Posts Tagged ‘art’

Marvellous Miniature Map

Some maps are works of art; this miniature marvel is no exception. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s deserved of a place hanging on someone’s wall, but the truth is that this map is far more likely to end up in a rubbish bin.

That’s because this marvellous miniature map lives on the cover of a box of matches and empty boxes of matches have a very short shelf life before they end up in the rubbish. Which is a crying shame as this beautiful map with Mount Fuji in the background, a house and what looks like a tram deserves a kinder fate than that.

japanese-matchbox-label

Photo Credits: Jane McDevitt on Flickr.
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Literally A Map Of Riches

Most maps are pointers to something; from today’s turn-by-turn voice guided navigation to the “X marks the spot” treasure maps of legend.

This map however, is not a pointer to riches, instead it’s made of riches.

A large-scale, unique and intricate portrait of our Earth – a planet which is surely a jewel of the universe – innovatively created from 330,000 hand-cut pieces of stained glass, 1238 jewels totalling 260 carats, and over 6900 LEDs.

chrischamberlainjeweloftheuniverse1

I’ve written before about maps as art, but this is both a map, a work of art and the map as art and with a tip of the hat to Sitaram Shastri for the heads up. Check out jeweloftheuniverse.net for loads more pictures of this gorgeous map.

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2013 – The Year Of The Tangible Map And Return Of The Map As Art

Looking back at the conference talks I gave and the posts I wrote in 2012, two themes are evident.

The first theme is that while there’s some utterly gorgeous digital maps being produced these days, such as Stamen’s Watercolor, the vast majority of digital maps can’t really be classified as art. Despite the ability to style our own maps with relative ease, such as with Carto and MapBox’s TileMill, today’s maps tend towards the data rich, factual end of the map spectrum. Compare and contrast a regular digital map, on your phone, on your tablet or on a web site in your laptop’s browser with a map such as Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici and you’ll see what I mean (and if you don’t browse the Norman. B. Leventhal Map Center’s Flickr stream you really should).

Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici

The second theme is that despite the abundance of maps that surround us these days, a digital map is almost by definition an intangible thing. It’s a view port, hand crafted by a digital cartographer, on a mass of hidden, underlying spatial data. It’s ephemeral. Switch off your phone, your tablet, your sat nav or your computer and the map … vanishes. Until the next time you hit the “on” button, the electrons flow again and the map re-appears. But it’s still intangible, despite the irony that a lot of maps these days are interacted with via a touch interface; we tap, poke, prod and swipe our maps, but they’re not really there.

But maybe 2013 will be both the year of the tangible map and the year of the map as art. It might be if the closing days of 2012 are anything to go by.

On December 8th, 2012, David Overton’s SplashMaps made their funding total on Kickstarter. A SplashMap is a real outdoor map, derived from (digital) open data, but rendered on a light and weatherproof fabric. It’s a tangible map in the truest sense of the word; one you can fold up or even crumple up and stick in your pocket, safe in the knowledge that it won’t fade away. There’s no “off” switch for this map. As one of the SplashMap funders, I’ll have a chance to get my hands on one in the literal sense of the word in a couple of months, once they hit production. So more about this map in a future post.

The other map that is both 100% tangible and 100% art is the awesomely talented Anna Butler’s Grand Map Of London. A modern day map of the UK’s capital city, digital in origin, lovingly hand drawn in the style of the 1800s and printed, yes, printed on canvas. It’s a map worthy of the phrase “the map as art” and when I first saw one and handled one in late November of 2012 I wanted one, right there and then.

Grand Map Of London

And then, on Saturday, December 29th 2012, Mark Iliffe and I met Anna for a coffee in the Espresso Bar of the British Library on London’s Euston Road and out of the blue, Anna handed over a long cardboard tube containing my own, my very own, Grand Map Of London. People nearby looked on, slightly non-plussed as I crowed like a happy baby, promptly unrolled the map over the table and just looked and touched. The next half an hour or so pretty much vanished as I pored over and luxuriated in the map, lost in the details and revelling in the map under my hands. Truly this is a tangible map which is itself art.

I’ve often said, half in truth, half in jest, that I’d love a big, as big as I can get, map of London on my wall, probably one of Stamen’s Watercolor maps. But Anna’s Grand Map Of London will be getting a suitable frame and sitting on my wall, just as soon as my local framing shop opens after the New Year break.

Grand Map Of London

Two maps to wrap up 2012. Both tangible, both digital in origin, both made for looking, touching and feeling. One clever, innovative and utterly practical and one a map you can keep coming back to and which reveals more artistic cleverness each time you look at it.

2013 is shaping up to be a “year of the map” in ways I’d never had hoped for at the start of 2012.

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The “Maps As Art” Debate

Ah … art. Art is a contentious area for discussion. One person’s work of art is another person’s random spots of paint on a canvas. As Rudyard Kipling once put it, “it’s clever, but is it art?“.

Even artists can’t seem to agree on this topic. Compare and contrast Picasso’s comment that “everything you can imagine is real” with Warhol’s contrarian stance that “an artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have“.

Now add maps into the equation and you have a debate where people probably won’t always agree. So it was with a conversation on Twitter between myself, Steve Chilton, chair of the Society of Cartographers and psychogeographer Graham Hooper. We were talking about a map like this one …

Graham kickstarted the discussion with a fear that the ultimate map, by today’s standards, is merely more accurate old data in a new format. He’s got a point. A lot of today’s maps, particularly digital ones, do take existing data and put a subtly different slant on the way that it’s visualised. He continued with “surely maps, in the broadest sense, need to add value to what is mapped rather than just copy or repeat it in inferior form“.

Here’s where the debate gets onto thin ice. The notion of what’s inferior is a deeply subjective thing. Likewise, adding value is a much maligned phrase that can mean pretty much anything depending on your interpretation. My ultimate map, if such a thing even exists, will probably differ significantly from yours.

Steve countered with “maps represent the real word, it’s not about being inferior; they can categorise, explain, illustrate and open up that world“.

The map in question is one of those produced by artPause and Graham questioned whether any of these maps “present a new or better understanding, appreciation or awareness of our world“.

I should probably nail my colours to the mast here.

A map can be art. I think I have to side with Steve on this point. Maps as art definitely illustrate our world and they definitely make us appreciate someone else’s view of our world. Yes, they’re produced from existing data, or at least the current data at the time they were made. But if you like maps, you’ll probably like maps as art, even if you sometimes need to put your head to one side, squint a bit and mutter “it’s clever, but is it art?“.

Photo Credits: artPause and Kaptain Kobold on Etsy.
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When Maps and Data Collide They Produce … Art?

Last month I wrote that a map says as much about the fears, hopes, dreams and prejudices of its target audience as it does about the relationship of places on the surface of the Earth. With the benefit of hindsight I think I was only half way right.

Sometimes a map becomes more than just a spatial representation and becomes something else.

Sometimes a data visualisation becomes more than just the underlying data and almost takes on a life of its own.

When these two things meet or collide the results can be spectacularly compelling and produce, unintentionally … art? Look at the image below … filigree lace work? Crochet for the deranged of mind? Silk for the sociopath? Macrame for the mad? Sadly none of the above.

The Geotaggers' World Atlas #2: London

It’s instead an image from the Geotagger’s World Atlas but it’s still unintentionally beautiful.

The maps are ordered by the number of pictures taken in the central cluster of each one. This is a little unfair to aggressively polycentric cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles, which probably get lower placement than they really deserve because there are gaps where no one took any pictures. The central cluster of each map is not necessarily in the center of each image, because the image bounds are chosen to include as many geotagged locations as possible near the central cluster. All the maps are to the same scale, chosen to be just large enough for the central New York cluster to fit. The photo locations come from the public Flickr and Picasa search APIs.

I could look and stare at the all the images in Eric’s Flickr set for hours. Correction, I have stared at the images for hours.

Photo Credits: Eric Fischer on Flickr.
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