Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet’s entire history…¹
This revision of an illusory world, was called, provisionally, Orbis Tertius…
i. Tlön², the world described in the forty-volume encyclopedia known as Orbis Tertius, is by no means a utopia, but like Utopia, it is a place imagined, or rather was. The imagining of Tlön began in the early seventeenth century and so thoroughly was it conceived of that, like an incoming tide, it has succeeded in erasing almost all trace of that which came before it. There are now few who remember the old world.
¹Jorge Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, 1940. Borge’s story, from the collection Labyrinths, was the origin of this exercise in cartography. As such, from here on in posts with titles beginning “01. Orbis Tertius…”, if no reference is made to a quote’s source it can be assumed to be from this text.
²On 6 June 2014 I travelled to Camber Sands, Suffolk, in the company of Jeremy Atherton Lin, with the intention of drawing a large circular map of the imagined world, Tlön, on the beach.
CIRCLE 2: I recognise the enthusiast in David Medalla. He said you should do something for the London Biennale. And he was right, I had been hiding in the studio for too long. The theme is Maps, Mazes and Mystery, he said. I’d been wanting to draw a maze for a while and remembered a fleeting moment in the late 90s when, upon my return from the first trip to California, I spent a weekend camping with teenhood friends on a beach in Devon. In the morning I took a piece of driftwood and drew a maze on the beach, insisting, upon its completion, that my friends take the challenge. Initially I thought I would do something similar for the London Biennale, but the theme also made me think of the Borges I’d been reading recently, especially Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the first story in Labyrinths. In keeping with the numerous circles and the large circular map I’d been working on, not to mention the circuitous routes my research — often into circles, spheres, orbs, globes — had been taking me in, I would still find an expanse of sand, but rather than a maze, I would draw a map: an outline of the planet described in the story. The ideas began to form themselves into a map of sorts too — a textual one. As they took shape I attempted to understand the emerging text-cartography by plotting it out. Not surprisingly, it took the shape of a circle. Simultaneously, the rules of the text emerged, the conditions of an alternate universe in which Borges’s story was a true account, and in which the imagined world really had subsumed our own. For it to work (this time at least) within the constraints of the timeframe of David’s London Biennale, there were aspects of the Borges’s story that could not be factored into the parameters of the story, namely the language and philosophy of Tlön. There is, I believe, scope for returning to this in the future.