Mapping, selected by Molly Quammen

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  • Fyrste Natt Pa Manen        Kurt Johannessen        Books / Artists' Books        $25.00
  • The Freckles on My Back        Jon Kessler        Books / Artists' Books        $55.00
  • Magnetic Map : a Treasure Hunt Based on the Mingling of the Improbable and the Mundane        Lenore Malen        Books / Artists' Books        $10.00
  • 1000 Coordinates of Violence        Miranda Maher        Books / Artists' Books        $25.00
  • Out From Under the King George Hotel        Repohistory, REPROhistory and REPOhistory        Ephemera        $5.00
  • Journeys        Louise Odes Neaderland        Books / Small Books        $10.00
  • The Grey        Alan Dunning        Books        $30.00
  • West Looking East/ East Looking West        David Faithfull        Books / Artists' Books        $150.00
  • Carfire        John Ayala and John Furgason        Books        $40.00

Mapping approaches the problem of representation. The map is symbolic. It indicates another existence outside itself and presents the world through a system of corresponding signifiers. This re-presentation manifests in the physical body of the map itself, which then coexists with the place or event it symbolizes. This dichotomy between the real and the symbolic mapping of the real is a theme that many artists have taken up in their work, exploring the means and implications of charting our perceptions of the physical and temporal world.

Fields such as documentary photography and figurative painting may be considered among the most rudimentary forms of mapping, in that they exist as literal representation of the visual world. In Peter Spaans’s series The Real Line of New York, for example, a set of low-resolution photographs, grouped by location, denote the city’s physical makeup. Similarly, David Faithfull’s accordion book East Looking West / West Looking East sketches the geography of a specific location by portraying it in paintings from multiple vantage points. Ayala and Furgason’s project Carfire applies this same technique to events, documenting burned cars and placing them in space and time. Though this type of representation is mapping at its most simple, there is no lack of content. Even the most faithful literal representation carries a wealth of associative content, just as our primary experience of the world does. These associative possibilities are demonstrated in Kurt Johannssen’s Fyrste Natt Pa Manen and Jon Kessler’s The Freckles on My Back. Johannssen’s close-up images of gray plaster look exactly like the cratered surface of the moon, and in Kessler’s work, close-up black and white photographic negatives of the artist’s skin bear uncanny resemblance to images of stars and galaxies in space as seen through a super-telescope.

In an attempt to avoid this leeway for interpretation, scientific cartographers incorporate mathematics into an objective modeling system designed to preclude perceptive variations. Ricorsi by Lucretia Moroni responds to this scientific quest for objectivity from an artistic perspective, exploring how numeric systems represent the natural world. Some artists delve into this field and create works actually based on meticulous scientific calculation. Ken Leslie is one such artist; his book Round World consists of a series of photographs taken every two weeks over the course of one year, each from the same point in the artist’s garden, facing a different angle. “In so far as Magellan had already travelled around the world,” the artist writes, “I sat in one spot, and let the world travel around me.” The structure of this book also corresponds to the material: the pages unfold into a circle, in which both the seasons and the location form a complete cycle. Other books, such as Lizzie Finn’s Grid Sewing and Andrew A. McLaren’s The Atlas of Nowhere take a more critical approach to objective mapping, grappling with the consequences of imposing an arbitrary geometric order on an organic world. Rosa Lachenmeier’s On Life’s Terrain provides a synthesizing view, as it roots out the essential contradiction of objective cartography, directly addressing the disparity between firsthand perception and artificial representation that makes no attempt at recreating sense of place.

Many artists skip over the question of objectivity altogether, and focus instead on the rich and varied methods of individual perception and cognition. One such artist is Kerry Tribe, who created the book North is West / South is East: 32 Maps of Los Angeles by asking thirty-two strangers in the Los Angeles airport to sketch maps of the city, revealing the diverse possibilities for conceptualization of place. Paul Zelevansky’s The Jericho Map similarly renders psychological and historical connotations rather than literal topographic representation, and Lisa Asagi’s Twelve Scenes from 12 a.m. provides an entirely subjective timeline of events. In their collaborative book Die Neuaufteilung Der Welt, Olaf and Carsten Nicolai present a map of the world concerned only with the symbols and images of an imaginary politic based on personal associations. Maps reflecting real-world politics also generally place a heavier emphasis on abstract connotation than on physical geography, with intangible political boundaries dividing the landscape. Jean-Marie Karuth’s work Le Monde comments on the dissociation of political states from their physical location, by listing every country in alphabetical order on perforated pages. Not only are the geographic relationships of the nations nullified by this format, but the pages may also be torn out and rearranged by the reader to create a new order.

Through all these methods of exploration, the problem of accurately re-presenting the world (places, events, and our perceptions of both) through symbolic systems remains. The definition of accuracy itself comes into question: what does it mean for a map to successfully represent? What constitutes this success? Its very nature as a symbolic function prevents the map from ever being equal to that which it portrays, but even the most removed or arbitrary signifier still corresponds to its signified. The gap between the map and reality is wide, but as an artistic venue, mapping provides a wealth of possibilities for exploring how we perceive, conceptualize, and relate to the world around us.

Curated by Molly Quammen.

For Bibliographic Reference:

Digging Up South America
Densities
En Place
Border Action No. 1: Basin Plans / Global News as Seen from the Vantage Point of Ocean Basins
Planet
Stirr’d Up Everywhere
Open Roads Empty Nests
239 Street Yard (The Bronx): The Real Line of New York.. Part two of a four-part series.

Last updated 11/7/2016
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