Okay, so I'm in the early stages of love with my new favorite inspiration: cartography.
It's become more than a casual fling: now I am buying books on the subject.
It started to get deep a few weeks ago when I was listening to This American Life on NPR. Author Denis Wood was discussing his new book (not yet released but I already pre-ordered it on Amazon) Denis Wood: Everything Sings, 2nd Revised Edition: Maps for a Narrative Atlas, in which he diagrams seemingly mundane details in his own neighborhood. The result is a fascinating, revealing, and often poetic look into demographics and geography... I was salivating by the end of the interview, and even went into work a couple of minutes late so I could hear all of it. I can't do this interview justice, so you can stream the entire episode from here.
I've always been attracted to art with obsessive tendencies. Ritual, repetition, and collection seem to combine acts both hyper-cerebral and empty/meditative. It's a good place to be if you want to tap into deeper creativity (as an artist) or deeper connection (as a witness).
This is not all-new territory for me; obsessive repetition was a common feature in my work over the last few years as I explored the phenomenon of deja vu, and its (personally) sinister role as a harbinger of a seizure.
But the new appeal is in adding the dimensions of space and time to create a diagram of some otherwise invisible truth. Denis Wood reminded me that anything can be mapped. The cover of his book features a geographic layout of carved pumpkin faces in his town. The areas of highly concentrated pumpkins correlated to wealthy areas, while the pumpkin-less deserts were confined to poorer areas. This raises questions. Is it merely a matter of the cost of the pumpkins being prohibitive? Or is there an element of neighborly expectations at work in the wealthier neighborhoods? One map of pumpkin placement is just one piece of a puzzle with infinite pieces; as more are collected and compared, more questions can be raised, and more truths can be revealed.
While I certainly wouldn't mind copying Denis Wood's ideas as an exercise, I want to find my own systems for mapping. In my quest to develop my own cartography, I ordered some intriguing books which just arrived (Amazon delivery is the new Santa Claus, and today was Christmas).
Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information by Manuel Lima
It's a visually stunning collection of maps which go way beyond the traditional two-dimensional geographical versions we keep stuffed in our glove boxes (or used to, before GPS).
Some of the most compelling images are maps of information systems, internet connections, blogospheres, etc, which track the exchange of data between hosts. I just started delving into this hefty book, but I'm already struck by how the formerly mentioned maps resemble those of neural bonds, genetic connectors, weather patterns, and other "natural" phenomena.
Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton
Why? I love a good history book, especially one like this which describe methodologies as a window into interpreting other known histories. Also, I like the idea of working the dimension of time into a map.
While Manuel Lima's book is heavily focused on computer-rendered imagery, this one is full of hand-drawn timelines. Think family trees, geneologies, mythologies, prophetic predictions, and astronomical diagrams. Even tree rings of an ancient sequoia are included, with pinned markers to indicate major historical events. Lovely.
So, this was a long-ish post with no pictures. By my next post, hopefully I will have some images of preliminary experiments or at least images "borrowed" from my continued research.
In the meantime, I have been painting new ink-on-vellum pieces to hang in Cole's 735 Main in Lexington. People are actually buying them!