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Tom Winkelspecht Emotional Atlas of my Grandmother’s Room Before illness forced her into giving up independent living, it was a long-running tradition to have breakfast at my Gran’s house every Sunday. I have asked my family to map the layout of her dining room. It has been a year since my Gran passed from cancer, and little more than two years since any of us have set foot in her house. So in making the maps, my family is forced to rely on long term memory more than they would if they had been asked to map anywhere else. This challenge was part of why I selected the location for my atlas: it is wholly impossible to revisit the physical location as it would have been decorated, and due to a dislike of cameras on her part, very few photographs of the room. Memory plays an important part to the maps. Invariably, any party of that side of the family would be centered around her dining room. It is this identification of the room’s importance to my mappers’ emotional memory that drives their narratives. As a collection, they are trying to prove something, not only to the audience they are imagining but to themselves. This idea greatly affects their maps. How they choose to outline the room does not become a question of technical skill, but also of familial affection.


Above: How my Great-Uncle Roy remembers In her 2007 discussion of using maps to show the effect of sonar on whales, Propen writes that maps are objects of visual communication, and that a visually literate person can interpret visual actions, objects and symbols in an environment to understand the rhetoric of both the map and it’s maker; and in deciphering what the map/maker deems important and how we, the audience are supposed to read the map. The instructions I gave to my mapmakers was to draw from memory a specific place. What they decide to draw and what they decide to leave out; their entire approach to mapmaking becomes propaganda, an effort to influence their readers view. Perhaps what is most interesting is what the mapmakers felt was important to include. The idea of what a dining room is about dominates their maps. For example, take the map of my brother’s girlfriend.


Above: How Melanie remembers Having by her own admission, only been in the dining room once, it would naturally be harder for her to map the location. What then does her map show? Despite remembering almost nothing about the room’s layout, she felt (knew) it must contain a table, and that the table was most likely in the center of the room. How could she, despite mistaking the actual shape of the table, so confidently include one, having seemingly no memory of any other object in the room?

Above: How my father remembers Because the table is necessary to support the dining room code. In order to be dining in the


room, we must have something to dine on. It is a part of the whole reason for the room (despite the reality of actual amount of time the room is used for this). A dining room must have a dining room table. This, I believe, is synecodoche; the part representing the whole. This can also be referred to as closure, according to Scott McCloud. It is this same understanding of the code of what a dining room is that influences several other maps. In those that feature furnishings, each map is dominated by this idea of the dining room, which gives the impression of a very imposing table commanding the center. This was not entirely the case. The dining room table was not very big at all; in truth a simple card table with an extension board. Yet, it is a key to the code and to our understanding (mapping) of the room because it is a conceptual structure, something defined by Hall as a device for understanding the purpose of the room. As such, several mappers assign it a much more commanding presence than is perhaps accurate (which, when combined with the centering, draws readers attention).


Above: How my mother remembers


Accuracy is perhaps a funny word. Was my Gran’s dining room simply a collection of questionably drawn shapes?

Above: How my girlfriend Christine remembers If the mapmakers seeking to show how well they remember, should they not attempt more technically accurate drawings? Not necessarily. According to comic writer/theorist Scott McCloud, reducing to the abstract is actually a good thing, “not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details.” We reduce things to icons, and icons, he claims “demand our participation to make them work.” But few of the mappers were content to let the visuals of the map, the room layout, speak for themselves.


Above: How Duke remembers In discussing representation, Sean Hall posits that “adults often have to have things explained for them.” Conceptually, my mapmakers are beholden to this. ​ Is very rarely trusted to carry the weight of conveying the idea of table. Propen argues that “visuals rarely work in isolation from other texts and contexts.” But, we must question if the visuals of my mapmakers are really so isolated. Firstly, my collection is titled Gram’s Dining Room: A Memory Atlas, so these visuals are not entirely removed from either text or context. Readers can fairly assume that the maps collected will be of the dining room layout. Is it necessary then (as several mappers did) to catalogue each


particular item? Readers are visually aware of objects in the room; and given both the readers’ assumed familiarity of dining rooms and what Denis Wood calls “a universe of representations”, can already interpret them as furniture. What does the labeling signify?


How Mary Kate remembers


First let us exclude the possibility that this is noise-the action of interference that causes dissonance between sender and receiver. Given the inherent nostalgia factor, the labeling of furniture becomes confirmation of emotional connection. (When I asked my great-uncle, he sounded shocked that I could not remember what the room was like, and I had to explain several times the goal of the assignment.)


Above: How Maddie remembers


This enforces the myth of the map, the tale it wants to tell. The myth coded by my map-makers is two-fold. Without knowing if their map would ever been seen by anyone else, the mappers are still trying to convince someone of the validity of their map (and memories). The rhetoric is not aimed only at convincing strangers that this is how it was, but themselves. In my atlas, each mapmaker is drawing a map that they believe proves they can remember a room. The labeling is two metaphors: having everything in black and white to mean accuracy/fact, and amount=importance. Readers are supposed to be impressed by the minutiae of the labeling, which, rhetorically confirms that the person has many (well-formed) memories of the place being mapped. It is the combination of these icons, that the story comes out. Through the icons, labeling, etc, the mappers are, as McCloud puts it “creating a sequence with two or more images, we are endowing them with a single overriding identity, and forcing the viewer to consider them as a whole.� To put it simply, the mappers are telling a story. This story: Of course (broadcasts the maps with text, arrows, etc) of course I remember what Gram’s dining room was like. To not remember would be a disservice to her.


How I remember


An Emotional Atlas  
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