A/D/O by MINI | Studio Folder: On The Map

Studio Folder: On The Map

Studio Folder's detailed examinations of mapping practices and techniques will inform new research into America's inner frontiers.

Borders are a fundamental component of maps, denoting both the lines that governments decide (or argue) will divide up the world, and the natural frontiers created by geographical features, such as topography and bodies of water.

Interested in the dynamic between these political and physical boundaries, Studio Folder founders Marco Ferrari and Elisa Pasqual are the first research residents for the At The Border program, curated by A/D/O in partnership with Jan Boelen and Charlotte Dumoncel d’Argence. Cycle one, Charting the Border, focuses on mapping physical, geological and geographical confines.

For Italian Limes, Studio Folder examined the archive of documents for Italy's national borders

“We're interested to understand the relationship between changing landscapes and the actual border on the map,” Ferrari told the audience at the kickoff event for the program on August 6, 2019. “So an interesting question is the relationship between what is a political border, what is a supposedly natural border, and what kind of dependency you can find between the two.”

Founded in 2011 and based in Milan, Italy, Studio Folder’s multidisciplinary practice ranges across designs for exhibitions, books, graphics, websites and more. The small team was responsible for the exhibition design for the Broken Nature Triennale di Milano – one of several focused around a similar theme this year – as well as SQM: The Quantified Home – a project for the 2014 Biennale Interieur in Kortrijk, Belgium, where the architecture of an abandoned school was used to present graphics and data related to change trends in domesticity.

Instruments were placed along the Italian border to record changes in their position

But the dominant theme in the studio’s self-initiated research is borders, and the most extensive of their projects to investigate this topic is Italian Limes. First presented at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, and recently published as part of a book titled A Moving Border, the project involved surveying Italy’s borders with other European countries across the Alps and Dolomites – mountain ranges that form what has been considered a natural barrier for the demarcation of Italy as a modern nation state. Despite Italy’s inclusion in the Europe’s Schengen Area, where internal border checks have largely been abolished, its legal border snakes along the peaks from the Ligurian to the Adriatic seas.

The team went to Florence to study the physical documents that are required to legally define the border, which have been constantly updated since Italy became a country in 1861. “We wanted to know how a border was constructed in the first place,” said Ferrari. “What is a border in terms of its materiality, but also the way in which it is made of documents, maps, agreements, and physical materials.”

The Italian Limes data was presented in interactive formats at the 2014 Venice Biennale

What was most interesting to Studio Folder was how rapidly Italy’s border is changing, as the glaciers that lie along it melt and shift as a result of climate change. “Because these glaciers are moving, the border is moving with the glaciers,” said Ferrari. “For us, this was an interesting glitch in the history of the border, because it allowed us to explain lots of the topics in [...] relation to the image of the border and its representation, the role of technology, and the way in which we measure territory.”

The team then set out to measure this movement, and visually present the changes that are constantly occurring to the boundary. They built apparatus with GPS and altitude sensors, and placed them along a glacial section of the Italian–Austrian border. The instruments recorded their positions at regular intervals, then relayed the data to a computer. At the Venice Biennale, this data was presented in real time using a drawing machine that marked the instruments' exact coordinates on a printed map, reflecting the shifts in the border at hourly intervals.

The Uncharted project involved compiling data collected by NASA's Landsat program

Another of the studio’s research projects, titled Uncharted, similarly examined mapping tools and their impact on how we consider territories. Their focus this time was NASA’s Landsat program, which is using a series of satellites to constantly sense the Earth as they track across in orbit. When compiling the data from this image archive, gathered since the program began in 1972, the team was able to observe patterns showing that parts of the globe were photographed more than others in tandem with specific world events. 

“We realized that the amount of images, and the places where Landsat looked over the course of the different years, corresponded to specific political events,” Ferrari said. For example, the Middle East was documented much more frequently during the Gulf War period.

To physically represent this varied data, Studio Folder etched the linear patterns generated by the satellites’ movements onto a set of white globes – creating snapshots of how Landsat “saw” the world during each year of its operation. These formed an installation in which the globes were mounted onto poles and programmed to rotate, so visitors could examine their differences.

Landsat satellite tracks were etched onto globes to show the differences in annual patterns

For At The Border, Studio Folder is turning its attention to territories within the United States – rather than the widely publicized border along the country's southern limit.

“We are more interested in borders that are silent, difficult to see, away from the ongoing political focus. Borders that are overlooked by the public opinion, because they're neglected,” Ferrari said. “And because they are neglected, they can tell more about the contemporary condition in which we live in.”

Therefore, the research will look at how Native American tribal lands have been re-appropriated as National Parks. The title, A Line Shall Be Drawn, is taken from the Treaty of Fort Stanwix – which resulted in a long-lost border agreed between colonial and native representatives in 1794 – and signifies the role that borders have played in the relationship between the US government and indigenous peoples.

For At The Border, Studio Folder will examine the frontiers of US National Parks, like Yellowstone

“The National Parks and the tribal reservations have an entangled history, so tightly connected,” said Ferrari. “They're connected by parallel ideas of preservation, dispossession and inclusion that produce the contemporary space of North America.”

“We are going to study the conflicts generated around the inner American frontiers, through conversations with activists, government representatives, scholars, naturalists, preservationists, and geographers, in order to explore its meaning and role in shaping the current debate around issues of sovereignty, climate, injustice, and management of territory and land,” he added.

The output of the three-month residency is still to be determined, but the results will be presented at the end of the cycle during an event at A/D/O on October 24, 2019 – along with the work of the cycle’s other research resident Giuditta Vendrame. Studio Folder’s project – as with Ferrari and Pasqual’s previous work – is bound to throw up questions of identity, displacement and ownership, as well as of ecology, stewardship and responsibility. It will hopefully offer some answers too.

Marco Ferrari and Elisa Pasqual of Studio Folder

At The Border is the third research program initiated by A/D/O. Spanning a full year from August 2019 to July 2020, the program is curated in partnership with Jan Boelen and Charlotte Dumoncel d’Argence.

Text by Dan Howarth.