We all use maps in our daily lives, as sources of information about places, routes, networks or boundaries. Fundamentally, they are simplified schematic diagrams that employ a universal visual language through which we codify and comprehend our world. They offer us means of describing and understanding the untangible too – This exhibition looks at ways artists have used the language and the iconography of maps to express their ideas and experiences of place.
Although mapping is a method for gathering, ordering and exploiting information, the show reminds us that all maps are to some extend the product of the imagination: no map is truly the objective description of a place that it purports to represent. Every map is shaped, coloured, framed by political and social conditions and by personal experience or imaginative projections of its maker.
Journeys made visible
Through his ‘GPS drawing’ practice, Jeremy Wood has over time amassed a considerable amount of data about his personal displacements. His work All London Tracks features all his journeys, by car, foot or air, in and over London. The tiny dark threads that represent these journeys go round buildings or through parks, along roads, to give shape to his practice of the city. The practice of walking as an image-making process is also found in Richard Long’s work A six hour run from Exmoor to Dartmoor (1975) where the artist’s footprints has marked the landscape of a continuous line.
Langland & Bell’s Air Routes of the World (2001) offers an alternative view of the world map, where land masses are omitted and instead air travel defines the important locations.
London’s Kerning (N:B Studio, 2006) is a map of the capital stripped of every line, fill and symbol, leaving only the text to represent the layout and crossings of streets (In the art of typography, kerning refers to the adjustment of space between pairs of letters).
Colours and lines
The show featured a collection of pocket tube maps commissioned by Platform for Art, playfully subverting the map itself which has become over time an icon for London.
John Dilnot’s Map draw together colours from paint charts, which often bear evocative names: Here, those colour names are arranged on a map of Britain around the places after which they are named.
Revisiting the history of map-making, exploring the mind
George Andre’s Draughtsman’s Handbook (1874) is a large volume with a very utilitarian purpose: it was aimed at encouraging best-practice in map drawing. Stephen Walter Similands humorously imitates the iconography of 16-17th century maps in his condensed sketches of the geography of Britain.
During her time as an artist-in-residence in the neuro-radiology department at the Royal London Hospital, Susan Aldworth has questioned the possibility of our inner geography, culminating in her work Birth of a thought (2007).
Michael Drucks’s Druckland Physical and Social (1974) is a self-portrait exploring personal and political identity using the idiom of mapping.
Richard Dadd, 'Sketch to Illustrate The Passions: Patriotism', 1857
Mapping the Imagination – Victoria and Albert Museum