Past is Prologue: A Scenographic Cartography of 'The Tempest'

Landscape promo image
In performance: the Scenographic Cartography reveals the unseen past of Ariel in 'The Tempest'. Photo: Daniel Ho

This thesis began as an investigation of the intersection between architectural representation and dramaturgy, which uncovered a rich web of practitioners across architecture, theatre and other fields working in the realm of experimental mapping.

Drawing on this research, this project uses William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to explore speculative cartographic ideas in a fictional plane. By eschewing a real-world landscape to instead employ the First Folio text as a semantic and graphical ‘site’, it also probes at the fantastical quality of 'islandness' in the Western colonial imagination.

This research does not seek a resolved architectural conclusion but, rather, revels in the complexity and ambiguity of its interdisciplinary discoveries...

From the latter half of the 20th century, there have emerged a variety of alternative mapping movements which critique the limitations of distance-dominated Western cartography, instead emphasising more intangible experience-based facets of landscape. This thesis discusses a range of experimental mapping by Western cartographers—deep mapping, psychogeography and other contemporary precedents—through the lens of narrative time, place, memory and the role of the cartographer. It also draws a comparison to the understanding of landscape in indigenous knowledge systems in the Pacific region.

The project consists of a series of maps of 'The Tempest', exploring theatrical narrative, character and layers of the past, and developed through a hybrid of architectural making and performance. The role of the cartographer is taken to be analogous to that of the dramaturg, and mapping is used as a creative design practice and an analytical dramaturgical tool.

The maps operate by the following rules:

  • Characters create the world through their narrative pathways and relative power dynamics.
  • Time defines the construction and augmentation of the mapping field, in all dimensions.
  • The text performs many roles: as narrative site, graphic landscape, and spoken mapping.

Layering and its permutations—overlaying, superimposition, reflection—are employed as the main productive operations, to create and interrogate the relationships between different planes of information, across mediums.

Relational landscape
Ariel: an ephemeral spirit of the elements and indigenous to the island, depicted through traces of ink bubbles. Prospero: the usurped duke of Milan, 'collecting' servants to expand his influence, denoted by the abstract territorial grid.
Narrative Map for MODOS 2 larger YES
The Narrative Overview Map depicts the island through the narrative content of the play. Time tracks in a linear radial manner around the map: each wedge corresponds to the relative length of each scene. Propero, positioned in the centre, is orbited by all other characters. Ariel, however, is not confined to these dark grey geometric ‘tracks’; her movements and acts of magic (in purple) expand Prospero’s area of influence. Orange demarcates memory: when a character recalls the past. This map largely aligns with the play's traditional intent: an isolated island space with potential for magic, with Prospero in the centre.
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This key model staggers the scenes of the play along a new axis, introducing spatial depth as an expression of time.
Individual model photo 2
SECTION centered YES
The History of the Island or the Dark Backward and Abysm of Time: A Composite Isometric Section into the Layers of the Past. This map challenges and 'deepens' the Narrative Overview by uncovering the 24 years+ of history prior to the events of the play. The new 'centre' of the map becomes the spirit Ariel, who connects these layers of narrative time. This also allows for the three ages of Ariel's existence on the island to be identified. The section spatialises these events through Ariel's relationship to time and other characters.

The titular ‘Scenographic Cartography’ is a multimedia installation wherein the drawn maps evolve into a set for a performance of themselves. The staging follows the three ages of Ariel's life on the island, as uncovered through the Composite Section. The layers of time are conceptually depicted through mesh and suspended models within the Proscenium arch theatrical space. These are hung in sequence throughout the performance, and the map animations are caught and augmented by them. The cartographer becomes the character and inhabits the mapped world.

Images of the performance full length
Three main scenes show Ariel's time on the island: the island of spirits before others' arrival, being trapped in the cloven pine by Sycorax, and servitude to Prospero. All performance photos by Daniel Ho and Victoria Gancheva.
Screenshot 4 YES
Looking up
Images of the performance little piece YES THIS
Images of the performance 2
Images of the performance FINAL