Making Maps for Love, Self, and Anti-Colonialism

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Making Maps for Love, Self, and Anti-Colonialism

Let's get cartophilic like Jorge Luis Borges.

Matthew Harrison Tedford

Thu Mar 30th, 2017 5:25pm

  Omar Mismar, The Path of Love #03, 2013-14.E

Omar Mismar, The Path of Love #03, 2013-14.E

A famous one-paragraph story by Jorge Luis Borges describes                an    Empire’s

cartography guild that made a map so accurate that it was as large as the Empire itself.

This story illustrates both the ideal of traditional maps — to represent a territory as

accurately as possible — and the limits of achieving it. Because it is absurd to be exact,

and all maps are radical abstractions of our earthly reality. We accept these

abstractions                 as     fact,           but      quibble           and     fight          when     they       don’t

interpretations of the world.

How might maps look if their makers took liberties with these abstractions, rather than staying within the parameters of acceptable representation? What might these maps tell their readers? Seeking Civilization: Art and Cartography, at Gallery Wendi Norris, presents the work of seven artists who take these liberties and push the boundaries of cartography.

 Miguel Angel Ríos,  Le Premier Voyage a L’inconnu , 1992-93.

Miguel Angel Ríos, Le Premier Voyage a L’inconnu, 1992-93.

The exhibition’s centerpieceMiguelAngelRíosis’ ten-foot-long Le Premier Voyage a L’inconnu (1992-93), an enlarged map from 1500 printed on pleated canvas. The

 

 

contents of the map are difficult to discern because of the pleating, but given the Argentina-born artist’s interest in the concept of Latin America the first decade of Spanish conquest in the Western Hemisphere. Critica Post-Colonial #3, #5, and #6 (1992-93) are simpler and more legible ink-on-pleated-paper drawings by Ríos. It is clear that these colonial maps are of the Caribbean and the northeastern coast of South America, but beyond that, they are difficult to decipher. It would be impossible to use these maps to navigate or explore the terrain depicted within them. Ríos acts as a revisionist cartographer, making conquered lands inaccessible to looters and missionaries.

 

Rather than working with existing maps, Val Britton mimics the form of maps to construct something imaginary in her seventeen-foot diptych Study for Voyage (2012). There are dozens of nodes connected by criss-crossing lines, resembling cities and highways or navigation routes. The abstract forms on the ink, graphite, paint, and collage artwork call to mind the illustrations on ancient and medieval maps. Hundreds of leaf-shaped forms scattered across the work remind me of the wind blown by disembodied heads in historical maps. I saw black clouds as symbols for danger or uncertainty on a voyage, but at least one other viewer saw specific continents. This map is even less navigable than Rios, but it is a lucid psychology.

 

A large neon installation by Omar Mismar traces his attempt at navigating the streets of San Francisco with the intent of staying as close as possible to a man he found on Grindr, a location-based meet-up app for gay men. Conducted each day for a

 

month, Paths of Love turns a depiction of terrain into an anthology of oblique love stories. Viewers know nothing of the men or whether Mismar ever met them, but one can conjure the outline of stories from the switchbacks, zigzags, and the distances covered over the course of these nights.

 

Taraneh Hemami’sRecounting (2011) takes viewers even further from the orthodox form and purpose of maps. The giant disc is covered in a dizzying array of dates, in both Arabic and Persian numerals. The disc is mysterious and begs to be decoded, and it turns out those dates represent every day of the artist’s completion. The disc charts Hemami’s personal migration jour utilizing the three separate calendar systems she has used throughout her life to mark time. This is something between a map and a calendar — marking geography through time rather than space.

We often talk about maps as representations of specific places — a map of France, Tibet, Arrakis, or Foster City. But maps are also ways of thinking, ways of seeing, and ways of knowing. The works in Seeking Civilization ask viewers how we might see love, history, and our own lives differently if we embraced the abstractions inherent in mapmaking.

 

Seeking Civilization: Art and Cartography, through May. 6, at Gallery Wendi Norris, 161 Jessie St., 415-346-7812 or gallerywendinorris.com