Confinement - Manuel Gnam - Lake Gullible

Lake Gullible

Manuel Gnam

Manuel Gnam, 2020.

Confinement
January 2021

Meghan Rolvien At first, every landscape presents itself as immensely chaotic. Your maps question territorial realities and present a certain geographical ambiguity. Place descriptions suggest a connection between land and emotion. Have you ever been to Lake Gullible?

Manuel Gnam I’ve seen it but honestly, it’s not worth going to. It’s situated somewhere between Comfort Beach and Identity Delta. I try to draw maps of how I think tech companies organize people: making profiles according to their preferences, their physical and emotional states, and their sociologies instead of more classical cartographic signifiers like country of origin. Old maps feel like ancient tribes to me, whereas these new ones are based on broader categories of how individuals identify. And because the tools of tech companies amplify the belief systems of the individual and target their prejudices, many people end up feeling more at home in online worlds that respond to them rather than the places where they live. From a technology point of view, people are just target demo(geo)graphics. So, who do I want to show my content to? People who are on the left, or dog owners, or vegetarians, or people who are, well, gullible?

MR In 1957, Guy Debord presented the Naked City. Fragmented urban parts formed his personal view of Paris. It was one of the first attempts to demonstrate psychogeography. When did you become engaged with maps for the first time?

MG In 2013 I started painting panoramic landscapes and combined them with names, which is related to the maps I am doing now. But the times were very different then; flipped paintings became a genre in itself and that went hand in hand with a new wave of Silicon Valley libertarian utopianism. My paintings back then were meant to be like a heated fever dream; endless posters of beaches that you often find behind office desks mixed with words like “Tax Breaks,” “Futures,” “Investatainment,” or “Dodgy Tropical Islands.” These works felt much closer to Ed Ruscha, whereas the fragmented complexity of reality that I see today relates more to Guy Debord’s psychogeographies. But it’s also funny with Debord, that he was drawing these new maps partially in an attempt to give people agency back against the “iron grip” of the entertainment industry, which back then was the old media forms, Hollywood and some venues for amusement in Paris. We have that agency back today because we can collage together our own media. We just can’t switch it off.

MR The territorial networks formed by humanity are always also mechanisms of exclusion. Do you think that territory could become less segregatory?

MG It’s hard not to be pessimistic about that. In the virtual world, there could be a chance to make it less divisive, but only if the way business is done is fundamentally changed, if profits weren’t made from exploiting vulnerabilities, but from supporting progress.

MR The feeling of imprisonment is sometimes directly connected to a specific urban or suburban site. Sometimes one feels like a prisoner of one’s own environment. Can you relate to the feeling of being imprisoned?

MG Luckily I have never been incarcerated.

MR Thanks to Google Maps, human perception of the environment has changed radically. Localities are connected to ratings. People move back and forth between their saved locations. Bad ratings warn you about making a bad choice. Do you think individuality is shrinking because of modern maps? Do you wish for a mapping approach which is less evaluative?

MG The tools and mechanisms of the internet have flattened nearly everything consumable onto the same ontological level and streamlined it into a ratable “experience” and a popularity contest, even art. That has definitely changed culture and the way individuality is playing itself out. People and tech companies trust way too much in peer reviews and numbers. In the end it’s about who gets visibility, and it should be obvious that the more opinions are considered, the more mediocre the outcome will be. However, I do think one can get around that.

MR Lines on a canvas become places just by being named. The abstract represents a concrete physicality. What are your thoughts on the importance of place names?

MG For a painting I think this is a great thing. Imagine if Jackson Pollock would have named some of his drips? In general, names have become very strong symbols, and people are fighting very hard for them. It has to be done.

Category
Land & territory, Interviews & Conversations
Subject
Virtual & Augmented Reality, Maps
Return to Confinement
Author

Manuel Gnam is an artist based in Berlin. He is the editor, with Taslima Ahmed, of the journal Art Against Art: Art Journal from Within Post-Market Culture.

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