This was a simple, storytelling-focused mapping workshop. We were interested in trying out very direct ways of marking and tracking significant but intimate uses of our neighbourhoods.

The prompt for locations that were mapped was: In the last 8 months, which for most of us has been roughly the local timeline of the pandemic, where in your neighbourhood (or adjacent areas) did you go for solace? Dans les huit derniers mois, ce qui pour la plupart d’entre nous correspond à peu près à la chronologie locale de la pandémie, où êtes-vous allé-e-s chercher du réconfort dans vos quartiers (ou dans les régions adjacentes)? We chose this word solace instead of other similar words, like comfort, leisure, or rest, because we think it maybe captures a little better the sort of experience which is comforting but doesn’t resolve or fundamentally change the larger circumstances of [ambiguous] grief, uncertainty, and suffering which surround it. Nous avons choisi ce terme réconfort plutôt que d’autres mots similaires comme confort, loisir, ou répit, parce que nous pensons qu’il puisse capturer un peu mieux le genre d’expérience qui apporte du réconfort, mais ne résout ou ne change pas fondamentalement les circonstances englobantes [et ambiguës] de deuil, d’incertitude et de souffrance qui nous entourent.

At first, we thought mostly about private or individual experiences related to solace. I thought for example about a specific patch of grass in Parc Jarry where I went regularly for months at the beginning of the pandemic, usually alone. I realized after that I went there partly because it provided shelter on more than one side (thanks to a forsythia bush and a small slope) and outlook in several directions (towards a walkway, pond, and the sky). But we also wanted to invite reflection on the places we went to meet with people and spend time together. Talking with friends, we quickly realized that these encounters were another kind of solace-seeking, and decided to include both private and shared experiences in our prompt.

Where did you go to find a view, have long conversations, observe your surroundings, or whatever other kinds of things you tried as solace? Why did you go there? What did those locations allow - for example: arriving without public transit, navigating spaces with appropriate physical distance, sitting on separate benches, etc? And what did they not provide? And if for various reasons you didn’t go somewhere to find these things but instead accessed them, or tried to, from your home, how can these questions apply to the ways you navigated space and encounter in a more dense environment?

These questions might help us describe and understand some of the complicated interactions between each of us personally, our neighbourhoods, and the larger structures which inhibit and propel us, but they definitely can’t uncover the full scope of those dynamics. We’re thinking in particular about how each of us is living in this pandemic with a unique set of realities because of our class, race, disability, gender, and neuro-diversities, so it’s never simple to answer: why did I do that? Why couldn’t I?

One of the articles that helped us to think about our goals for this workshop is Learning from Lines: Critical COVID Visualizations and the Quarantine Quotidian, published in July 2020 in Big Data & Society, by Emily Bowe, Erin Simmons, and Shannon Mattern. They write about how “in response to the ubiquitous graphs and maps of COVID-19, artists, designers, data scientists, and public health officials are teaming up to create counter-plots and subaltern maps of the pandemic.” Describing a digital data dance project, they say “data visceralization brings data into the physical and experiential realms, while also making it more immediate, almost ‘real-time’”. We are thinking of this workshop as a type of visceralization, and this concluding paragraph from the same article gets at why it’s so important to interact with data in this way, in the specific circumstances of the pandemic but more broadly as well:

“Both the creators and consumers of our coronavirus maps and graphs need to attend to irregularities in demographics and geographic distribution, and to consider the politics of who or what is and is not represented in the standard datasets. And those of us who regularly consult COVID-19 heatmaps from the security of our living rooms, hoping to see an ever-flatter curve, should also recognize that those data, while seemingly distant in their abstraction, actually index themselves in our immediate material environments, inscribing their spatial logics in our grocery stores and sidewalks. We can even bring those data into our homes and personal lives, performing them, contributing to their creation, reminding ourselves and others that data is always embodied and local and present.”

[Les données sont toujours incarnées, locales et présentes.]

Hannah Azar
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