Conceptual Mapping

[Summer 2007]

by Jacques Doyon

The works presented in this issue form conceptual mappings of territories in the midst of redefinition: the Internet, the natural environment, and circulation hubs. There is no cartography in the literal sense here; rather, these metaphorical mappings use the tools of cartography for investigations and approaches that examine our relationship with these environments and bring up ethical issues.

In his Datascapes, Joan Fontcuberta explores, with his typical irony and playfulness, the issues of production and interpretation of images in the era of their digital dematerialization. The Orogenesis series diverts a software package that transposes cartographic information into photographs by processing through it landscape photographs and paintings or abstract images. The stereotypical images that result (variations of sublime landscapes or morphological relief features) reveal the central importance of data-analysis codes. At a time when large-scale automated data-analysis systems are being implemented, this aesthetic diversion has profound implications. The Googlegrams series, which reconstructs images from the news with thousands of images gathered from the Web through a search using few key words, offers a commentary on the current anomie in cyberspace. It thus proposes a sort of shifting cartography of the triviality and redundancy characteristic of the mass media, and the prominence of icons that become clichés.

For more than twenty years, the American photographer David Maisel has been making series of aerial photographs of sites that have been altered by human beings on a wide scale, under the generic title Black Maps. Although he is involved in environmental causes, Maisel is not creating documentary photographs. Rather, he is making images that, through their referential ambiguity and plays on texture and colour, arouse mixed emotions of fascination and horror, while raising questions about what is happening in these landscapes. Considering himself above all a visual artist, very interested in the philosophy of land art and the thought of Robert Smithson, Maisel designs his images as meditations on the interactions between humans and their environment. Despite their luxuriant colours, these “black maps” are offered as a vision of a possible apocalypse, a contemporary actualization of the sublime. Terminal Mirage, the most recent series in this corpus, probes the tragic beauty of Great Salt Lake, the receptacle of an extraordinary concentration of minerals, bacteria, and algae that are the combined result of the effects of nature and human interventions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Bill Vazan produced performative and conceptual works that dealt with revealing the lines of a territory marked by human presence. He produced a series on urban wanderings; travelling on major thoroughfares by various modes of transportation, he subjected his activities to carefully set-out protocols and recorded them on photographs and videos, testifying to his active presence while highlighting the points of juncture and milestones that reveal a structuring use of the territory. Lines and points thus form a conceptual geography of a territory marked by human presence. Vazan’s work then evolved toward works such as Canada Line, Wordline, Intercommunication Lines, and Lifeline, which materialize, on a larger scale, circulation lines and networks that structure the territory while continuing, although in a more conceptual way, to reveal points of localization and anchorage. Later on, Vazan’s land artworks, with which he made his reputation, took on more cosmological dimensions.

You may find more documentation on each of these works (including John K. Grande’s complete interview with David Maisel) by visiting our Web site,