The Maps in Our Heads
by Emmanuelle Roy

The days when cartographers used compasses and astrolabes to chart nautical courses are long past. The time when itineraries were etched on tablets made of clay is part of an even more ancient history. Today, the planet is continuously photographed by satellites and the snapshots from this magic eye-in-the-sky are available on the Web at any time of day or night. Want to see Beijing as the crow flies? The Great Pyramids? The roof of your home in Sept-Iles’ Beaches District? No problem. A few clicks and you’re there - with the added bonus of enlarging or shrinking the image, if you desire, and playing with the map’s scale until you’re towering high above or curiously close to these places captured by satellites so numerous we mistake them for stars.

At a time when machines are even transmitting us maps of the planet Mars, a project like scale:human is a wonderful anachronism. What we are being proposed here is the creation of an intimate geography based on the testimonies of Sept-Iles’ inhabitants. And that’s exactly where the scale:human artisans sourced all of their work: in the internal atlases of those who chose to speak about the places that make up their daily routine, the places they dream about, and those places which are no longer.

Thanks to these accounts, a map like no other is taking shape. This is a map pieced together from walks along the wharves, the memory of a first kiss or a plan for catching the mineral dust on Retty Street.

The map has plenty of room for the sensations, dreams and colours that change by the hour or the season. It tells of the places we go when we need to be in the presence of something larger than ourselves, the places we knew as children and that we revisit in order to take stock of what we’ve become, that which we like to see and that to which we’ve turned a blind eye. It’s all in there - the beautiful and the ugly, the ocean and industry, the forest and our commercial landscape. There are love stories both beginning and ending, the subtle border between the Whites and the Innu, a blueprint for a French garden that will probably never get its day in the sun....

Many recount the enduring beauty of their surroundings while others, fleetingly, are troubled. What if the sea, urged on by climatic changes, reasserted herself, as Bernard suggests. What if the city were submerged?

Our inner geography is certainly nothing to be underestimated. It speaks of what makes the world go round as much as what stops it in its tracks: as Laureat worries about the trees around the Old Post being cut down, as a retired surgeon dreams he’ll win millions in the lottery but can’t rest until he’s decided that some of the money will go to transforming the industrial quarter into a kind of Central Park for Sept-Iles, as Pascal imagines that Ferguson and Monaghan Beaches are surrounded by tall, identical buildings and that the water of the St. Lawrence is as hot as Hawaii’s, I see the personal and the planetary becoming one and the expression ‘human scale’ taking on its true, full meaning.

Several centuries ago, European explorers landed on our shores with maps in hand. Based in the knowledge of mathematicians and astronomers, these maps meant nothing to the native North Americans they encountered, who carried their maps internally and for whom writing and the printing press meant nothing. They knew the land like the back of their hand but transmitted this knowledge to each other through speech and an experiential understanding of travel. To me, scale:human’s subjective map echoes that first encounter, uniting the best of both worlds: oral and technological. In bringing us to see the places we know in a different way, by making new landmarks, scale: human gives us moderns the privilege of having maps in our heads once again.

Sept-Iles as you can see it on Google Local.

A walk map drawn by one of the participant.

The garden in his Head.

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