The project starts with the acknowledgement that we live today in a world that is too disjointed, especially in relation to the discourse around migration. We cannot see the totality, either through the deliberate obfuscation of governments, or by biased media promoting a particular argument or simply resorting to hyperbole. We also live in a time of visual overload. We are surrounded by large numbers of images available on the net and social media, but increasingly also computationally derived visualisations of large scale data. Topological Atlas uses this ubiquity of the image and takes the problem of the disjointedness of information seriously by producing visual narratives and counter geographies that allow us to glimpse, if only momentarily, a version of a bigger picture. Such interpretations can prove highly useful in making sense of what are increasingly complex situations. The very abstraction of this form of representation is also a way of hiding the details of individual lives. In the current situation of the mass movement of people, there is an urgent need for such new tools that allow us to understand this dynamic situation.

This five year research project follows one migrant trajectory towards Europe and focuses on three border sites: Pakistan-Iran, Turkey-Greece, and the UK understood as a set of dispersed border practices. The aim of the research is to develop a methodology for mapping, analysing and intervening in border areas in the form of a digital atlas. The project combines digital technologies with a participative approach that attends to those at the margins of traditional geopolitical inquiry. Using topology as conceptual framework and methodology, the aim is to make maps that produce ‘seamless transitions’ from the space of the migrant to that of the security apparatus that creates barriers to her movement. In doing so, Topological Atlas seeks to disrupt the cartographic norms that are being reinforced at borders through the use of data analytics in conjunction with militarised technologies of surveillance and control. The project understands the need to address borders from the point-of-view of those who attempt to cross them as an ethical imperative that requires a form of research that is both participative and attends to the politics of location.

Dr Nishat Awan is Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures and Principal Investigator on the ERC Starting Grant, Topological Atlas: Mapping Contemporary Borderscapes. The project is hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture. Prior to joining Goldsmiths, she was Senior Lecturer at University of Sheffield, School of Architecture, where she led the MA in Architectural Design.