Mapping autotopographies

Mr. Bryan Harris (ANU)
2016 Conference

The notion of an autotopography (Gonzalez, 1995), an environment of possessions tied to the owner’s sense of self, provides us with a valuable insight into the phenomena of personal accumulation of both material goods and information. The practice of cultivating personal identity, an important outgrowth of Enlightenment ideals, has merged with the economic abundance of Western economies to produce cultures of acquisition, whole populations tasked with the opportunity for selfdetermination, personal expression and the construction of a material self. Even as material expression through actual objects loses ground to new digital modes of expression, the growth of “lifelogging” software tools, and the pursuit of new methods for digital archiving are evidence that abundance, accumulation and managing of the self continue to both entice and challenge many.

Creative practice, including that of bespoke makers, industrial designers, artists of both traditional and digital media, writers, musicians—in short, anyone involved in creative production—contributes to the landscape of autotopographies. Objects, real or virtual, are produced, disseminated, collected, used, preserved or buried, displayed or archived. This paper will articulate some of the philosophical and cultural developments that contribute to the perceived need of individuals to reveal through materials and information who they are; in other words, why do we feel compelled to create autotopographies? I will argue that improving our understanding of what drives desire for creative artifacts positions the designer / maker to critically reflect on how their practice operates not just within their immediate economy, but also gives us a more sophisticated and informed view of what it means to be a producer of culture.

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About the author

Born, raised and educated in the United States, I emigrated to Australia in 2012. In 2015, I began my current role as a PhD student at the ANU within the School of Art, pursuing the question of how furniture might support memory and identity. Before commencing practice-led research, I was a furniture maker, but my prior educational background was in architecture, and biology. I currently live in Canberra, with my six-year-old son and forty-something spouse.