Map of

Deskland

Documenting chaos

Documenting chaos

Engaged in meticulously observing objects – their changing locations, their function and movement patterns – I searched for ways of mapping, understanding and displaying mess structures.

Having elected to study an ordinary piece of piled-up chaos, I set out to analyse the accumulated mess on my student halls desk. At first glance, my Deskland gave the impression of a confused three-dimensional jigsaw.

The accumulated finds were sometimes piled high, often overlapping. The desk site appeared to bear 31 layers, comprising 183 objects.

Photographs were taken of the desk before the work commenced. The 31 layers were carefully isolated, then recorded. The contours of each object were then traced and compiled into a first map of the desk. A grid of coordinates was established, out of which eight geographic areas were determined.

Scientific discipline

Although applied to rather insignificant personal effects and various pieces of scrap, my research process ironically relied on obsessive attention to detail.

Each object was carefully studied according to its provenance and the distance traveled from there to the desk, as well as its age in months (from the date of acquisition). Aiming for perfect accuracy in collected data, I kept a virtually scientific discipline throughout what became a comprehensive archaeological survey.

Topography issues

The objects of Deskland were stacked up in a way that made traditional topographic representation impossible.

Topographic maps provide a detailed record of land areas. Along with geographic positions for both natural and man-made features, they display a variety of elevation levels in the landscape volume – plains, valleys, hills and mountains, that weathering and erosion have made wider at the bottom and thinner at the top.

In contrast, the objects of Deskland were of course piled up regardless of their widths and shapes, which called for a custom topographic representation system

Following in-depth research into a variety of mapping conventions, I eventually decided for a colour scale system, which would show all elevation layers in transparency. This gave birth to a sort of X-rayed aerial view of the excavation process, which I called chromatopography.

 

Archaeological survey

Early in the process I noticed particular features, specific to some of the areas. It was pretty obvious, for instance, that the Northwest and Northeast back corners of the desk, barely accessible from my desk chair, contained objects that were seldom used. These items proved to be generally old, and often had been retrieved from journeys abroad.

On the other hand, next to the computer was a highly accessible area in which the layering levels reached a record. Most of the objects there were notes, drafts and doodles, drawn out while working on the computer. These were generally not older than a week or too.

Having collected a vast amount of data, I was able to produce a comprehensive survey of the site of Deskland which, inspired in its form by archaeological reports. The survey determined the general function and nature of each region of the desk, revealing its organisational pattern.

The conclusions of the study called for a drastic reorganisation of what appeared as a typical designer’s desk: organised around the computer, or black box area, Deskland showed no actual works – or operative area, and gave up most of its available space to the storage of rarely used items.

Final result

The final Map of Deskland, as exhibited at London’s Oxo Tower in June 2008, presents the conclusions of the study alongside a large lateral view of Deskland. It displays each of the 31 stratigraphically isolated layers, divided into the 8 sections of the site, and describes each object, classified by section and topographic position, with its exact age and traveled distance to the site.

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