Laura Canali
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My maps aim to be a word-colored bridge. Why words? Because to me words are evocative. When I start drawing, my sheet of paper is white. I draw with a vector system called Illustrator, but I sketch by hand using a vector pen or a mouse. I build all my work step by step, starting from geographical borders. As I said before, to me, words are a source of inspiration. Because I often work with many authors who write about and describe the world’s political situation; therefore, I read what they write in their articles and step by step, in my mind, I start creating images that I try to reproduce in my maps. In this case, I brought this drawing because it's a geographical representation we are not used to seeing since America is in the middle. As a rule, maps in atlases usually have Europe in the middle, but now we need to change our perspective. Then, the other peculiarity of this map is its color; actually, let’s say, after words, color is the second most important characteristic of my maps because colors have a significant evocative power. They evoke feelings, much like a film soundtrack: When we watch a film with a romantic soundtrack, we predispose ourselves for that feeling or sensation. And the same happens when we look at a colorful picture. If I always painted a country using the same color, for example Russia or the United States, two very important players on the world stage, I would give it a specific connotation. For example, if I always used purple, which is a color, let’s say, that somehow anticipates sorrow, rather an ill-fated one, all in all, I would connote immediately, it would always give that country a rather sinister look. So basically, I try to alternate colors according to the idea I want to convey of that area in the world. In this case, there was Trump’s world. So Russia, the moment he won the elections, given his electoral campaign, Russia understood he wasn't going to be a true foe, but rather almost an ally, above all when he went to war in Syria. Therefore, in this map, I drew Russia in light blue and the United States, in the middle, the main player, in the colours of the American flag and then, gradually, all the connections that this particular world of Trump had with the rest of the world. In this map - this is the war in Syria. Since the war began, I have been following the events day by day; I have created a lot of maps monitoring the war, from its beginning up to now. And I chose specific colors for every country involved in the war: red represents the area, let’s say, controlled by Assad; what you can see in yellow in the North is the Kurdish area, while purple is the Islamic State. Then there are other areas. For instance, the green one at the top, where there are, let’s say, Turkish soldiers, and then the other areas that are somehow more mixed, occupied by both rebels and international powers involved in this theatre of war. Here, I used red. But I don’t usually use red; I use it really sparingly because it’s an alarming color, one that spells emergency. So in an image, it’s really strong, you have to use it carefully. In this instance, in the years from 2005 onwards, since the outbreak of the war, I have always been using more or less the same colors, to be able to follow, also from a visual point of view, the factions involved. Now, imagine that all my life long, I’ve been drawing for 25 years, I drew up to a certain point, more or less up to 2012; then I counted the maps, I had created almost 5,000 of them, and I decided to stop because that growing number had started to distress me. And, just think, every day I deal with articles about different dictators: I don’t know, for instance, the fights for gas and oil. In short, as I am used to say, I look the world right in the eye. There aren’t many screens between the world and me, I look it right in the eye through the things I read. And so, at a certain point, I felt the desire to draw some maps with a broader approach, maps I then called "geopoetic", since a set of forces led me in this direction. I wanted to create a more imaginative map, free from any political schemes and working constraints. Just then, a friend of mine who teaches at the "Sapienza" University in Rome came to my rescue asking me to try and draw a map based on a poem by Paul Celan, who possibly not everyone will know. He’s a very important early 20th-century poet who composed this beautiful poem, though in a hermetic style, you’ll understand it from its title, "And with the book from Tarussa - all poets are Jews (Marina Cvetaeva)". But this is just the title. Then for the rest, he continues with a series of metaphors and very geographical, poetical concepts. But these are all metaphors. So, my work consisted in unwrapping words, in looking beyond them to unveil their true meaning. This poet is a Jewish poet who was born in 1920 in a European region called Bukovina. Bukovina is a really small region: here is the geopoetic map that I have made based on his poetry. This poet was born in a territory, it’s the green area above the Black Sea, that was always contended by major powers. Actually, there is no real reason for this: it’s not wealthy; it’s a very small territory. Currently, it is divided between Romania and Ukraine, but it first was under the Ottoman Empire, then it passed under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, later on, it became Romanian, then Ukrainian-Soviet and finally, it was shared between Romania and Ukraine, as it is now. So, it is per se a restless land. And this is where Paul Celan comes from, which is in itself very meaningful. But in his poetry, Paul describes this territory as if it were - you know in harbors, when somebody throws a rope to secure a boat and pulls it? That’s it, that’s how he uses his birthplace: to move away and move back. But, he does so always metaphorically speaking because he’s an exile: he has to leave his birthplace because he's Jewish: his family and him, they are persecuted. And so, unfortunately, his parents die in a concentration camp, but he himself survives and is eventually freed. Which is why, when he writes this poem, he is in Paris alone living as an exile. But he imagines, he's drawing, he is writing on this table, all alone, and he imagines going on a trip to the area where he was born by crossing through his life as if, let's say, he is using rivers. As you can see, here I drew several rivers that flow from the Black Sea turning the Black Sea into the throbbing heart of this area of the world, a throbbing heart from which rivers are born: these rivers are important, in Paul Celan’s life. The first is the Oka river, which is located in the East, and it is the one that recalls his happy moments when he was studying in Russia. In Tarussa, to be precise, as in the poem's title. And it reminds him of that mindless period of his life. After that, from the Rhine, he observes the "zone of the mute nations". The zone of the mute nations is a metaphor for Germany, as he cannot say the word "Germany", because it’s the homeland of his parents' murderers. So that’s what he calls it. After this, we pass to the River Seine that flows through Paris - the country that welcomed him, his second chance of life, but he calls it "Pont Mirabeau". Pont Mirabeau is an important bridge: just to start, it already appeared in another poem by Apollinaire. It is not in the city center, it is on the outskirts, and unfortunately, it is the same bridge he would jump off at the age of 50, in 1970. He quotes it in this poem, relating to the city as if it were Paris. This to clarify, let's say, what this poem is like, so how toponyms, geographical places, turn into places of the heart. And suddenly, places we are accustomed to calling by a given name when seen on the maps start to produce sounds and different rhythms while still representing geographical locations. So, this inner journey through these rivers is also an inner journey inside his own veins, a network of veins: forced as he was to sever all ties with his homeland Bukovina, he couldn't even go back as it had become Soviet in the meantime, so there was the wall, the iron curtain, he couldn't even go back to visit his homeland. And it isn't easy to live without being able to set foot where you spent your childhood; it is an extremely painful form of uprooting. But in the meantime, he dreams of going back. Another fundamental element of his poetry and also of his vision of life are constellations. Because someone who has lost his bearings on Earth just like him, with no friends, no relatives, and whose whole world is elsewhere, nowhere near him, studies the sky to find his bearings on Earth, the way ancient sailors did. So, there are Orion's Belt and Canes Venatici, which are located more or less to the East - and represent Bukovina and Russia because, after all, that's his country of adoption, where he studied, while Canes Venatici is in the South to represent Israel, the land of his Jewish origins. This journey takes place in Europe, as you can see: I drew it jagged, a bit strained, torn. Why? Because Europe has just emerged from World War II, and therefore it is no longer young: it is troubling, it has suffered greatly and is badly scarred. It is also old at this point. So, I wanted to represent it as the skin of an old person who has wrinkles, a weathered skin. The poem ends with the word "Colchis", which you can see to the East of the Black Sea. So, I placed Colchis right there. Let's say it's another almost hidden toponym because it represents Georgia, which is a country to the south of the Caucasus, exactly where I put it. It also represents the reign of Colchis, which really existed but also belongs to Greek mythology. It was in the kingdom of Colchis that the Golden Fleece was held. The Golden Fleece was a hiding tool: fleece means hide. And it was the hide of a mythological animal, which was a gold-haired winged ram. It was created by Zeus, and it had gone to the rescue of two demigods, two brothers that had to escape from a mean stepmother who wanted to kill them. And they were carried to the reign of Colchis, where the king saved them and gave them a harbor. And to thank him for his mercy, they killed and sacrificed the animal, kept the fleece and donated it to the king. Why is it important? Because the Golden Fleece is magical and has the power to heal all wounds, not only physical ones but also those of the soul. And so the poet who wants to describe, who places the word "Colchis" as a close to the poem, is actually saying, I will never recover from my wounds because, sadly, history took the course it did and, to some extent, so did my life. Like Primo Levi, he feels guilty, in a sense, he expresses the struggle to survive major events, like World War II. And so he says, I will never recover. Healing would only be possible through the intervention of a magical element, impossible to find. Going through the lines of these poems was like embarking on a journey for me, another journey beside geopolitics that is my job and my passion. Poetry allowed me to discover a parallel world, a sort of Constellation of Poets, as I like to call it, because by collecting and reading poems, from ancient Greek to modern ones, I realized they all thread on feelings. Poetic lines are feelings and describe feelings, but they are also about history, about what we have lived through, and so it’s a sort of reframing historical and political facts through our gut, our feelings. So I thought, this could be, I like to think, the cluster of feelings we all have, we were born with, is indeed strongly rooted inside us all. It's something we all receive as a gift, and feelings are what brings us together. Basically, human beings are bonded together by feelings, among other things. I like to think that they came from the Big Bang, from that huge explosion. Each of us carries a splinter of the big explosion, and this gives us the strength to change the course of our lives when, for instance, love erupts inside of us. Thank you. (Applause)