The Measurement of the World - Cartographic Processes in the Works of Miho Kasama

A Text by Ina Neddermeyer

Cartography, the measurement of the world, means recording a surface, a landscape, by way of several codes, in a way the eye does not see. It is an abstraction, not providing a one to one image of reality - maps are always the result of human attributions.

In her works Miho Kasama makes use of these kinds of visual material and reshapes them in the process. This results in colours becoming sounds, in two-dimensional photos of landscapes becoming three-dimensional shapes, in spaces becoming measurement data. She asks how we may perceive space, nature, reality around us and how this perception is influenced and structured by measurement processes.

I-131 (2013)

The starting point for the I-131 sound and video installation are geographic weather charts showing the spreading radiation after the nuclear disaster of Fukushima on March 11th, 2011. Kasama uses this found footage material for alienating it. The original map is left out, and all that is left is a wave, condensed to become a multi-coloured endless loop, swirling on the monitor.

Not allowing for any clear geographic attribution, the streams of the nuclear disaster, of the invisible threat, are visualised to become an iconic symbol. For not only in Japan but all over the world this nuclear accident was a key event shaking our belief that nature and technology can be controlled.

To make this nuclear accident perceivable not only visually but also acoustically, Kasama mixed her video installation with sound. Each colour was provided with its own sound, the pitch changing according to the movements of the wave. When the wave rises, there is a higher pitch, when the wave goes down, there is a deeper tone. Kasama selected neutral sounds immediately changing the animation into sound, so that the various colours, which represent the various radiations, can be heard.

The title refers to radioactive iodine which is emitted as soon as radioactive waste is produced. After the nuclear disaster of Fukushima there was evidence for radioactive iodine from South Korea to the USA. Just the same, there is reference also to the I-131 isotope which is used most of all for radioiodine therapy in the context of the treatment of thyroid hyperfunction or thyroid cancer. This way the ambivalent significance of nuclear energy becomes obvious: The wish for control and controllability being eclipsed by the always present threat of radioactive fallout, i. e. loss of control. This ambivalence is symbolised by the weather charts documenting the spread of radioactivity. Here the nuclear disaster is rationalised by way of the map and thus seemingly controlled. By leaving out the geographic map and reducing the wave to its aesthetic dimensions, both visually and audibly, Kasama undermines this idea.

space coordinates (2011)

For centuries, being able to grasp and depict reality and the structure it is based on has been the starting point for scientific and artistic research. For example the one-point perspective, developed in the age of Renaissance, allows for depicting three-dimensional space as a two-dimensioned surface. In the 19th century, by way of photogrammetry, this process was reversed - now one tried to extract three-dimensional measurement data from two-dimensional images.

By her wall installation titled space coordinates, Kasama crosses over different measurement techniques and digital procedures, thus questioning the rationalisation of perception by way of perspective. The thus generated measurement data form a dense network of numbers covering the whole surface of the exhibition walls. They are the respective coordinates (x, y, z) printed on A4 sheets and put on the wall as wallpaper.

The thus resulting raster structure of the sheets of paper does not only, by way of dividing the surface into pixels, take up the process of digital photography but also refers to the construction of the one-point perspective, for which threedimensional space is made two-dimensional by help of a chain lattice. The proportions were kept and can be depicted in a geometrically correct way. Also the human eye works according to this principle, the process of seeing focussing the three-dimensional environment through the pupil, to then transforming it onto the twodimensional retina. 

detactical photography (2011)

Nine magnified lattice-structured aerial photographs of landscapes are arranged in a showcase, their particular structure becoming obvious only on second glance. By folding the two-dimensional photographic paper they are transformed into a relief structure, thus taking up, emphasizing, undermining the shape of the landscape and creating a new, artificial one.

Here the process of folding symbolises the constant change of the maps Miho Kasama uses for her works. If the unfolding of geographic maps is a necessary action to make them completely readable at all, here the artist undermines the process. For, folding makes the depiction less readable for automatic programmes, as then it is no longer possible to generate clear measurement data from the photos, e. g. for military purposes. Rather, what is happening here is a personal, associative approach at the mapped landscape, working against objective measurement and creating highly subjective models.

 

In a variety of ways Miho Kasama’s works deal with the measurement techniques characterising our perception of the world. For material, she makes use of scientific classification systems, presenting them as visual phenomena and making their construction nature obvious. In the process, by way of new mappings combining fiction and reality, fixed attributions are broken up and changes of perspective are made possible, thus challenging our perception.