November 14: The Mapping Arts

Tiffany Chung

Map Critique: Simone, Minsoo, Alice, Maha

Guest: Jer Thorp

Mark Bradford, Kryptonite


Denis E. Cosgrove, “Maps, Mapping, Modernity: Art and Cartography in the Twentieth Century,” Imago Mundi 57 (2005): 35-54; Katherine A. Harmon, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009); Karen O’Rourke, Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013); Denis Wood, “Map Art” Cartographic Perspectives 53 (Winter 2006): 5-14; David Woodward, Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). Many of the books I placed on reserve for our class are also about map-based art!

Janet Cardiff & George Burres Miller, Her Long Black Hair

6 Replies

  • I had a hard time connecting to the Against Infographics reading by Daniel Rosenberg. In the end, I just found myself writing down names of artists I found fascinating. That being said, the 9 key principles of “graphical elegance” did leave me with some questions. Number 3: “Avoid distorting what the data has to say”, this sentence seems to go against everything we have learned in this class, mainly, that maps are never neutral. Whereas, the opposite in the “graphical critique” states, “highlight manipulation”. I’m not sure this is how I would describe what I do when I create a map. Is there some sort of middle ground? Do map-makers actually use these principles?

    • Thanks, Alie. I’m glad you at least discovered some new artists through Rosenberg’s piece! 🙂 In this essay, Rosenberg is taking on one of the high priests of infographics, Edward Tufte, who has written some canonical books that offer fairly prescriptive lists of what a good infographic does and doesn’t do. Rosenberg is actually *problematizing* these rigid lists, suggesting instead that, in some cases, distortion and messiness and manipulation might be *the point*.

  • I found D’Ignazio’s Art of Cartography a very poignant and topical survey of the craft of map making. He begins the piece with a category entitled Symbol Saboteurs: Artists Who Use the Visual Iconography of the Map to Reference Personal, Fictional, Utopian, or Metaphorical Places, providing examples from artists who worked in the DaDa style to those who create maps from imaginary literature spaces. I found the example of Raoul Haussmann’s A Bourgeois Precision Brain Incites World Movement an exciting early example of reworking the widely known symbols and shapes of maps in order to create a provocative new world. Haussmann’s map made me wonder what this could look like today, with digital maps at the forefront of technology. If GPS systems were hijacked or sabotaged by artists in 2018 what would be the result?
    D’Ignazio’s also writes about the ability of small and extremely local maps to challenge value systems, not just in cartography, but in life. He cites the Boylan Heights pumpkin map by Denis Wood as a map that subverts value and power systems attached to the utility of mapping. I found this insight to be particularly beautiful. Creating seemingly “unuseful” maps carves out space for viewers to experience their world on another plane, there is no other demand except to pay attention to detail. In a world where maps made by Google take on layers of utility as tools for navigation as well as gentrification, there is anti-imperial nature to a map that simply creates a landscape of pumpkins.

  • What a beautiful post, Isabella! I’m so glad to see that this Catherine D’Ignazio’s essay resonated so strongly for you! Yes, you’re right: a map that asks us to pay attention to detail is indeed “radical” in calling our attention to things that might not be “worth mapping,” and thereby subverting dominant cartographic value systems. And I *love* your question about the Hausmann map for the GPS — or IoT — era. “If GPS systems were hijacked or sabotaged by artists in 2018 what would be the result?” A fabulous question. One of my 2016 Maps students (you can find his work at the top of the page here) made this the subject of his atlas: how would an artificial intelligence if it developed its own cartographic sensibility?

  • In Against Infographics, Daniel Rosenberg explores the layered maps of Gert Jan Kocken, stating:

    From the point of approach, Depictions resembles and differs from The Past in the Present in notable ways. It resembles the earlier work as a kind of research art, since the foundation for both series is archival. Both are also examinations of the aesthetic dimensions of data representation. But whereas the overwriting of the map in The Past in the Present is inherent in the historical artifact, it is Kocken who layers the map in Depictions. 

    While Rosenberg’s statement is true that the WWI data that makes the ordnance survey map of The Past in the Present meaningful beyond its original intent is recorded directly on the map itself, without intervention from the artist, I feel this is a misrepresentation or reduction of the layers Kocken actively inscribes with his presentation of it. Yes, he’s not literally layering maps to produce relational meaning in a megamap artifact like in Depictions, but he is overwriting the ordnance map, layering it with relational meaning in his curatorial decisions. Here’s a link to the collection in which the ordnance map is situated:

    Kocken’s choice to present the map as photograph fits in the aesthetic and, perhaps pragmatic, realm of archive—it seems much of these artifacts are not available for in-person display—but even if they were, I assume he would still choose the photograph as medium. I won’t begin to feign expertise or even a little bit of knowledge on Kocken’s philosophy or intentions beyond a short Google search and a stint on his website, but the photograph as ‘truth teller’ seems inherent to his practice as one that also explores the ‘truth telling’ of maps and ‘meaning creation’ of archives.

    So the ordnance map is first overwritten during WWI and then it’s saved as physical war artifact. Kocken then photographs and enlarges the map, and places it in a museum, multiplying its veracity and importance at each stage. But it doesn’t display alone, or even alongside other WWI artifacts, he curates its placement in the context of political iconoclasm, military plans for destruction, disputed war trophies as evidence, and blue-sky, front page news naive to the life-changing events on the brink of unfolding. Placing the map in this curated context adds another layer of meaning, another layer of data to parse as viewer, and further emphasizes the role of contextualization to understanding artifacts and history.

    Given all these layers of experience tied to essentially a found object, it makes you wonder about the ever increasing popularity of generating MTV-style infographics to explain complex topics. We must question them as cultural and contextual truth tellers; examine them the way we would any curated information.

    • Stunning, Alyssa. I greatly appreciate your calling our attention to both the materiality and context of these artworks. I wish I could write more, but I’m off to a meeting… 🙂

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