Friday, October 10, 2008

Painless maps and map opera


NACIS is usually my big idea overload binge of the year, and this year was no exception.

Margaret Pearce
and Mike Hermann did a really fascinating map of Champlain's travels in Canada, incorporating various kinds of text and map elements in a narrative shape that to me looked a lot like a cartographic attempt at Chris Ware's comic book experiments. But the really funny thing to me is how the whole thing felt like a script (Mike replied he was thinking storyboard, but same basic idea). It's like an outline for some sort of new performative cartography.

What on earth would a post-scientific performative cartography look like? I have no idea. I really am drawing a blank. But I think it is worth considering, and I willl try to suss it out here. I welcome ideas.

One of Margaret's students at Ohio U, Karla Sanders, made a fascinating attempt at melding cartography with personal poetic experience of space, a poster titled "When a Mountain Falls to Coal." It looks at the mountains of Appalachia as victims of a destruction created from outside the region, as a sacred space desecrated out of greed. The fundamental problem I have with both the Pearce/Hermann and the Sanders pieces is that they haven't really gotten over the constrictions that cartographic style places on personal expression. The intent is clear, and the text is evocative, but cartography as a mode of communication fights tooth and nail against expressions of personal emotional or spiritual experience. It denies the role of performer as an identifiable part of its performance.

A bunch of us went up to the Missoula Art Museum at lunch today to look at a display of Steven Holloway's artwork. Very nice stuff. Neat to see the observation notebook samples in some detail. I don't know how much of the change is NACIS's getting used to Steven, and how much is Steven's mellowing, but the detente between his art and the whole mappy thing seems to be getting closer. Like it's less weird. Anyway, enjoyed the show.

I was feeling a claustrophobic, and so went upstairs to look at parts of this very well put-together little art museum. I was especially struck by the exhibit of contemporary Persian photography. Lots of really powerful stuff. What really struck me looking at it after a few days of looking at maps was the element of pain. We don't show pain in our maps. Steven shows alienation from the land, but not (to my mind) real expressions of pain as such. A cartographic depiction, even of a great wounding of the earth like Sanders' poster, denies pain. It just isn't admissable as a mode of expression.

I think of erin o'Hara slavick's work on bombing we looked at at NACIS last year. Whole lot of pain channeled there, and in her presentation much of us was directed back at us mapmakers. But I want to see a cartography that permits expressions of pain, instead of accusing cartography of inflicting pain. I feel like we're aren't there yet, and beyond everyone's inherent desire (myself included) not to feel pain, I can't see why.

Tomorrow morning at 8am a few us are off on an adventure with Steven to make a map from direct experience. I believe it involves wet and cold. More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Joe Banks said...

I love hearing all this -- thanks so much for writing.

I wonder if maps don't express pain because of their scale as much as their function -- pain being an individual organism's experience. Almost everything looks beautiful from far away ...