Matthew Cusick, Chasing the Dragon, 2006
By Lecia Bushak, REA Intern
Cartography has always been considered a utilitarian craft of precise measurements, science and geography. But a number of contemporary artists have begun experimenting with maps in their artwork, stepping outside traditional representation and into a world of abstraction.
There is something aesthetically pleasing about the complexity of a map, and the attempt to draw order and detail over the chaos of our existence. But even more than that, maps provide the artist an immensity of material to appropriate, collage and re-imagine. These artists play with the meaning of scale, location and dislocation; political and social motifs; power, territory, and boundaries.
Maps in art examine the relationship between micro and macro – for example, the similarity between a microscopic network of human cells and capillaries, and that of roads and highways, cities as hearts or central nervous systems, roads as connecting veins that branch out into tinier and tinier routes, like rivers, into miniscule oblivion. We can link the complexity of our own bodies to the intricacy of a map — both the human body and the land are infinities in their own right. Both are filled with the Unknown, and no matter how detailed or accurate our attempts to chart these Unknowns may be, there will always be a gap in our knowledge.
But by taking apart these maps, recombining them in no linear or logical order, and incorporating them into collages, artists have found a way to discover a new way of looking at the world – not as something that can be planned or overseen through calculations, but as something that must be navigated through abstraction.
Here is a list of artists who use maps in their contemporary work.
A Mediterranean chart from the 14th century, already quite abstract
Matthew Cusick, Red & Blue, 2010
Matthew Cusick, Untitled Wave (Black and Blue), 2008
Qin Ga, Long March
Leila Daw, **** (Four Star) SiteLeila Daw, 6 map icons
elin o’Hara slavick, World Map, Protesting Cartography: Places the United States has Bombed, 2002
elin o’Hara slavick, Afghanistan I
Noriko Ambe, Flat Globe “Atlas”, 2006