No really, Can Maps be Art?

In the last post on Art as Mapping, I floated about the general idea that art can be considered through the form of mapping. Since then I visited the New Art Gallery, Walsall and to my surprise there happens to be a great exhibition titled Land, Sea and Air until the 4th of September, much of which is focused on the practice of mapping.

The exhibition is well worth a visit, even if you do not share my carto-philia. The diverse exposition features a range of international artists who explore maps, borders, and territories in a range of different ways. The official gallery spiel explains,

“Maps have continued to provide a potent source material for artists for many years. They provide attempts to create order from a world that is ever in transformation…”

One of my favourite artists and great inspirations, Cornelia Parker, has five works displayed (see below); each titled Meteorite Lands on (respective place name for where a meteorite has once landed in London) (1998). This work takes the form of familiar A-Z maps (the type your Dad continues to use despite the satnav built into his phone) burnt with a heated Meteorite found in 1836, Nambia. The rock chars the represented place, destroying the Millennium Dome, or Wormwood Scrubs, revealing the layers beneath the map’s surface.

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Parker, in using everyday objects confronts the ‘everyday’ fears in the mind of the community. Will technology destroy our civilization? Are the impending changes sure to erase our history? Will an alien force (alien as in ‘immigrant’ or an unknown mystery) forcibly change the face of our mapped world? This work, made in 1998, appears today to have been eerily prophetic.

Another work I would draw our attention to is Tania Kovats ongoing work All The Sea (2012) (see below). Her 365 bottles are filled with the fluids of the world’s large bodies of water. The amassing and displaying of the different waters is reminiscent of the work of a natural scientist or anthropologist, however, Kovats is far more interested in poetry than chemistry. The title All the Sea is singular and revealing. Though there are many ‘seas’ represented here, they are not labeled, categorized, or territorialized as different, but assembled as one whole ‘Sea’.

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The life giving waters defy the boundaries of conquest and colonization, each one no doubt carrying its own story of voyage, yet no bottle is found boasting over another. The silence of the political in Tania Kovats work is exactly what politicizes it. Simple, but profound, the clear bottles, neutral shelves, and clean corks appear to be an achievement, unverifiable, but hopeful of an unfound unity.

Is this really mapping however? I think so. Both works map fears, expectations, and hopes in a concrete way, symbolizing our relationships with different locations and people groups. Where Parker catechizes our concerns, Kovats fires our fantasies.

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