Reading & Exhibiting Nature Conference
University of Westminster, London, UK
‘Reading and Exhibiting Nature’ was a three-day conference examining how nature is being understood in contemporary cultural and artistic production. With a focus both in and beyond the polar regions, it aimed to explore how artists and scientists are apprehending and representing natural phenomena, engaging with emerging non-human materialities and translating environmental data into aesthetic experience. The conference sought to explore the shifting definitions of nature and how nature, including plants, animals, land, water/ice and weather inserts itself into human affairs and is represented culturally.
‘Between Maps & the Mississippi – the shifting cartographic representations of a river and its surrounding environments’ was a spin off from my dissertation. It was presented within the ‘Reading Nature’ component of the conference where questions around what kinds of diverse strategies exist to let nature speak and what new aesthetic practices can provide to reveal nature differently.
This paper provides a brief exploration into the representation of the Mississippi River through the vehicle of its cartographic history, exploring the changes in how it has been represented and the subsequent implications to its use and occupation. The Mississippi and its tributaries have not changed in their perpetually oscillating nature since the first streams of water began to flow through America into the Gulf of Mexico. However, within more recent history the dramatic protean nature of the Mississippi has been contrary to a fervent human desire for uniformity and consistency. In an effort to ascertain a certain degree of predictability regarding the Mississippi’s courses and flood plains, its alluvial valley has been subject to numerous and repeated mappings and investigations, especially by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
The nature and informational complexity of the investigations into the Mississippi river and its alluvial valley has resulted in the production of a diverse range of sophisticated geomorphological maps and surveys. Although all of these maps enable a spatial understanding of the river, they are also highly representative of the codes under which they are culturally and historically constructed.
The evolution in the mapping of the Mississippi alluvial valley provides highly evocative examples of territorial representations and data visualization being used to devise a reconfiguration of spatial and geomorphic constructions. The regularity of the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ investigations provide an interesting case where new built environments are quickly affecting the previously slow geologic processes, and where mapping is being used to help validate and initiate intervention.