By SUSANNAH MAGERS, curatorial intern, The Arts at CIIS
Mapping takes many forms; one can map virtually anything and everything. As a conceptual strategy employed by artists and curators alike (by the Hand Drawn Map Association, for example; the New Museum’s 2007 exhibition Get Lost; or Katharine Harmon’s books, "You Are Here" and "The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography") it has reached beyond traditional topographic or geographical renderings of space to include the spiritual, political, social, and emotional ways we experience our lives and the places we live. The Arts at CIIS’ winter exhibitions are a testament to this pluralism.
On the 4th floor of the CIIS Main Building, artist Elliot Ross’ portraits in his series "Yehudhith" are a celebration (Yehudhith is a female Jewish name that means “Jewish woman,” and “in praise of”) of the lives of contemporary Jewish women, a poignant photographic reckoning with a specific historical legacy of the Holocaust, and a tribute to their survival. Also on the 4th floor, is Carolyn Radlo and Alanna Simone’s video work "The Grandfathers," which charts an almost meditative, cathartic route—mother (Radlo) and daughter (Simone) coming to terms with the impact of the Holocaust on their family’s historical narrative.
In the 3rd floor hallway of the CIIS Main Building, mapping the physical body, artist June Yong Lee’s "The Torso Series" imparts intensely personal information about individual bodies through black and white, macro-photographic panoramas. Without the visual cues of a face as an influence, the torso portraits resist easy identification. The work allows for the viewer to absorb, engage, and read the work from one’s own perspectives, regardless of gender or race. Each tattoo, scar, or marking is open to interpretation.
What makes a place? So reads the first sentence in the front book jacket of Rebecca Solnit’s "Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas." Currently on view at 695 Minna, "Laramie: A Gem City Atlas" pursues a similar task; to visualize information about the various narratives that constitute the social, economic, historical, and political constellation of a location, in this case Laramie, Wyo. Partnering with the University of Wyoming's Creative Writing MFA program, along with "Infinite City" cartographers Shizue Seigel and Ben Pease, this particular mapping explores subject matter ranging from Native American reservation sites and ancestral land to paranormal activity. Below I ask Solnit some questions relating to her passion for mapping, her current projects, and the potential of "Laramie: A Gem City Atlas."
SM: Showcasing the Laramie maps through exhibition is an effective, wonderful way to experience and expand the life of the project. Do you see similar exhibition potential for a work like "Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas"? Or, perhaps giving the Laramie project portability, in the form of a book, or alternative guide of sorts?
RS: I'm less focused on spreading my one atlas to date than in seeing atlases proliferate. I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of radical-lyrical mapping; I want every university to create an atlas of its locale, every city to have an atlas—let a thousand atlases bloom!
SM: What are some other cartography-related projects you’re currently working on, or future sites you’re interested in exploring in this way?
RS: I am talking to a few western places about atlases that may happen later, via universities, and we have launched a sequel to "Infinite City," with a New Orleans atlas directed by New Orleans native and Emmy-award-winning filmmaker (and my wonderful friend) Rebecca Snedeker. It will have the same team—divine designer Lia Tjandra, great cartography team Ben Pease and Shizue Seigel, and editor Niels Hooper—as the first one and UC Press will publish it in late 2013.
Be sure to check out the work, and join us this Saturday, Jan. 21, from 6-8 pm at 695 Minna, for readings and discussion about Laramie, mapping human geographies, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Rebecca Solnit is joined by cartographers/designers Shizue Seigel and Ben Pease, and University of Wyoming MFA student Kelly Herbinson.