The Mapping Arts- Noriko Ambe

Noriko Ambe’s Flat File Globe project, exhibited at Josee Bienvenu Gallery in 2006, constitutes semi-architectural art pieces using a variety of materials such as metal cabinets, cut-out books, and wall pieces (Goodman 2006). The randomly cut out papers piled on each other filing in the cabinets, and the books cut-out next to each other make and depict the sentiment of natural landscape. While her work appears to be a topographic representation, she engages the audiences into layers of papers using cabinets “as a metaphor for the human body as emptiness.”

“Of her sculptural work she says, ‘I want to attain something sublime.’ Ambe cuts into paper to create negative forms representing herself, with undulating lines tracing her actions against streams of time. Subtle, natural distortions in the layers of paper convey the nuances of emotions, habits, and biorhythms.” (Harmon and Clemans 2009: 216)

The intentional topographic resemblances are a central tenet of her art form. As her three-dimensional art work seems to imply geographical information, it leads the audience to the open question of interpreting her work with limited explanation. Inside of the empty human body, Ambe says that the layers of paper are visualized “intersection of the stream of vertical time with the present.’ This leads to the questions of “What is Ambe trying to show through the layers of paper projecting through time passing?” “What process did Ambe go through to create these maps?” “Whose body is Ambe trying to visualize?” These questions allow us to investigate how bodies intersect with captured emotions and temporality. Building upon the intersection, the diversity of her projects’ formats suggest a variety of individual subjectivities and experiences.

In her self-explanatory statement, she explains the intersection of time and the concept of “empty-self” as the major inspiration of her work. She considers her work into two levels of mapping—producing the artwork, the product of map. Her work of randomly cutting and layering the papers is her way of mapping the present condition of herself. The cutting of papers which she describes it as following: “When I am drawing or cutting lines, I am interested in observing the power of the changing and growing shape. This dynamic shape itself becomes an entity—another geography.”  (Ambe 2013) The action of creating another geography is based on the division of positive and negative shapes by cutting a paper, which represents the reproduction of the universe. The layers of papers representing the time passing by, like the rim of a tree, while creating the depth of the piece. In this, Ambe’s creation of Flat File Globe is both a map of herself in the mapping process, which leads to the creation of a map.

Flat File Globe Red Tank A, 2007
Flat File Globe 3B, Red Version, 2007 (detail)

Ambe’s artwork, in this regard, liberates the audience from the idea of maps. The topographic visuality of the map captures the taken-for-granted expectation of the audience and sabotages the visual cues (D’lgnazio 2009). The simple explanation of metaphor of cabinet as human body inverts the preexisting perception or knowledge of the map. The “random cuts” of the papers becomes a pure aesthetic pursuit from the data-based understanding and interpretation of nature and its scenery. While Ambe’s work significantly functions as the saboteur, the message of her map can be unclear due to its open-to-interpretation feature. However, the Flat File Globe project is ambivalent in that while the maps actively engage audiences to interpret and understand by themselves yet may result in unexpected(?) or unintended interpretation.


What I take on from Ambe’s map is the humanness and its diversity. Among the projects, I was particularly intrigued by the cabinets in the concept of limited and same frames can provide essentially different experience. Within the cabinet, Ambe recreates the intersection of time through the papers which led me to think about experience. An experience varies by each individual and while it happened in the past, it constitutes the human in the present. From her work, the passage of time and the understanding of the past makes a different landscape within the limited setting. The diverse experience through time leave a trace in the body, and thus each piece leads to different and distinctive outcome. Building on this, I want to utilize the same frames to map the day of the group meetings that marriage migrants and their potential spouse meet for the first time. The frame represents the meeting process itself, as the venue and the process of the meeting are basically the same. However, the potential couples go through various experiences. They can be chosen or choose to get married, they can feel anxious, relieved, happy, jealous, or sad from the result of the meeting. Their change of emotions will be the content filling in each frame. I attempt to map the diverse experience and emotions of the marriage migrants in a visualized format—in color (and possibly shapes).

One thing highlighted from the talks with my interlocutors was that they situated themselves within the relation to others from their experience. They perceived themselves relatively lucky as they met their spouse at the first group meeting, while others who have been in the system for months. The reasoning of their partner or the partner’s family members for choosing the migrant as the one, became the grounds for the migrants to stand out from the others and something to be proud of. It is not clear if it was their strategies to help me to understanding better or their ways of understanding, but they explained their status within the relationship of the others in the process of the migration. By using many and different shapes of the frame,I tried to visualize this relativity.


Ambe, Noriko. 2013. “Artist Statement” at Noriko Ambe. Accessed [November 13, 2018].


D’lgnazio, Catherine. 2009. “Art & Cartography.” in International Encyclopedia of human Geography: 190-206 . Rob Kitchen & Nigel Thrift, eds. Elsevier Press.

Goodman, Jonathan. 2006. “Exhibition Review of ‘Flat Globe’ at Josee Bienvenu, New York, 2006” in Sculpture November edition.

Harmon, Katharine and Gayle Clemans. 2009. The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists to Explore Cartography.

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