HIC SUNT LEONES
"In that empire, the art of cartography achieved such perfection that the map of one single province occupied the whole of the province. In time, those disproportionate maps failed to satisfy and the schools of cartography sketched a map of the empire which was of the size of the empire and coincided al every point with it. Less addicted to the study of cartography, the following generations comprehended that this dilated map was useless and, not without impiety, delivered it to the inclemencies of the sun and of the winters. In the western deserts there remain piecemeal ruins of the map, inhabited by animals and beggars. In the entire rest of the country there is no vestige left of the geographical disciplines."
(Jorge Luis Borges, A.B. Casares, Extraordinary Tales, London 1973, after Suarez Miranda, Viajes de Varones Prudentes, libro cuarto, cap.XIV, Lérida, 1658)
With his back kept straight the child lets himself fall backwards into the snow, drawing angels in the snow by swinging his arms back and forth straight from the shoulder to the hip: an image of the body on a surface that temporarily makes the outer membrane into an inner one and which for a fleeting moment refers to that state of being where (at the beginning and the end of life, uterus and body bag in which the dead sailor is committed to the ocean) in its close-fitting covering the body and the space that it takes up are almost identical. With distances and separations space intervenes: the increasing perception is related to the formation of the subject. In the balance of outside and inside the inner movement first seems to become fixed in the outer form of the drawing: it is only much later that views of houses are drawn, with chimneys and shutters, where the point of view of the person drawing them is unmistakably located on the outside. Perhaps it is precisely this which constitutes the fascination of plans – the fact that they preserve both, the view from the outsite and the possibility of entering into them.
The child discovers his passions for maps, withdraws into his room and sits there for many hours looking at an old atlas. He is amazed about the reality that is drawn there which has so little similarity to the one he is used to – it is intendet to be valid for everyone while yet leaving so much room for the imagination in the heads of all those who lack the experience. He draws maps of places he has never been to, that do not even exist, of an unknown city by the sea. Once somewhere on a fresco he sees a depiction of the world in which the number of continents is different and they are shaped differently from those he knows from his school atlas. Excitedly he deciphers the writing on the white surface along the edges: TERRA INCOGNITA, the unknown continent, and HIC SUNT LEONES, fierce lions live here.
Strange places and familiar ones: the subject has always been defined through his radius of movement, his surroundings, the place that he inhabits or has lost as a figuitive, emigrant, asylum-seeker. At the transition from the 18th to the 19th centuries Novalis noted "about the sphere of woman – the nursery – the kitchen – the garden – the cellar – the pantry – the bedroom – the living room – the guest room – the attic or the storeroom". In addition to the assignment from the outside there is the wish to make ourselves at home in the familiar as well as the unfamiliar, to safeguard our identity, to reassure ourselves. The place inscribed into the body: movement, function, habit, circumscribe it ("we always went through here": without hesitating, the number of steps it takes to reach the door; automatized, the turning of the body, when after so and so many steps we have to turn left or right on our way home). Movement sequences which together with sounds and smells also mark the guiding traces of the mémoire involontaire, not only like the places of the ancient theater of memory of the ars memorativa that are artificially imprinted upon the mind ("la memoria artificiale consiste ex locis et imaginibus") and can be filled with images that we choose ourselves and intentionally visited to recapitulate the text of the speech. A trace that can be followed in search of remembrance of things past, combined into a story or having dumped the archeological layers of recollection onto a plane surface, an engramme of an inner map of places that we have been to or long to visit and explore, a site plan on a drawing board of that which we have experienced, with all the pathos and embellishments removed by the passage of time.
Published in: Karl-Heinz Klopf – Planen. Wien: Wiener Secession, 1993.