An exhibition by Amitai Romm at Bianca D’Alessandro.
The earliest compass was invented by the Han Dynasty in 206 BC. It was a piece of naturally-magnetic lodestone floating on wood. For the first millennia since its invention it was used solely to determine geographical direction in divination practices. Knowing geographical direction is crucial for geomancy, a method of divination that interprets patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, stones, or sand according to markings on the ground. Geomancy practices aim to harmonize the directions of buildings, their interior and spirits of people according to divine geographical ideals. The rituals seek to inspire inner direction by aligning falling patterns to be interpreted according to greater surrounding geographies.
Named as “foresight by earth” in Greek and “science of the sand” in Arabic, geomancy has developed a world-wide use of compasses. Not until the 1100s was the compass used by the Song dynasty for geographical navigation to travel over distances. During the 1300s the compass was passed on to Persia and Europe. The same tool that was used to measure the falling patterns of soil, sand, and rocks, has since been used as a component in travelling and mapping out the entire planet. The compass added the certainty of embodied geographical direction as a compound force to human sight.
Every morning the stagemaker bowerbird of the Australian rain forests cuts leaves1. The bird makes them fall to the ground, and turns them over so that the paler insides contrast with the earth below. In this way the bird constructs a stage for itself. Directly above, on a creeper or branch, while fluffing its feathers, it sings a complex song made up from its own notes and, at intervals, imitations of other birds. It is a complete artist.
Text by Aslak Aamot Kjærulff
1 Benjamin Bratton, The Stack