Thursday, 8 January 2015

Drawing Maps

Some of our earliest drawings are maps. Knowing where we are is vital to our understanding of place and action. Because maps are so powerful it’s no surprise that the military are usually involved in their making. A typical contemporary example being the 'Hebrides Range', a weapons testing zone in UK airspace operated by Qinetiq for the Ministry of Defence.

Our existing OS maps derive from conventions for drawing topographical details that were imported by the British military from France during the 18th century.

This page (above) from 'The Book of Practical Geometry', by Henry Fombelle sets out the symbols necessary for drawing Topography. However basic geometry can be done by using sticks and string and an angle measure, such as a protractor or even a folded sheet of paper and this can be a way for you as an artist to begin constructing your own maps. You can of course develop your own symbolic forms for whatever it is you want to map. You might also consider whether or not the process ends in drawing or in performance. 

Artists have had a variety of approaches to map making, Stephen Walter’s of London are very subjective, whilst the Fluxus artist Toshi Ichiyanagi’s Music for Electric Metronome from 1960 is a sort of map for a choreographer. 

Toshi Ichiyanagi Music for Electric Metronome

In fact maps can be very like musical scores. Yasunao Tone’s  Anagram for Strings, 1961 has the familiar grid of measurement we usually find around the edges of a map. The measurement of time in music perhaps could be seen as similar to distance when walking through a landscape.

Yasunao Tone  Anagram for Strings

Gwen MacGregor and Sandra Rechico’s 'Maps in Doubt' series track journeys they have had to make in order to develop careers in the now global art world. They calculated the total distance that each of them traveled whilst in Kassel in 2007. These distances were drawn on sheets of paper, one of then making curved and the other straight lines.

Gwen MacGregor and Sandra Rechico

They also produced more 'conventional' linear maps, this time making 3 dimensional constructions that worked across walls and floors. 

Gwen MacGregor and Sandra Rechico

The important issue here is that maps reflect a point of view. As has been pointed out earlier maps are often made because of strategic military importance, this view of Annan (below) from a topographical and military account of the state of the Marches, 1569, was made because the town commanded an important defensive position on the estuary of the River Annan, and it was therefore important for the military to map its position. It fuses flat symbolic imagery with attempts at representation in a fascinating way. 

Similarly in this plan of Dover Castle from 1752, the positions of batteries of cannon are detailed as well as individual big guns. The 'legend" on the left is another typical feature of map design and it can be used by an artist to add textual information into an already complex visual mix of languages. 

Drawing was a skill taught to many people of all ranks and professions, once again though it is a drawing done by a serving officer which helps us to understand how information was brought back home pre camera. This image (below) by Lieutenant Archibald Campbell of Fort Royal on Guadeloupe in the West Indies drawn during the 1760s was engraved on his return to England and prints kept in the War Office records. 

Precision measurement of a baseline would be of little use in a trigonmetrical survey without an instrument capable of measuring the angles between it and distant points with comparable accuracy. The instrument designed to do this, a theodolite, is essentially a rotating telescope mounted on a circular scale.

The 'Great Theoldite' was eventually delivered to the Board of Ordnance in July of 1787. Three feet in diameter, it weighed 200 pounds and was transported in its own four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage. The magnificent brass and wood instrument is seen here in an illustration drawn by Lieutenant Thomas Vincent Reynolds for a presentation to the Royal Society by William Roy in 1790.

Drawing was a key tool often used as it still is today very technically. That technical precision was what Duchamp called 'dry' drawing. Compare his technical ideas for artworks with the image above and a more contemporary engineering drawing below. 

Duchamp drawings for the large glass

A technical drawing printed off using a 'blueprint' process

Duchamp: Network of Stoppages 

Network of Stoppages contrasts three representational systems: traditional figuration, chance operations, and the diagram, mapping the world without picturing it. Duchamp pointed to what he called the casting of "Pataphysical doubt" on the viewer. Duchamp introduces the idea of working conceptually, and all maps are conceptual representations, which is why he is so interested in them, as well as other more scientific means of representation, such as technical drawing. 

Royal support for the advancement of science was vital during the 17th and 18th century, these three views below of the Royal Observatory in Paris, 1705 demonstrating how important scientific measurement was becoming at the time. Of course as images they are very interesting too and they remind me of the contemporary work of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin the paper architects. 

Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin

Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin

Brodsky and Utkin had an exhibition at Tate Modern recently and their large scale etchings use many of the conventions of scientific illustration from the 18th century. By looking backwards at older traditions artists can re-ignite a fresh engagement with the world. In this case Brodsky and Utkin are able to give conviction to a contemporary fantasy by using a language that used to be used for scientific purposes. (See)
The precision and control that early map makers used to embed within their development process is demonstrated in this image below of the 4 stages of development of an OS map. 

Ordnance Survey maps were produced in four stages. From their field notebooks, surveyors made a rough or 'foul' plan. This first draft was followed by an intermediate or 'proof' plan, which was carefully checked for accuracy.

 A 'fair plan was then made at the reduced scale of one inch to the mile, sometimes with colouring. From this fair plan, a copper plate was engraved printing the finished map.

I'm fascinated myself with the relationship between maps, direct observation and memory, many of my own drawings (below) being an attempt to fuse together these very different ways of seeing. 

Marking territory is of course something all animals do and one way to begin thinking about mapping an area is to simply begin by making marks that sign that you are here. The images below are the marks of bears doing the same thing. This takes us back to a much earlier post on traces and marks of passage. This is perhaps where all drawing languages begin, making a sign that 'I was here'.  See post on mimesis, and how drawing languages evolve.

Is this so different to a bear marking out territory? 

On Kawara used to mark out on a map where he went everyday, in a similar way to how he dealt with recording time. These simple ink on photocopy drawings began to have more gravitas the more he did. This sequence was of nearly 4,000 drawings.

On Kawara: New York from 1968 to 79
Ink on photocopy

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