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MAPS: Art that prevents us from losing our way « DressLab : clothes+music+art
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MAPS: Art that prevents us from losing our way

Author: Luisa Bernal

Section: LAB

Date: 06.2013


It’s holiday season again and, now that GPS seems to have won the day, few of us keep maps in the car. However, even the most obsolete political maps still have a story to tell.

In Shannon Rankin’s opinion maps are subjective. Every map is an interpretation and may reference the physical and the psychological simultaneously. They elicit our memories and become a metaphor for life itself and personal cosmologies.

Perhaps for this very reason maps are such a good source of aesthetic and conceptual material. Here we present three artists who use these representations of the landscape on which we tread as the basis for their work.


Joao Machado studied cinema and worked as a director and script writer. “I’m interested in stories and the power of transformation inherent in them. I’ve subscribed to the idea that each story deserves to be materialized in a certain medium in order to reach its full potential. I was working on a project that was very autobiographical (as it most often is) and I wanted to address what it was like to be a traveller. I was born in Brazil and moved to Paris when I was eight years old. I’m thirty four today and I have not stopped. I have lived in Italy, in Los Angeles and in many other places. I don’t think I’m alone in this but it’s as if I have lived many lives in one. I wanted to address this dislocation, this feeling of being a human patchwork of all the different places I have lived. The map series was born this way”.




“Everybody needs a map to understand the physical world we live in. We look to maps to understand the spiritual world, as in astrology, for example. We need maps to understand each other in this constant exploration. An exploration of both the extent of the galaxy and the depths of our own inner-space”.

“I always search for relationships between the images depicted and the maps used. There was a map called African War Dance and it depicted a Maasai tribal war dance and it was made with war maps. Other times the maps used work in a way that is contrapuntal to the images. There have been occasions also where the challenge was technical in the search for the perfect map to portray water, skin, cloth or whatever. I would spend weeks hunting for the perfect map, search in every used book store I could visit”.




“The map series began in 2006 and lasted until 2012. There’s a saying that the explorer is an individual who is always lost. The artist is the same way and I have embarked upon a new challenge, this time, without a map”.

One of the inspirational places for this traveller is the Peine de los Vientos, by Chillida, in San Sebastian, “a monument to the forces of nature and art”.




For Ed Fairburn, his work with maps, which began towards the end of 2012, is in some way related to his previous project in which he studied and exaggerated the intricate patterns found on the human body. “The textured mesh which I created led me to explore new possibilities – including the idea of taking a pre-patterned surface (such as a map) and simply synchronising the patterns between the two”.

“For somebody who looks at maps every day, I know remarkably little about cartography – I’m more concerned with the aesthetics of what I work with, and this is something that I am passionate about. Although saying that, I did once want to become a cartographer and I do have a general interest in science, geography and technology. I would love to create my own maps but I think it would be more about the appearance of the information that is shown, rather than the information itself”.




“I’d like my work to emphasise the relationship between us as a race and the space which we occupy and I feel that today, as the world becomes increasingly taken-over by industry and everything else that’s unnatural, it’s important to remember that fundamentally, we are a product of nature in the same way that the landscape is. My work is a very literal manifestation of this idea”.

“I shop for maps in charity shops, book shops and anywhere else I can find them. I tend to hoard them in my studio and only use a fraction of what I buy. When I begin work I identify key areas, both on the map and the figure, before selecting the technique I will use”.

When speaking about the places represented by these maps: “I love to travel! I don’t travel as much as I’d like to though. The most inspirational place I’ve ever been is not so much a place but rather a journey. A few years ago I hitch-hiked across Europe with a friend to raise money for charity. It started in the UK with the two of us, but we actually met a fellow hitch-hiker in France who tagged along with us all the way to the South coast of Spain. It took us 9 days and 30 rides to get that far (31 rides if I were to count the police). The variety of people that we met and the places we saw were incredible. I’ve drawn into several maps of Europe since then and I’ve enjoyed spotting familiar towns and villages that we travelled through”.




Shannon Rankin passed part of her childhood crossing the US from coast to coast. She still remembers the views from the airplane windows and this is what sparked her interest in the micro and macro qualities of landscape.

“I began working with maps about 15 years ago while I was still in art school. While searching through some boxes from my childhood, I stumbled upon a few maps that my grandfather had given to me. At that time, the maps I used in my work were a metaphor for searching and understanding after the loss of a dear friend”.




“Although I work in a variety of media, maps always seem to resurface. I have yet to tire of the inherent beauty and potential meaning that emerges from working with them. I mine the inexhaustible wealth of subject matter and material in order to push my work in every possible direction. In hopes of discovering new and revealing connections, I press on to see where the work leads me”.

“By incorporating map fragments, I am paying homage to our fragile environment and I hope to create a means to consider how we, as a species, contribute to the well-being of our planet”.




One would imagine that someone used to working with maps would know a lot about inspiring places: “I don’t travel as often as I would like to but I am most inspired when I am in nature. As I child I spent a lot of time in Yosemite which I still find awe-inspiring for its dramatic cliffs and giant sequoias”.


+ info_ Joao Machado / Ed Fairburn / Shannon Rankin

Text_ Luisa Bernal



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