Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Drawing maps (Part two)

Rebecca Solnit has developed a series of overlapping maps of San Francisco; she defines places as ‘stable locations with unstable converging forces.’ In particular she works on the premise that maps are about different interests. In her publication Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, she presents a series of maps of the same place, which can be laid one over the other, building up a complexity that reflects the way that cities themselves evolve around different sub-group preoccupations and interests. Her work is comparable to that of Mehretu, her recent ‘Mogamma’ paintings consisting of overlaid information taken from 31 different squares which became centers of revolt during the Arab Spring. Mehretu states; I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place”*. Mehretu says of her paintings that they are, ‘story maps of no location’.

Julie Mehretu: Mogamma Paintings (All 4 parts)

 Mehretu’s painted maps partly derive their conviction from the exact plotting of plans and tracings of particular geographical areas onto perspectival grids. You can get all sorts of gridded papers and print them off to whatever size you want from here. Once you have a gridded background, you just need sheets of tracing paper to develop the layers of information needed to make a dense, convincing series of images. Some curved perspective grids in particular can make really dynamic spaces when used as the sub-strata for plotting out flat plans onto spatial planes. Of course Mehretu’s work is more complex than just tracing off selected plans and relocating them on perspective grids, she is also very aware of other images, mark quality and colour adjustment, as well as information density and how to leave areas open so that images can breathe and have spaces for readings to begin.

Perspective grids come in a variety of formats.

This Smith chart is normally used by electrical engineers, but of course you can trace off any flat plan onto its curved spaces.

Curved perspetives are more dynamic than one or two point perspectives.

Mehretu’s images of course never include a ‘legend’, they are free floating signifiers that allude to their origins elliptically, not everyone will be aware of the process that lies behind the ‘Mogamma’ images, but even so, because her working process is itself robust, the final images are very convincing. This leads me to the deeper point that I need to make in relation to these posts on mapping as drawing. In ‘Art as Experience’ John Dewey stated that the task of aesthetics was “to restore the continuity between…works of art and everyday events”, the difficulty however is to create an aesthetic process, one that can carry information taken from experience, focus it, clarify it and re-present it in such a way that what you have at the end of the process is something ‘convincing’, something that allows the initial experience to come through in such a way that other human beings can also get something from that experience. This is the old Aristotelean issue surrounding ‘mimesis’ which I have looked at before. See older posts here: here and here.

Therefore the challenge I’m setting is for you as artists to develop processes of working that allow you to communicate your experiences. Be these emotional, experimental, perceptual or derived directly from the inner mind, there will be some ways of channeling information that make more sense than others. Don’t just look at finished images, think about the processes that bring them into being.
*Julie Mehretu, as quoted by Laurie Firstenberg, “Painting Platform in NY,” Flash Art Vol. XXXV No. 227, November/December 2002, p. 70.

Patrick Ford (an ex LCA student) has been making some really interesting map work in response to walking around the city of Saigon. You can find an article on his work in the Interdisciplinary journal of critical cartography. Find the full text here.

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