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The ASCA Awards Committee—Boris Noordenbos, Nadia de Vries and Esther Weltevrede--gave the 2018 ASCA Awards to Simon Ferdinand (dissertation), Daan Wesselman (article) and Leonie Schmidt (book).

ASCA Dissertation Award 2018: Simon Ferdinand

The 2018 ASCA Dissertation Award goes to Simon Ferdinand’s PhD dissertation with the catchy title ‘I Map Therefore I Am Modern: Cartography and global modernity in the visual arts’, supervised by Jeroen de Kloet and Esther Peeren.

Simon’s thesis contributes to the field ‘map art’ by studying how visual artists have used mapping for their formal and thematic substance. By recognising how mapmaking has been tied up historically with institutions and processes of global modernity, the thesis presents map art as a site to explore themes such as utopian urbanism, state formation, uneven development, positivist rhetorics of science and specialism and the calculability of society and space.

Through an analysis of works by six artists, the study makes two main arguments. The first is about how map art inscribes and challenges founding figures and narratives of rupture through which global modernity is typically imagined. The thesis develops an account of the modern ontology underlying cartography: the “ontology of calculability”, which renders the world as a measurable, malleable and as a uniformly extended objective space.

From this ontology, the study identifies map art’s significance in relation to broader shifts in contemporary mapping. The thesis makes a significant contribution by departing from existing accounts that claim that the value of ‘digital mapping’ mainly rests less in how it “takes the map back” from institutional control. This thesis argues that, despite prevailing ideas of discontinuity, digital mapping largely reproduces the modern ontology of calculability. The second main argument, therefore, is that map art’s most significant value instead rests in how it can imagine alternative ontologies of mapping.

On the behalf of the committee, I would like to congratulate Simon Ferdinand on a profound contribution to the field of map art and cartographic mapping more broadly.

ASCA Article Award 2018: Daan Wesselman

This year’s ASCA Article Award does not go to an article, but to a book chapter: “Programming Difference on Rotterdam’s Hofbogen” by Daan Wesselman, published in Deconstructing the High Line: Postindustrial Urbanism and the Rise of the Elevated Park (Rutgers University Press, 2017, edited by Christoph Lindner and Brian Rosa). In this chapter, Wesselman offers a thorough and original analysis of the Hofbogen Project in Rotterdam. Comparing the Rotterdam-based structure to New York City’s well-known High Line, Wesselman skillfully illustrates how the surrounding spaces of an elevated park inform the ways in which it operates as a stand-alone object, and links his findings to contemporary questions about gentrification and urban planning.

Using the Hofbogen Project as his case study, Wesselman argues that the elevated park’s function in an urban environment is not only defined by its specific materiality and architecture, but also its concept as “an elevated space, designed for different speeds, temporalities, and perspectives on the city below.” As a new space on top of an existing urban space, the elevated park plays into a particular spatial imagination, in which the structure itself offers an alternative or “other” experience of the city that it overlooks. This experience of spatial “otherness”, or heterotopia, influences the movements of the elevated park’s users which, by extension, influences how these users interact with the city. Through his reading of the Hofbogen Project, Wesselman successfully shows how the elevated park’s heterotopian features, which engender these experiences of otherness, “offer insights into the workings of contemporary urban redevelopment.”

The Awards Committee congratulates Wesselman on this highly relevant and rigorous academic work. In addition, the Committee finds it important to acknowledge that the author produced this remarkable text despite not currently having a research appointment at the university.

ASCA Book Award 2018: Leonie Schmidt

The 2018 ASCA book award is granted to Leonie Schmidt’s monograph Islamic Modernities in South East Asia: Exploring Indonesian Popular and Visual Culture.

Schmidt’s monograph investigates conceptions of modernity and Islam in popular culture from Indonesia, a country that is simultaneously Islamising and modernizing. Schmidt’s case studies are impressively diverse: they range from Islamic-themed television programs and Islamic rock music to religious self-help books and restyled shopping malls during the Ramadan period.

By no means does Schmidt question the compatibility of modernity and religiosity (Islam is modern, and in many of her case studies Islam is cool, too).  Schmidt’s analyses show how different orientations of Islam and multiple styles of modernity struggle for hegemony or come to cohere in, sometimes unexpected, alliances (the phenomenon of “heavy metal clerics” is a case in point). Central in these pop-cultural expressions is the question what it means to be modern as a Muslim.

Schmidt’s study combines a keen eye for detail (fascinating, for instance, are her analyses of Arabic-themed motifs in the decorations of shops during Ramadan) with a carefully argued, and theoretically sophisticated, acknowledgement of the diversified forms that both modernity and Islam may take.

The relevance of this approach extends far beyond the specificity of the cases. Think, for instance, of the recently published report by The Netherlands Institute for Social Research, that concludes that Dutch Muslims are becoming “more religious.” Looming large over interpretations of this news (in right-wing politics and media) are notions about the supposedly anti-modern and anti-democratic threats posed by religion. In contexts like this, Schmidt’s exploration of heterogeneous Islamic modernities adds a much-needed perspective.