a mode of interpretation of cultural aspects regarding space in contemporary society. By recovering Critical Cartography investigations to support discussions about borders in arts, this study also raise questions about the arbitrary delimitation of spaces that are otherwise composed by diversity, power relations and conflict.