Ephemeral Borders

Going on from the idea that national borders in a political context are subjective, there is also the idea that borders are ephemeral in the sense that they have changed multiple times throughout history and continue to do so. It is ironic how maps are regarded as authoritative tools that have the power to cause serious geopolitical controversies, yet what they are representing are nothing more than mere social constructions of reality.

In these mapping exercises, the evolution of the Chinese national border and how it has changed and shifted throughout history is depicted. Firstly, the different borders from the 3rd century BC to the present day are superimposed over each other. The thin lines and the almost scribble-like image give the borders a fragile appearance, reinforcing the idea of ephemerality. Secondly, the country is animated into a constantly morphing form, resembling a malleable object that is easily shaped and reshaped.




Even different projections of the same country in the same period have different results. (Image taken from @amapaday on Instagram. Originally sourced from http://www.radicalcartography.net/)


Disputed Areas

Looking into the practice of agnostic cartography and how the technological advancement of map making has led to the privatised representation of legal and political conditions of the world… It has intended to maintain an unbiased approach, yet ironically, acquired an inadvertently influential role in the geopolitical sphere.

Below is the depiction of three case studies (Ethan R. Merel’s Google’s World) on disputed areas that lie in between certain nation-states. There are controversies on how these situations have been represented by Google’s ubiquitous cartographic platforms, where it is apparent that a completely objective and standardised map of our world is unattainable. Google has employed agnostic cartography by creating multiple versions of the world map, where national borders appear differently (depending on what country the map is accessed from) in order to comply with the varying beliefs from different parts of the world.

Case Study 1: Militarised Border (Nicaragua & Costa Rica)


Case Study 2: Disputed Territory (Arunachal Pradesh Region)


Case Study #3: Emerging Borders (Crimea)


These initial mappings of contradicting national borders (green and blue) and disputed areas (red), need to be further developed in a way that can convey the potency of maps as data visualisation tools in a global and social context. The aim is to convey a message of advancing technologies that have caused cartography and the role of maps to evolve into a paradox of diplomacy, simultaneously settling and fuelling controversy.


Bordering Identities

Wanting to further explore the concept of different perspectives on borders, I conducted a quick experiment on bordering identities. This consisted of getting myself and my 3 housemates to pinpoint locations on a world map that would have a direct correlation to the construction of our respective identities. This was achieved by responding to questions such as: where do you live? where did you grow up? where are your parents from? where are your grandparents from?… By tracing around these different locations an identity border for each person was created.



Bordering Identities from Kim Visconti on Vimeo.

Mapping Borders & Gaining Perspective

National Borders in the Past 500 Years

Screenshots of the world showing national borders from 1516 to 2016. GeaCron provides a complete World History Atlas & Timeline from 3000 BC. The world and national borders as we know them today are still very recent and are constantly changing.



Breakup of Yugoslavia: an Istrian Perspective

A perfect example of national borders not necessarily reflecting the national identity and personal identity of its inhabitants. In “Who’s Afraid of Europe?”, Slavenka Drakulic talks about the people living in the Istrian region and the result of the start of the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. The north of Istria now falls on the border of Slovenia and Croatia. When inhabitants were questioned whether they felt Slovenian or Croatian, they answered affirmatively to both, however more than anything, they said they felt Istrian.




What is Europe?

When people refer to Europe, what are they actually referring to? There is a general understanding to what constitutes Europe, but a couple of countries in particular may offer some conflict and confusion on as to whether they are part of Europe or not. The examples below are the different european borders we may be referring to when talking about Europe, we have: the european continent, the E.U. members, the Eurozone, and the Schengen zone.



Stage 1: The Proposal



Data visualisation is the graphic representation of facts, figures, and statistics, which intends to represent information in a way that is simultaneously conclusive of the data portrayed, and informative for further analysis and discussion.

In the past there has been such a strong focus on the precise rendering of data using basic graphic elements, namely through tables and graphs. While this can ultimately fulfil the original purpose of data visualisation (to efficiently and visually communicate information), it is not enough. This treatment of data visualisation is outdated. With the growing respect for creating “good design”, the aim isn’t only to communicate information anymore, now there is a need to grab a viewer’s attention and stimulate their engagement in a way that isn’t only informative, but also offers insights and something to relate to on an emotive level. What is the use of accurately visualised information if nobody is interested to look at it? Neutral colours and bland stylistic elements are neither expressive nor visually engaging. Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg present an interesting discussion on the matter:


Geographical maps are a visual representation of the locations of places, but just like insipid graphs, they do not inspire visual engagement or interaction since they are only there as referential sources. How can we make maps interesting to look at and engage with? Cartograms, for example, are already more interesting as they communicate more than just location; the distorted shapes that originally represented land area and distance is determined by an alternative variable, the result of which the viewer can relate to on a more personal level.

A world map that is designed to show the governmental boundaries of countries and states provide a medium in which people can pin-point a place that they associate with their national identity. But what constitutes national identity when boundaries have shifted throughout history? When national identity is a perceived understanding constructed by humans themselves, based on a wide array of cultural and political notions, such as food, language, history, values, etc… how does someone choose to define their national identity in a world of increasing globalisation, migration, and multicultural cities?

This project, aims to provide a reflective insight on the subject of what constitutes national identity through a mapping and visualisation of shifting borders that have defined nations throughout history —  when is a better time than now to reflect on such matters than in the wake of political and social turmoil affecting everyone on a global scale.

The visualisation of data will encourage viewers to compare the concept of “national identity” from what is told to them, to what they have learnt and understood through their own experiences. It will demonstrate that an accurate representation of data and visually engaging graphics are not mutually exclusive, rather the latter enables more meaningful perception and understanding of the subject. Finally, this project will exercise the methods to create a successful design response, where aesthetics and function go hand in hand.