Jill and I did a podcast about her new book, Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Map Making, and I wanted to share some of what she told me about her fascination with maps. Apparently I wasn’t finished asking her a bunch of nosy questions, so I asked her some more~~
Q: *I* know what your new book’s about, but in case our readers don’t, let’s give them a little teaser, please.
A: Personal Geographies is for people who love maps, love making art, have never made art, and are curious. Curiosity is the most important part. The projects are about self-discovery and storytelling through mapmaking, starting with Maps of the Self, moving to Maps of Your Experience, and finally a group of 3D projects that involve maps.
Q. What is “Personal’ about geography?
A. Everything. First of all, maps are made from the map makers point of view more often than not. There are long traditions of mapping the self, such as the hand maps of chiromancy (fortune telling), body maps in acupuncture, head maps in all sorts of pseudo-sciences. What could be more personal than a map you make of your own heart? I get carried away and make maps based on other traditions that serve to tell the stories of my life.
This hand map is a part of a vintage map of Paris that I cut out in the shape of my hand. I took out all the street names, and assigned them to names of artists who have influenced my hand or my creativity and made new arty village just for me.
Q: What is it about maps, anyway? Lots of us got all intimidated in geography class. You know: the lousy map pencils, the constantly-changing eastern European configurations. Why do you love maps so?
A: Aesthetically maps are so rich; the colors, textures and imagery. Even when you deconstruct them all the separate components are enticing: sea monsters, neat lines, compass roses, cartouches, flora, fauna, I am wild for the lot. At the top of the list is that maps are vehicles for identifying your place in the world, whether it is metaphorical or actual. What other gizmo gives you more bang for your buck than a map?
Q: What’s your very earliest map-related memory?
A: Aside from family trips using maps, it has to be when I was fifteen. My first boyfriend worked at McDonalds, and he gave me a map of all the McD’s in California at the time: a map no family should be without. I still have it.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about maps? The thing that, if other people knew it, they’d start loving maps, too?
A. They are fun, foremost. Mapping out your old haunts is a trip down memory lane, festooned with a creative cartouche. Add the flowery touch of a compass rose, some characters and tie it up with the bold black and white neatlines and you have some pretty peachy art.
Q. What is the most controversial map you have ever made?
A.The Official Warning Map of Fort Worden. It was edgy on two levels, the first being that I had to actually identify the types of horrifying sea creatures that filled the Puget Sound and threatened the peninsula. The second was that I did not think most of the folks at the Artfest retreat, which is held at the Fort, had any idea what was out there. I felt a responsibility to share the warning and passed the maps around.
Q. What is the fact you think might surprise people the most about maps?
A. Historically maps were rarely accurate, which is so not what our teachers told us. Maps were made with agendas, sponsors, and trickery, so lots of colorful stuff was recorded (or not) that was not based on fact. And, because map lovers and mapmakers tend to be an obsessive bunch, they lied, cheated and stole maps at an astounding rate. World history would read very differently if honesty were at the heart of it.
The 1603 map above depicts the mythical kingdom of a guy name Prester John, a priest supposedly residing over the Fountain of Youth and the ruler of a Christian kingdom in the middle of Asia. Though he is well documented by way of mysterious letters to emperors, popes and kings for hundreds of years, no proof of his kingdom has ever been found. That said, lots of folks went to exotic places looking for him. This map was made nearly 500 years after the first letter surfaced.
Q: So if we want to get involved in the map-making world, what can we do? Is there something online for us?
A: There are so many artists out there interested in maps, and I am attempting to link them on my site. Check out the site as it grows and let me know if you have anything to add. I call it the “site for Arty Cartophiles”. There are a lot of us out there.
Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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