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The Map as Art
Transcript of The Map as Art
A Quick History of Creative Mapping
When you think of a world map, what comes to mind?
*Mercator map is the most widely used map in the world
*invented in 1569 by German cartographer (mapmaker), Gerardus Mercator
*shows political borders, latitude/longitude & changes in elevation. Includes names of countries, bodies of water, mountain ranges, islands, etc.
*we tend to think of it as a factual tool to help us understand the world
*an accurate representation of what the world looks like, it shows the size of the continents and where they are in relationship to one another
*the map on the right is no more or less accurate than the map on the left!
*in Mercator's time, it was customary for cartographers to put their own country in the center of the map: Germany therefore became the focus, surrounded prominently by the rest of Europe, which occupies the middle.
*early mapmakers in the Southern Hemisphere put 'South' at the top of their maps, just as many early European settlers in North America oriented their maps from West-to-East to reflect their direction of travel.
*cartographers usually put what's important to them at the top of the map. we're used to seeing Canada near the top of the map, but what if Australia was always at the top instead? would it change the way you think about either?
*the map on the right is a much more accurate representation of the relative size of the continents!
*you can't translate a curved object like the Earth into a flat, two-dimensional image without distorting the shapes and sizes of the continents. every cartographer has to figure out a way to compensate for this, and dozens of different methods have been tried. in Mercator's map, the further away an object is from the Equator, the more stretched out it appears to be.
*by situating Germany in the middle of the map, Mercator also placed the Equator almost two-thirds of the way down the map (instead of in the middle). this means that the most northerly parts of the map are also the most exaggerated.
*on the left, Greenland appears to be about the same size as South America, but South America is actually almost 9 times larger than Greenland! does it change the way you think about Africa when you know it's actually larger than North America?
Even our most recognizable maps--the ones we use as tools,
and rely on to communicate the facts--are subjective. A cartographer is always making decisions about what kind of information to include on a map, and what kind to leave out.
Every map is creative in one way or another!
The "Blue Marble," taken by astronauts in 1972, is one of the most widely distributed photos in history, and was the first clear, high-resolution image of the Earth most people had ever seen. It's oriented like a traditional Mercator map, with North at the top. This image was enormously influential to the early environmental movement, and was reproduced on posters that sold millions of copies all over the world.
What most people don't know is that the original image actually looked like:
Throughout history and across cultures, cartographers, artists and everyday people have always made maps, and they've always been creative.
at Valcamonica, Italy
c. 2500 BCE
Detail of Taurus, 1750
some older examples
Kashmir region of India
The Road to Success
Falls of Eternal Despair,1895
Appalachia region of U.S
and some much, much newer ones
Like the man in New York City who used thousands of plastic beads to turn his entire living room into a mural depicting a map of Springfield, the town from the television show
...or the thousands and thousands of fan-made maps that creatively interpret the fictional worlds depicted in
Maps of the Imagination
Maps about Winnipeg!
Maps About the Natural World
Just as cartographers have always incorporated art in their maps, artists have long been interested in using maps in their art.
by Las Vegas
Almost everyone has some kind of relationship to maps, which is part of what makes them such an interesting subject for so many artists. Many artists like to play with people's expectations of what a map is, what kind of information it includes, and what it should do.
One of the most important art movements of the 20th Century was Pop Art, which drew on images from popular culture for inspiration.
Many Pop Artists used maps in ways that makes us rethink what maps are for and how they work.
The British collective Art & Power humorously question how we decide what gets included on a map, and what gets left out.
Art & Language
Map to not indicate: Canada, James Bay...Straits of Florida, 1967
Maps About How We Live Together
Broken City Lab
Maps about Issues & Ideas
Japser Johns is an American painter who
was one of the first artists to regularly use
maps in his work.
Almost 50 years later, artists like Paula
Scher are still exploring the potential of
maps to express emotion, by using
artistic elements like vivid colour and personal handwriting.
The World, 2006
For the project
American artist Nancy Holt spent the years 1969-71 traveling to isolated locations across the United States. Sometimes a place she visited would remind her of a specific friend at home.
When this happened, Holt would write a poem dedicated to that friend, carve the poem into a concrete slab, and then return to the original location and bury the poem underground.
She would then give each friend a book of detailed, handmade maps that revealed the location of their buried poem. Holt's friends would use these maps to journey across the country to the location that inspired their personal poem, where they could dig it up and read it for the first time.
Bodys Isek Kingelez
Kimbembele Ihunga (details), 1994
Bodys Isek Kingelez, who is one of Africa's most famous contemporary artists, lives in Kinshasa, the captial city of the Democractic Republic of
the Congo. When Kingelez started working as an artist in the 1970s, Kinshasa was torn by civil war and violence. Kingelez began creating incredibly elaborate sculptural dioramas that tried to map out a new and peaceful vision for his home city.
Santa Monica Art Tool, 1988
American artist Carl Cheng combined his love of mapping with his interest in inventive public art to create Santa Monica Art Tool, a giant roller pulled by a tractor that prints a map of Los Angeles on the beach as it moves. This 3D cityscape includes accurate representations of roads, rivers and buildings, but also includes things like car accidents and giant crabs invading Beverly Hills.
Many artists use maps to discuss environmental issues or talk about our relationship to the natural world. This probably shouldn't be too surprising, as mapping is one of our most familiar ways of representing the Earth. Even a street map can be thought of as a form of abstract landscape art!
Maya Lin is an American artist,
architect and environmentalist
whose artwork often draws
attention to overlooked or invisible
parts of the natural environment.
To celebrate the turn of the millennium, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan invited Maya Lin to design a new park
for their downtown. The center of this park consists of a giant, circular skating rink with 166 fibre optic lights frozen deep in the ice. These lights map out the position of the stars as they would have appeared directly overhead at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000.
Bodies of Water: Caspian Sea, Red Sea and Black Sea, 2006
Bodies of Water
series, Maya Lin shows us what's beneath the surface of three of the world's largest--and most endangered--inland seas. She uses stacked layers of
carved plywood to show the enormous depths of the
Caspian, Red and Black Seas. These sculptures (which look like they might topple off their pedestals with a gentle push) invite us think about the scale and delicate balance of the natural environment and our impact on it.
Touching North, 1989
The 49th parallel separating Montana &
Monumap 115°/49°, 1992
L.A. Bloom, 2002
Ordinary maps usually contain information that we can all agree is useful to know: everyone needs to be able find things like streets, parks, hospitals and transit stations. As helpful as these maps are, they don't tell us anything about what it's like to experience a place, or how the people in that space live and interact with each other and their environment.
Many artists use maps to observe and comment on the ways that people behave and interact with each other in public spaces.
American artist Jenny Odell takes images from Google Maps and selectively erases them in Photoshop to reveal patterns and behaviors that we might otherwise overlook.
In the 2011 print
All the People in Delores Park,
Odell has removed everything but the people from a map of
San Francisco's Delores
Park, leaving only a swirling pattern of sunbathers.
In the 2002 public art installation
, Winnipeg-born artist Micah Lexier installed 17,000 ceramic tiles in the subway station at the corner of Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East in Toronto.
Each one of these tiles features the words 'Sheppard' & 'Leslie' in the handwriting of a different person who regularly uses the subway station.
Lexier pays tribute to a neighbourhood and the people who live there, and also makes a permanent record of the individuals who were there at a specific moment in history.
B.C.L. is a collective of artists and citizens that was founded in Windsor, Ontario in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. At the time, Windsor was suffering from the highest rates of unemployment in the country, businesses were going bankrupt, buildings started falling into disrepair, and people began moving away in large numbers.
B.C.L. began collaborating with citizens on projects designed to boost morale, enhance community spirit, and find shared and practical solutions for problems facing the community.
Sites of Apology/Sites of Hope
from 2010, B.C.L. members worked with the community to identify positive sites that gave people hope for the future--places like a newly built park, and a local live music venue. They also made a list of negative sites they wanted to apologize to future generations for (like a condemned hospital building).
B.C.L. made a map plotting all of the positive sites in green, and all of the negative sites in blue. Community members were then given large green bows to attach to sites of hope, and large blue bows to affix to sites of apology. By mapping out and drawing attention to these spaces, the project prompted a much larger discussion of how healthy cities function, and the ways in which people can come together to try and solve problems.
In 2011, Windsor had started to recover from the lowest lows of the financial crisis, and morale in the city had started to improve. To celebrate the city's new sense of optimism, B.C.L. members painted the words 'AS OF 2011.09.21, WE ARE ALIVE & WELL' in huge letters in the parking lot of the Art Gallery of Windsor. This image was designed to be visible from space on Google Maps, where people from around the world can now view their hopeful message.
Maps can also be an interesting way for artists to comment on history, social issues and politics. Many artists use mapping to show the ways in which we're all connected as members of the global community.
Vik Muniz, in collaboration with teenagers from Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns
In his 2006 sculptural installation
, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and a group of Chinese workers meticulously cut thousands of thin layers of cotton and stacked them in the shape of a world map.
By using cotton, the artist asks us to remember that most of the world's clothing is still produced cheaply by Chinese workers.
Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum, who grew up as a refugee from war, uses maps to discuss conflict and its influence on people around the world.
(2006), Hatoum illuminates the continents with a fiery red neon light, suggesting that the whole world is a potential hotspot: conflict is possible anywhere if we're not cautious.
Her 1999 installation
consists of hundreds of clear glass marbles carefully laid out in the shape of a world map. When viewers walk across the floor, the marbles tremble and shake as the floorboards move. Some people don't notice the map and walk right into it, sending whole continents flying! Hatoum shows us that we need to take care and act gently in the world, because one small act of conflict can start a chain reaction that affects the whole order of the world.
In 2013, Anishnaabe artists and professors Susan Blight and Hayden King launched the Ogimaa Mikana project. The duo mapped out the names originally used by Indigenous people for the thoroughfares that eventually became Toronto's roads. They then made temporary signs and stickers with the streets' original names, and installed them as a public art intervention over top of the City of Toronto's official street signs. Blight and King encourage pedestrians to stop and consider the original inhabitants of Toronto and the surrounding area.
Folk songs for the Five Points is an interactive website that allows visitors to remix audio clips recorded throughout New York City's Lower East Side neighbourhood.
Users can create their own urban audioscape by using sounds like flapping pigeon wings, buskers performing in the subway station, and steam hissing out of a sewer grate.
The confusion corner road sign might be Winnipeg's most famous map. It's become an unofficial (and slightly ironic) symbol of Winnipeg pride.
My Winnipeg; My Winnipeg II ; My Winnipeg III
untitled (Winnipeg Map) 2007
The Fever Breaks (April)
Any Port in a Storm (November)
Parking/No Parking, 2009
Leah Decter and the Spence Neighbourhood Association
The Spence Community Compass: Finding Home