Tupaia, Kybernetes & Lara Croft

artist book, Breite Gasse Publishing, 2022

Making use of artistic research and spatial philosophy, this book investigates modes of navigation: it juxtaposes archetypical vessel-based movements characteristic for Polynesian navigator Tupaia, ancient Greek steersman Kybernetes and Lara Croft’s avatar.

The book allows for juxtaposing and establishing new links between the three characters with regard to their peculiarities around the topic of navigation. A book chapter is dedicated to each of the characters, outlining the particularities around each character’s lived model of space. The artistic research dwells on practices of enactment and re-enactment—to develop alternative readings of avatars, the role of Margaret Mead in second order cybernetics and Oceanic navigation and to underline the limitations of Western concepts of space concerning the framing of digitally supported practices.

By investigating the ways in which the three characters navigate two worlds simultaneously, the focus is set on the qualities of the fluid space that emerges from this. In reference to Shuhei Hokosawa’s walkman effect, one could call it a walkman space—a space where a mobile practice creates an intersection between two worlds.

The book materialises in three genuinely different ways: it exists in the form of a hand-made screen-printed leporello limited edition, a digital print colour leporello copy and a free e-pub, which can be accessed here:

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Lara Croft

Lara Croft is an often-chosen target of feminist media theory critique, which is mainly concerned with the appearance of her body. I propose to shift the discussion from the bodily appearance to the critique of Croft as avatar, i.e. to talk about what she can do, thus re-conceptualising her space—a space that is both physical and digital—as something reciprocal that leaves the avatars with agency, thus leaving their fate-driven, unchanging,, non-interactive, non-learning and option-poor lives.


In cybernetics, named after Kybernetike techne, the art of navigation, we find the idea of a researcher inhabiting two worlds simultaneously—coined by anthropologist Margaret Mead, one of the most famous US scientists of the mid-century, best known for her field studies in Samoa in the late 1920s. She added the figure of the observer to the existing cybernetics theory of the time, introducing second order cybernetics. Mead’s Kybernetes adopts from the field work the method of participant observation, which assigns the researching observer a dual existence: one in which one is simultaneously in the field and interacting, and one in which one is reflecting on the field and trying to grasp it scientifically. Similar to the situation of the avatar, we find here a superimposition of two worlds. In this case, it is the one that is observed superimposed with the one that marks the frame of the observation.


A collision of two ways of imagining the world involves Tupaia, a Polynesian priest and navigator. In Tahiti in 1769, Tupaia boarded HMS Endeavour, which was under the command of explorer James Cook on a British expansionist expedition across the Pacific to map unknown territories. Cook had Tupaia navigate the Endeavour for over a month; the British were fascinated by his seafaring skills, but could not understand them. According to the limited knowledge we have to date, the boat is the fixed element in the oceanic world model; during a voyage, islands pass to the right and left, as do currents, constellations, positions of the sun and moon, flocks of birds, cloud formations. The routes stretch from island to island and are passed down from generation to generation through chants. The British were very interested in this knowledge, and decided to create a map together with Tupaia. The map was a mystery to scholars until the two literary scientists Lars Eckstein and Anja Schwarz deciphered it in 2019 by tracing the process of its creation through the crew’s diaries and redrawing the map. To understand it, I redrew the map, too, as a kind of re-enactment.

The map of Tupaia superimposes two ideas of navigation: one that is enacted, and one that is mapped. To decipher it, one must understand both, especially a boat’s bearing, that is, the direction in which it is heading. Tupaia had observed that the compass played a major role for Europeans in determining direction, and so he built his map for them on compass directions that formed routes from one island to the next. These connections, which a navigator would construct, are not shown in the versions of the map we know. The status of the map is an interesting one, after all. It differs from other artefacts displayed in ethnographic collections, where the dominance of a so-called ruling culture over a dominated, less developed culture is presented through the display of trophies.

Tupaia’s map is not suitable as a trophy, because (1) the original has been lost, undermining the competence of the so-called ruler culture to preserve objects intact. (2) It is too complex and was not understood for a long time, so it shows the lack of Western knowledge and understanding. (3) To make the map comprehensible, a re-enactment is needed, as performed by the literary scientists, redrawing it step by step, island after island—re-enactments are often used subversively in art to question and reinterpret traditional interpretations of history.

All three versions of the book are authored by Eva Sommeregger and published by Breite Gasse Publishing, 2022:

The B-Sides. Tupaia, Kybernetes and Lara Croft, ISBN 978-3-9504111-9-5, the handmade, screenprinted edition in the format of a leporello, printed onto both sides of a 6.7 metres long scroll (edition of 20)

Tupaia, Kybernetes and Lara Croft. Bodily Perspectives on Postdigital Spaces, ISBN 978-3-9505219-1-7, the print-on-demand physical edition, also in colour, features a contextualising text running as a single line across the bottom of the 13.4 metre long leporello

Tupaia, Kybernetes and Lara Croft. Bodily Perspectives on Postdigital Spaces, ISBN 978-3-9505219-0-0, the digital edition comes in colour and is a green open access publication

please find here the different open access formats: pdf, epub, html

The book has been financially supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Art, Culture, Civil Service and Sport (BMKOES) and the Art magistrate of the City of Vienna (MA7). It has first been presented in a lecture at Depot, Kunst und Diskussion, Vienna, on 31st January, 2022.

cover of the screen-printed edition
opening the screen-printed edition

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