Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Read This, Map That

Winter time is reading time here at FASLANYC (or for Don Roman de la Mancha, book-on-tape-time).  Over the past few months a recurrent theme has been maps, a topic we have particular affection for.  I suppose this is not surprising, as the mapping of geographies, chronologies, and even pirate’s booty have been the subject of much attention within the landscape fields for some time now.  Nonetheless, we’ve come across a few interesting pieces on this topic, and though to share them dear-diary-style.
[H. Willis makes his way through some delightful winter reading
image courtesy of somethingintheair's flickr]

The Toronto School of Architecture has just started up a new “journal on landscape, architecture, and political economy” called Scapegoat.  We agree with what you’re think:  great premise, terrible title.  It is available for free, and the hard copy comes in a foldable newsprint format.  We are, of course, enamored with this.  The fact that someone is explicitly approaching landscape/architecture in terms of political economy means we’re on board.  A forum to actually discuss some of the underlying assumptions of power:  service/client relationships, the role of capital, alternative methods of practice- exciting stuff.  And the fact that it comes as a newspaper, with an emphasis on portability and utility, not preciousness and permanence; that is even better.  The fact that the copy editing is terrible is not worth getting worked up about, as the content is delicious and overcomes this sloppiness.  The first article, “Atlas Uber Alles”, discusses the contemporary act of mapping, the reasons for its recent rise and the subsequent ramifications, and it gets better from there.  Our two favorite pieces:
“30 Points to Challenge the Hegemonic Order in the City of Buenos Aires” by Iconoclasistas
The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit" (and profiled here on landscape+urbanism ages ago)
[Cartographies of Time excavates hundreds of fascinating timelines, lists, maps, and other historical devices such as this one showing the known world at a given point in time being surrounded by dark, roiling clouds]

The theme of permanence and ephemerality is a prominent one in a very promising book from the PAP- Cartographies of Time, and for a thorough review you can check in here.  The layout is decidedly conservative and the format cumbersome.  That said, this book is wonderful- go to the library and check it out right now if you are interested in seeing hundreds of images of carefully curated “cartographies of time”, with thoughtful context and theory provided by the authors.  Defining cartography as a system of images and text organized to communicate theories of time (our words, not theirs- they are decidedly un-pedantic), the authors start with the predominance of the line in modern times to communicate the idea of time.  It then goes back to excavate the assumptions underlying the line, as well as concepts and contexts that were active when other theories of time were employed before working back up chronologically to present day concepts and examples.
 [the Histomap by John Sparks is still one of the coolest diagrams out there]

The cleverly titled M.A.P. project series (Manual of Architectural Possibilities) by David Garcia Studio, recently exhibited at Pink Comma Gallery, is another lovely example of expanding agency, education, and experimentation through mapping exercises.  Each manual is uniform in its size, format, and aesthetics.  This, of course, makes it even more fun with each manual addressing themes as random and divergent as “quarantine”, “antartica”, and “archive” with a focus on utopian speculations and geographic diagrams.  The utility and fun of these manuals make it easy to imagine someone with a milk crate of them, grabbing whichever one is needed on their way out the door and back into the urban wilds.  Or whatever.  But they are exciting and offer a pretty clear way forward; pairing this serial format with various users (ie bus driver, school kids, diy cartographers, and an ecologist) all arrayed around a single locale could yield an extremely rich reading of the location, and expand agency across demographic groupings.
[The most recent M.A.P. by David Garcia Studio]

Lastly, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Infinite City by cultural historian Rebecca Solnit, a mapping project of San Francisco.  While we haven’t received it yet and so can’t say much (read here for a good, concise review) we can say that based on her previous work and the glowing endorsements we’ve heard, we are excited.

 [Minard's map of Napolean's march on Moscow just gets better with the conceptual dissection provided by Cartographies of Time]

The proliferation of mapping concepts and explorations seems indicative of a larger trend in landscape (despite Charles Waldheim’s claim in the recent “Coupling” issue of Pamphlet Architecture, we maintain that the confluence society and environment is not “urbanism” but rather landscape).  Situationist Guy DeBord established in the 1967 that ours was a society of spectacle, a fact largely proven true in subsequent decades.  In 1995 Christine Boyer noted:

the representational model for this new urbanism [of which Los Angeles was the apotheosis] of perpetual movement in which fatuous images and marvelous scenes slide along in paradoxical juxtapositions and mesmerizing allusions is the cinema and television, with their traveling shots, jump-cuts, close-ups, and slow motion, their exploited experience of shock and the collisions of their montage effect.

Poignant.  And it begs the question, if the new representational model is not the television or the cinema but rather the map, or the act of mapping, then what is the characterization of our current social condition?


  1. a belated heads up, should anyone want to make a science map...

  2. I know have I seen other examples but between the sort of graphic design/pamphlets of The Center for Urban Pedagogy or more recently, the New City Reader, Scapegoat, there seems to be a renewed interest in more analog methods of publishing..

    Partly i think this is attributable to a revolt against the digital. However, I think it needs to also be viewed within the concept of public, newspapers and early modern sorts of engaged civic(ness).
    It is parallel I think one could argue to, to the rise in mapping, related through things like DIY cartography, personal acts of inscribing. And is perhaps an result of current social conditions?

    As to your last point i would argue that urbanism is now framed within landscape.

  3. Would you please tell me who is H. Willis?

  4. ok, forget it - I see the answer is in your May 2nd post