Text artist's book The Map is not the territory (Montedellarte)


Drawing a contour line in the landscape while walking

2018, Els Vermeersch, Compagnon d’Art


‘Draw a contour line in the landscape while walking. The world is watching!’

This is the motto on a postcard. The map shows a picture of the Alps on a sunny day. It might be a seductive leaflet advertising a summer holiday. Nothing is what it seems. ‘The map is not the territory’ is a leitmotiv within Griet Dobbels’ oeuvre. On 1 October 2017, a group of people walk along a contour line. The height was predetermined, scientifically corroborated and drawn with great precision, down to the very last centimetre, by a surveyor. The walkers follow the line. They also deviate. Sometimes a grassy mound or a branch prevents them from keeping to the route. At the artist’s request, the walkers photograph the landscape with their smartphones. There is almost zero visibility due to the mist. Playful elements and multiple languages mix seamlessly.

The Montedellarteproject commenced in 2016. The artist sought a suitable location, selected the altitude, mapped out the route, measured the contour line, and motivated the local, supra-local and international participants. Everything is carefully documented. Thanks to various social and virtual media, the group is growing throughout the world. Every participant completes a questionnaire. Are you an actual or virtual participant in Montedellarte? Or are you both? Do you love London or Paris, the sea or the mountains, cycling or swimming? The survey gently asks questions about the continent where you presumably live and your knowledge of art. The information ends up in a large database. Photographs, drawings, promotional leaflets, the world map, city plan, notes and press articles are essential components of the Montedellarteproject. Using the database, social maps and virtual landscapes are created and drawn. The growing swarm branches outwards like a web.

It was Alfred Korzybski, the Polish-American philosopher, who first coined the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’. His original idea has been further developed by contemporary writers such as Michel Houellebecq and Alessandro Baricco. In his essay on mutation, Baricco describesthe impact of virtuality and our fear of losing control: ‘We see the looting, but we fail to see the invasion. And, therefore, we do not to understand it. Believe me: you would have to look at it from above.’

Perception and reality do not coincide. The confusion between the real and the virtual has never been as extreme as it is today. Montedellartegives expression to this urgent contemporary issue. The relationship between perception and reality, and the dialogue between nature and culture, are central within Griet Dobbels’ oeuvre. In her work, she examines the relationship of the individual to the landscape. It is possible to view the world through the virtual eyes of Google maps. At the same time, it engenders the need for a smaller scale. The Map is not the Territoryand Montedellarteare about the great and the small, the individual and the group, visibility and invisibility, the attempt to objectify and failing in this task, being in control and losing control, chaos and order, nature and culture. In the words of Alessandro Baricco: ‘It is as if Meaning, which for centuries has been connected with an ideal of permanence, fixed and completed, suddenly seeks a different residence and is dissolved in a form that is more about movement, an elongated structure, a journey.’

I watch the film of The Map is not the Territory (Montedellarte)from behind my computer. A group of hikers draw a line in a mist-filled landscape. The haze clears, and the azure sky of the postcard appears. You hear the wind and smell the sea, or is it the other way around? Nothing is what it seems. The artist takes her position: ‘I try to evoke a whole world with images. Of course, you never succeed. Hence my constant search.’