Contemporary Cartography

Looking back over the last couple of weeks making and essay research, I have begun to develop more of a focus on exactly what aspect of “place” I want to explore.  In my last reflective post I said:

I could look at place its most grandest incarnation – how we make sense of our place in the vast unknowable depths of the universe? Moving past the awe and mystery into tangible, physical understanding.

Meaning: looking at a sense of place beyond borders, beyond cultures.  So! I have started a new set of experiments. Going back to some of my experiments from January, I am returning to the idea of basketry – and weaving more generally, after the delight I found in the frame weaving we did with Alice Fox last week. I am also returning to the idea of hand making paper yarn using old out of date maps (which I first tried in March and promptly abandoned!). I like the symbology of using an old map as a physical record of a point in space and time which no longer exists – as our memory of place also does. We take our interaction with places and twist and warp them through our own mental filters, creating our own personal map of the world.

This was my first construction test:

2015-07-03 12.52.13

Test 1: Steel cable, paper yarn, handmade vintage map yarn (1976 Bartholomew Map Dorset)

A few obvious things to change to make this better (including getting rid of the commercial paper yarn and making my own finer map yarn), so test 2 is now underway.

Although there is an obvious connection between map and place, this seems like a good time to explore fully the extent of meaning about working with maps.

What is a map?

Cartographic language is intrinsically linked with identity and the spaces we inhabit. Every map is framed within our representation of the world, defined by ourselves, our communities, our nations, our planet and beyond. Mapping allows us to locate ourselves in the world both physically and psychologically, the map of ‘imagined’ just as potent as the map of the ‘real’. Maps can be a simple scientific tool leading to familiar or unknown destinations, or to home or displacement, be turned upside down and inside out, connect to an interior mind or an exterior world.

Every map however is a projection, a representation. Maps produce new realities as much as they document existing ones. Projections are constructed, configured and underpinned by various assumptions about people – about place. A map, like a place is seen from the inside, with all of the inner workings of its visual field laid bare. But how can you know the full extend of any territory without surveying the entire space from beyond its borders? How can we know the size of the universe without stepping outside it?

Tom McCarthy [Mapping it out, 2014], described the Kafkaesque challenge of seeking to free yourself from the boundaries and see yourself from the outside as cartopsychosis: “I propose this is the truth not only of geography but also of identity tout court – that is, of Being. We live in the gaps, the oblique, morphing interzones between perspectival regimes that themselves are anything but stable

A slightly less oblique view comes from Maddy Rosenburg, Curator of the Central Booking Art Space in New York, who said the following about art-maps: “We are accustomed to looking at maps in attempts to find direction, our relationship to a physical interpretation of the land. But that land can be more than a city or country, it can help us to navigate our bodies, to understand our environment beyond its physicality into the realm of cultural space, and to grasp an understanding though the visceral. Cartographers can tell us more than just the routes from one point to another, they can map terrains of landscape or psychological space, that amorphous state that adds up to a sense of a place beyond mere cataloging. They can also reduce all to the basic, the pure essence of line and plane. We may glide across the surface but there always seems to be a rumble below it, roaming around a skin that is, as skin is, porous and organic.” 

Artists working with maps

There are a lot of different approaches to working with maps and map forms across applied and fine art. I searched for some people looking at the map as a way to explore place, predominantly sculpturally. First up, Shannon Rankin. Her work explores the relationship between physical place and intangible experience. She describes her use of maps by the following

Maps are the everyday metaphors that speak to the fragile and transitory state of our lives and our surroundings. Rivers shift their course, glaciers melt, volcanoes erupt, boundaries change both physically and politically. The only true constant is change.

Using a variety of distinct styles I intricately cut, score, wrinkle, layer, fold, paint and pin maps to produce revised versions that often become more like the terrains they represent. These new geographies explore notions of place, perception and experience, suggesting the potential for a broader landscape and inviting viewers to examine their relationships with each other and the world we share.”

Her work is an array of different sculptural and diagrammatic works using manipulated maps. These were some of my favourite pieces from her portfolio

rankin4 rankin3 rankin2 rankin1

Second is one of my essay references Chris Drury, who uses maps as a way of making comparisons between places and as a way of exploring a place through which he has walked in a more reflective way. He uses maps in various ways, including cutting the maps of two places into strips and weaving them together to give both places a common context.

drury1

drury3

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