I bought a piece of 22x30 inch watercolor paper and sat down to work on a “map poem” of my neighborhood and honestly, I found it quite daunting.
Innisfree had mentioned using velum and pens and that sounded like a better place to start. I happened to have a pad of 11x14 inch velum paper that has been sitting around my studio but never used. So, I took out a piece of velum and traced a map of a few blocks around my house. Then, I drew in some of the places that are important to me. But, the drawing was super small and even with my .05 micron pen, I couldn’t really write much on the map.
So, I decided to draw a slightly larger map of the same slice of my neighborhood, but this time without the grid and only by memory (not tracing anything). I wound up with a simplified map with only the streets and landmarks that are important to me:
I wrote a few personal thoughts on the second map, but it still didn’t seem “poetic” enough - it seemed too literal. Then, I realized that since my first two neighborhood maps were drawn on velum, I could layer them on top of one of my “inscape-maps” to see how they would interact. The result was something much closer to what I envisioned a “map-poem” to be:
These maps are just a beginning. I look forward to continuing work on this neighborhood map-poem project; exploring the intersection of the geographical map of my neighborhood and a more internal map of my thoughts and memories. I would also like to add text about the geography of my neighborhood and the development of the area. The land I live on was once a heavily wooded area with old growth forest, inhabited by the Duwamish tribe for thousands of years. Then, it was cleared for farming before becoming the residential neighborhood it is today.
If time permits this week, I’d like to sit back down with my 22x30 inch watercolor paper and transcribe the small velum maps in some way and add more text and, perhaps, color.
This week, I have been somewhat distracted with midterms and Halloween celebrations, but Karey and I had a productive/interesting conversation.
I have been continuing to struggle with the idea of abstract art and abstraction in general. But after Karey and I talked, I started feeling more comfortable. I spend so much time with my students encouraging them to be clear in their communications, to think about what they are representing. However, any cartographer is balancing simplification and representation.
So this week I’m pushing simplification. This week I mentioned the work of Kevin Lynch, urban planner on the perceptual form of urban environment. Lynch wrote a lot about how we perceive our living environments. His books are filled with diagrammatic maps, which are unlabeled and often focus on the basic shapes that make up a landscape.
Looking at Lynch’s drawings makes me more comfortable that drawings containing uncertainty can also be useful in communicating what a place is about.
This week I have also been distracted getting involved in the #30DayMapChallenge on Twitter. The idea is to create a new map during each day of November, each with its own theme. I spent too much time this week trying out new digital mapping techniques. At the same time, I have been attempting to simplifying and consider the basic forms involved.
Tonight, I attempted to combine the map challenge and the map poem exercise that Karey and I are working on. Day 4 of the map challenge involves creating a map using hexagons. In digital mapping, grouping densities using hexagons is a way to simplify the map and make sure that it draws quickly when presented over the internet. It is an abstraction, so I decided to attempt creating a hex map using hand tools. Below is my rough draft of my daily life, drawn with Prismacolor pen on vellum. I like the messiness of it. One thing I really appreciate about Karey’s work is the messiness communicates something about life that is usually missing from traditional maps. At the same time, I still want to create multiple value (light to dark) so the hexes can communicate time spent at each location.
I recommend following the #30DayMapChallenge hashtag on twitter. Folks are coming up with all sorts of interesting maps and visualizations.
A few weeks ago, Innisfree reminded me of the writer and map enthusiast, Denis Wood. I read a few of his books when I was in graduate school and was just beginning to think about maps as a form of abstract art. Back then, Wood’s books provided me with somewhat of a bridge between real-world maps and maps as art because he, too, is interested in mapping the unmappable (or, at least mapping things that haven’t been mapped before).
So, I decided to revisit Denis Wood’s writings and took out a few of his books from the library:
In his book, The Natures of Maps Wood writes about maps as socially constructed arguments with subjective perspectives as opposed to being objective representations of the world. This is something Innisfree and I wrote about in our second blog posts and is one of the topics Innisfree writes about and studies in her work.
Wood also writes about psychogeography, or cognitive cartographics — the geography people carry around in their heads. The idea of mental mapping is particularly interesting to me because I think of my map paintings as “mindscapes” or “inscapes.”
In chapter one of The Natures of Maps Wood quotes the cognitive linguists Gilles Fauconnier and Eve Sweetser as saying:
The basic idea is that, as we think and talk, mental spaces are set up, structured, and linked under pressure from grammar context and culture. The effect is to create a network of spaces through which we move as discourse unfolds.
I love the mental image of moving between language and space as we think about and experience the world.
Curious, I looked up “cognitive mapping” and that led me to the research of neuroscientist John O’Keefe and his Nobel prize winning work on stem cells and our experience of place. I watched this whole one-hour lecture on how your brain maps the world. He’s an excellent teacher and it was relatively easy to understand (on an artist’s level).
Towards the very end of his lecture, O’Keefe talks about how both memories and our sense of place are formed in the hippocampus. This led me to muse about how I’ve been trying to paint the connection between memory and place in my maps. My show at Shift Gallery in Seattle last February was titled “between Place and Thought”:
As I continued researching the connection between place and memory, I came across this article, "The tangle of space and time in human cognition," by Rafael Nunez and Kensy Cooperrider. It’s about how humans also conceptualize time in terms of space. It’s pretty dense, but I was drawn to the main idea that, “the mapping between time and space is about underlying thought, and not just surface linguistic expression” and how there is a deep neural bases for spatial and temporal conceptualization. Our experience of the “here” and the “now” is inseparable.
So, with all this extremely dense scientific material in my head about our cognitive experience of “place,” “time,” and “memory,” Innisfree and I are embarking on a much more hands on artistic approach to cognitive mapping by creating map-poems of where we live. This exercise will give Innisfree the opportunity to use some of her art materials and it will give me the opportunity to map a more specific place (where I live) instead of an abstract space.
We’re working on the parameters (size, materials, etc.), and hopefully we will start creating our map-poems this week. Perhaps, once we see each other’s maps we’ll trade ideas and be inspired to create more.
So, this week Karey and I agreed to start working on an exercise created by Lisa Charlotte Rost during a talk for NACIS (the North American Cartographic Information Society) in 2016 called map poetry. I discovered this exercise through another NACIS talk, Creating Space to Create: Teaching technologies you don’t know, given by Ashley Nepp at Macalester College on teaching cartographic technologies then you can’t keep up with all the new innovations yourself. This is a major problem in many scientific fields, we are inundated with data and technological innovations and it is very difficult to keep up.
A first step to getting started is to get students comfortable in being “a beginner” is to get them comfortable with being vulnerable with each other, but also being willing to accept critique in the spirit of continual improvement rather than competition and the threat of failure. This week I’m struggling with being a beginner. I went to the local art supply store in our small town and asked the owner to help me pick out some arts supplies to allow me to start working on a hand made map of my experience in day to day life. I bought some brushes, paints, and paper.
But, I have reverted to my reliance on the digital to get me started. Every day I drive seven miles from home to downtown Menomonie where the UW-Stout campus is. If you view the road I travel on most maps, it appears straight and boring, mostly traveling through monotonous fields of corn and soybeans. But, I actually live on the edge of what is called the Driftless Area, the one part of the Upper Midwest that wasn’t covered by glaciers during the last glacial maximum. Because of this it is hillier here, reflecting the topographic variation, hills and little valleys carved by the slow erosion of streams and rivers, that existed before the glaciers arrived to gowned down the entire region.
When we moved to this area, my husband had already become sick with rheumatoid arthritis and had significant mobility issues because of joint damage and the need for a knee replacement. So I was looking for a house or apartment that was on one floor and had an attached garage so he won’t have to risk slipping on slick walkways to get to the car in winter.
The place I found was in a small village seven miles from the city of Menomonie. Much of the housing in town was built prior to the widespread adoption of the automobile, so garages tend to be separate if they exist at all and most houses are multistory with bedrooms on the second floor.
So I have ended up with a short commute, rather than being able to walk or bike to work. This 10-15 minute journey between the village of Downsville and the city of Menomonie features prominently in my day-to-day experience of life here.
In this case, it is the vertical variation that marks the trip, so working in Google Earth, I constructed an elevation profile of my trip which I then attempted to draw. I haven’t even gotten started trying to add paints or colors to the drawing. This is just a start and rather a literal one, but at least featuring the parts of my daily trip that stand out for me. I would like to create vignettes, for various locations… I’m excited to see what Karey’s local area is like and how she perceives it.
Innisfree and I were unable to connect through Google Chat this week because of conflicting schedules. But, we’ve continued through texts to share our ideas about maps and abstract art and also to brainstorm ideas for possible mutual projects.
I think the best (and most helpful) thing for me to write about this week is a list of some of the things we’ve been throwing around and thinking about.
1. Innisfree told me she’s particularly interested in exploring “uncertainty” and maps. We haven’t discussed what aspect of uncertainty she’s referring to, but I love the weight of the word itself and it showed up in one of my maps this week:
2. We were both musing separately about satellite and aerial images.
Innisfree is interested in using them as a launching point for exploring abstract art (something I already do) and I was thinking about the question: can a photo be a map?
This question and others arose from an excellent TED talk I watched about maps and Google Earth: Gopal Shah - how maps shape our world view.
We live in a world that is mapped all the way from outer space right down to our front doors. We can look at 3D cities, 360-degree views of most locations, and even a photo of the cosmic view point of planet earth.
Part of why I use map imagery is to counteract the hyper-mapped world we live in. To subvert our sense of knowing exactly where we are and instead asking why we are here.
3. Another thread of conversation Innisfree and I had this week was about learning more aspects of each other’s work methods.
What I find intuitive and easy (thinking of map patterns as abstract and open to interpretation; using watercolor and other art materials; talking about abstract art) Innisfree finds complex and difficult. And what I find immeasurably hard (GIS, computer programs, statistical interpretation of data) Innisfree finds natural and somewhat obvious.
I shared, with Innisfree, this website, maps and cartography, about map artists so she could explore a wide range of abstract artwork dealing with maps. I also plan on sharing my knowledge about different paints and pens and inks and paper so she can try creating some abstract maps on her own.
And Innisfree shared a website with me about creating hill shade for hand drawn maps. She also mentioned the possibly of teaching me more about GIS/cartography principles and about sprawl patterns so that we might be able to come up with hands on projects for some of her students.
4. I am particularly excited about this list that Lisa Charlotte Rost wrote in her Map Poetry blog post that Innisfree shared with me this morning. Serendipitously, many of the terms on this list are topics I’ve been googling this week - exploring the different ways we map the world. I plan on delving more into some of these topics next week:
Map Poetry =
mapping weird stuff
mapping less obvious stuff
mapping the unexpected
The Map Poetry blog post emphasized to me, what I already know: that although I use cartographic imagery, my paintings are much more like poems than maps. Real-world maps simplify places in order to be more useful for getting “from here to there” and for knowing “what’s there.” My maps purposefully create more complexity and are void of specific geographic locations - focusing instead on an ambiguous network of memories, ideas about impermanence, and the immensity of time.
The last couple of weeks have been challenging in terms of schedules and getting together with Karey. One of the interesting elements of this partnership is that while Karey and I could both make images that look like maps of the world, the purpose and method of creation are very different. So, the task has been to find areas of similarity or overlap in our practices.
Karey’s post on poetry helped me to think more about representation and how there might be more areas of overlap than I initially thought. While I certainly sometimes create maps, much of my research has involved other forms of representation of places, primarily through interviews with people about a place of significance to them but also through gathering other representations of the place under contention such as media clips, maps, photographs, tourism brochures, and even art. One of my major research interests is how people go about managing their land or shared lands, and how they make decisions about these important places. Understanding why people make the decisions they do and how conflicts emerge in terms of these decisions could be key in helping us understand how to make better, more sustainable decisions in the future. In my research, I attempt to take these many different and often conflicting representations of a place and weave them together to tell some sort of consistent narrative that communicates a story of the people and processes at work.
But, the reality of a place being studied isn’t one story, one narrative, it is many different processes, people, non-humans, etc, coming together to shape that place. When you attempt to summarize these and construct a single narrative, you are, simplifying, erasing, and leaving things out. In many fields there has been broad discussion of this process, of the scientist interpreting and simplifying phenomena under study, thereby missing important pieces. At the same time, the method you use to represent something being studied, also makes a difference, some things are more easily understood through a photo, or through a story or in people’s own words through a quote.
I have been struggling a bit this week with the somewhat abstract elements to Karey’s art. I have been thinking, what does abstract art mean?
I am a collector of words. When I read - fiction, non-fiction, news or poetry, I take notes and write down words and phrases that inspire me. I then re-combine the words and add some of my own to create places on my maps.
I am currently reading the novel, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. In this book, Powers addresses the fraught relationship between humans and trees: our need for trees as a resource and our blindness (sometimes) to our dependency on the existence of trees - particularly on old growth forests.
I’ve also been reading about the Anthropocene - the current geological epoch which many geologists propose to call the “Anthropocene” because of the significant impact humans have on the earth’s geology and ecosystems. Most recently, I read a compilation of essays, “Living in the Anthropocene: Earth in the Age of Humans” edited by W. John Kress and Jeffrey K. Stine.
Even before learning about the Anthropocene, my maps included deep time before humans were on earth and the eternal things that will remain once we’re gone. I took a hike this week-end and found some very happy mushrooms decomposing the forest floor and releasing nutrients for the trees and plants. I also spent time admiring the persistent weeds that grow between the cracks of my sidewalk and the moss that will grow on just about anything here in the Pacific Northwest. Nature gives me hope.
Another inspiration for the words in my maps is poetry. I love the poems of Mary Oliver - her observations of nature and the connectedness of humans and our environment.
Poem of the One World by Mary Oliver
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.
And, I will leave this blog post with a relevant poem about maps by Wislawa Szymborska. In this poem, Szymborska reflects on the beauty of the world from the vantage point of a person looking at a map that has only greens and browns for land and blues for water: no markings for wars, droughts, floods or mass graves. Maps can reveal or hide everything.
MAP by Wislawa Szymborska
Flat as the table
it’s placed on.
Nothing moves beneath it
and it seeks no outlet.
Above - my human breath
creates no stirring air
and leaves its total surface
Its plains, valleys are always green,
uplands, mountains are yellow and brown,
while seas, oceans remain a kindly blue
beside the tattered shores.
Everything here is small, near, accessible.
I can press volcanoes with my ﬁngertip,
stroke the poles without thick mittens,
I can with a single glance
encompass every desert
with the river lying just beside it.
A few trees stand for ancient forests,
you couldn’t lose your way among them.
In the east and west,
above and below the equator -
quiet like pins dropping,
and in every black pinprick
people keep on living.
Mass graves and sudden ruins
are out of the picture.
Nations’ borders are barely visible
as if they wavered—to be or not.
I like maps, because they lie.
Because they give no access to the vicious truth.
Because great-heartedly, good-naturedly
they spread before me a world
not of this world.
I really appreciate this opportunity and how it is pushing me to think broadly. Since last week I have been thinking a lot about representation and uncertainty, especially in relation to mapping and cartographic design. As I mentioned last week, representing uncertainty is a major problem in cartography, but, I think, one that isn’t often worked on by people who study cartographic representation because it is a “wicked problem” and because it is rare for scientists or others who create maps to want to make their maps or other data visualizations appear less certain.
This week I messed around with ways to try to mimic Karey’s artistic style using GIS computer programs. I still need to do a lot of digging, both to produce something that comes close to her work, but also to better understand how the computer is producing the particular results I’m currently getting…Right now I’m borrowing and modifying existing symbols and fonts that others have created. These symbols themselves are made of several layers of images. The image below shows the symbol I used for creating the blue watercolor wash effect, but when I look at it in more detail, I can see in the settings that it is made of 4 overlapping layers combined to create the wash effect.
Trying to mimic Karey’s style is an interesting exercise, but I don’t really want to be able to create her art using the computer, rather I’m hoping to explore the idea of uncertainly. My own work often involves a lot of uncertainty, which is one reason I have often tended to default to writing as a form, rather than cartography. In my work on sprawl and exurban development, I spend a lot of time studying the history of land use in an area and trying to imagine how the natural systems have changed over time or been impacted by human uses. But as we attempt to go back in history, archival records become more and more uncertain. In many parts of the U.S., European settlement began less than 200 years ago, so if we rely on written records, that only captures a tiny portion of the history of that land. So it is easy to tell the “history” of Medford Oregon (an area I have written about) starting with the gold rush in the 1850s, but focusing in this way ignores that Native people, the Takelma and the Umpqua lived in that area for many thousands of years. This is not my insight, a few years ago, Jessica Metcalfe PhD spoke about her work on fashion and creativity at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit, which I was attending. The phrase I remember is, “The history of this place did not start in 1850!” So many thanks to Dr. Metcalfe for pushing my thinking.
So today, for the first official celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Wisconsin, I want to think about who is missing from our representations of place. And, I think this, one of the things that art does better than science, represents the silences, the absences. So today, I’m thinking about the land I currently inhabit, near Menomonie WI, which is the unceeded territory of the Anishinabe and Sioux nations. Representatives from the Ahishinabe and Sioux nations don’t often get a space at the table when we make decisions about natural resource management. But I’m also thinking about all the living creatures that made up this place who were killed during the Euro-American process of mining this place for resources starting with beaver pelts, then logs, and today the growing of corn and soybeans.
One of the things Innisfree and I have been talking about this week is the possibility of using my artwork to create a template for real world maps.
This inquiry requires me to break down the visual imagery of my maps into distinct elements: dots, shading, colors, and fonts and then describing the meaning of those marks. What do the dots stand for? The shading? The colors?
But, the “symbols” in my maps purposefully mean more than one thing: dots can be birds, rocks or stars; lines can be roads, rivers or the passage of time; pools of color can be clouds or lakes or a mysterious presence.
My understanding is that GIS is dependent on borders and boundaries around specific areas (land, water, sky, north, south, etc.). My work has no boundaries between one place and another, no distinction between time, space, water, and sky.
Would it be possible to make a template for real-world maps that not only looks like my style but somehow adds an element of a blurring of things and a dissolving of boundaries?
Two years ago, I made a map, “Climate Change is Real,” that was grounded in the real world but also included more abstract ideas about deep time and things eternal.
I created “Climate Change is Real” as an artist, not a scientist. I didn’t use GIS to gather and analyze real world climate change data to reveal patterns, relationships and ideas. I painted a map that integrated real facts about the effects of climate change with poetic thoughts and emotional reactions to the changing landscapes and ecosystems of the world. I wrote emotional things like "flooding of emotions and lands" and "everything adrift" alongside facts such as "collapsing ice shelves" and "unprecedented global cross-border migration."
“Climate Change is Real” was one way to integrate my painting style with real world maps. I’m curious to see if Innisfree and I come up with something else altogether.
I have had several thoughts after a productive and pleasant video chat with Karey last week. It is amazing how just this process of discussion and reflection opens up space for new thoughts to emerge.
Talking to Karey about her work is pushing me to think about representations in cartography and in art. One thing that Karey said, that she was interested in abstract art, stuck with me. I don’t usually think of maps and abstract. The symbols on the map are meant to have meaning and significance, to represent real world objects, and yet, because the perspective of a map is unusual, everyday objects become pieces of broader patterns across the landscape, often appearing abstract.
One of the toughest parts of studying land use change and urbanization is that computers still can’t “see” the patterns on the earth in the same way that the human eye can. Most remote sensing relies on analysis that senses the earth pixel by pixel. So, the earth is not made up of things: plants and rocks and animals, but of grid squares that reflect light. Grid square by grid square, it is difficult to distinguish a skyscraper from the sand on a beach.
Until recently, computers could only piece together objects by analyzing each pixel, but humans could look at that pixel and make sense of it in relationship to other pixels nearby and the broader scene.
This means that studies, like Wheeler 2011, of land use change and processes of urbanization involve time consuming human evaluation of aerial photography in order to understand how cities change and evolve.
Recently, a new process, called object-based classification, has been developed, computers became much better at grouping individual pixels into groups of pixels in ways that form objects familiar to humans, trees, pavement, buildings.
So, computers are beginning to be able to distinguish between objects in an image, and yet there is another scale of patterning on the landscape, that of neighborhood: how streets, trees, homes, fences and all the rest come together in distinct patterns that can tell us something of the history of their development.
In a way, this pattern forms what might be considered abstract shapes. Viewed at this scale, individual objects disappear into the broader neighborhood pattern. But to a practiced eye, these patterns aren’t abstract. They reflect the processes that formed them, from eroding rocks, to home building, and tree growth. Which brings me back to another thing Karey mentioned about her work, that it gets her out of focusing on her own life and into thinking about processes happening at other temporal and spatial scales.
Karey and I discussed some more practical aspects of how we might go about creating collaborative works, but more thoughts on those will have to wait for another post.
"Who is the authority in making a map and also, does a map show reality or does it create the reality"?
Innisfree posed this question in one of our first email exchanges and it particularly intrigued me.
In my paintings, I create “worlds” and “locations” by labeling abstract marks (dots, lines, and areas of color). I am the authority in making the map, because the map is my own invention — the "places" on my maps don't exist in the real world. That said, although I don’t create maps of “real” locations, my art comments on and makes social, environmental, and spiritual issues more visceral and visible.
Geographers also create worlds when they label their maps. But, for geographers, there is real political and ecological weight to their labels — who gets to name the land, the rivers and the streets? Who decides the boundaries and protected lands? These labels affect everything: ownership, accessibility, paradigms.
Innisfree also asked me about the materials and process I use to create my maps.
I arrived at using map imagery from my love of abstract art: the color, line quality and inventive spaces of Paul Klee; the energy and use of calligraphic marks in Cy Twombly’s work; and the inward-ness and silence of Agnes Martin’s art.
I use watercolor and pens, stencils and stamps to paint my internal experience of place, as opposed to abstracting from what I see in the observable world.
Two of my favorite map artists are Julie Mehretu and Mark Bradford. Both artists use the imagery of cartography to comment on the passage of time, history and politics. Like my own work, their paintings comment on the history of abstract painting, but also use map imagery to convey a “no-place” and an “everyplace.”
In 1966, the painter Jean Dubuffet perfectly descibed my struggle to make visual my “mental space.” He said, “mental space does not resemble three-dimensional optical space and has no use for notions such as above and below, in front or behind, close or distant.” He goes on to say, “it presents itself as flowing water, whirling, meandering and therefore its transcription requires entirely different devices from those deemed appropriate for transcribing the observable world.”
I'm fascinated by Innisfree’s knowledge and skill at mapping and GIS on the computer. I know very little about real-world map making and even less about computer programing. I was only recently introduced to the world of GIS in January 2019, when Jacob Tully wrote an article about my work in "The Summit" - the publication of the Washington State Chapter of URISA (the Association for GIS Professionals). : A Portable Homeland - Mapping as Art & Seattle's Inscape Gallery.
Looking forward to seeing where these musings will take us.
This week, Karey and I have been discussing process. Karey described the process for creating her paintings as meditative. I have been reflection a lot on that and how my research processes and in particular, use of gis (geographic information systems), as a visual and analytical tool, might be similar. At first, I was a bit despairing because often working with computers and large datasets can be frustrating, rather than relaxing. Often, I feel as if I’m working to solve a problem, so the process often feels like. “Not fixed….not fixed…not fixed….not fixed…FIXED!” Certainly, the process of finding solutions to a problem is emotionally rewarding, but I wouldn’t say I find it meditative.
But upon further reflection, I do find motivation around my research stems from a deep desire to get outside of myself and consider the larger processes at work. It is a relief and privilege to be able to spend time reflecting on things beyond the day to day stresses of one’s own life. I often find ideas about my research come to me when I’m in a meditative state, busy doing repetitive tasks like biking or gardening.
The other piece of the process I have been considering is tools. I asked Karey about the tools she uses and thought about my use of computers in my research. I also searched for and dragged out some art supplies that had been in storage. Before gis, all cartography was hand drawn and processes required concentration and hours and hours of detailed work to produce a finished map. Computers have largely taking over the old processes of cartography, specifically because they were so labor saving, removing those repetitive processes that can be tedious, but also meditative. There are many cartographers today that combine manual techniques with digital ones, starting in one medium and moving to the other. Nothing on a computer can actually simulate manual illustration well, so it is not uncommon to create a map on the computer and then use that map as the basis for a hand-drawing final version. Recently, there have been efforts to create digital “map styles” that can quickly render the “look” of a particular hand drawn map.
Stamen design famously created a digital map style called watercolor, which can be applied to all sorts of map data to produce maps of anywhere on the globe in the same visual style.
This made me think, would it be possible to create a digital style from Karey’s work that would allow the computer to create a digital map of a real part of the world, but in the “style” of Karey Kessler? It might be something like this second watercolor style made by cartographer John Nelson. I did experiment a bit with using this style to create a land cover map of the area near where I live, but so far, I’m frustrated with the results.
Thank you SciArt for this amazing opportunity for cross-collaboration! As an introduction, I’m a visual artist living in Seattle, WA. I received my BA in Anthropology and Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and my MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
I paint using the imagery of cartography (words, color, dots and lines) to explore my inscape, or internal landscape of time, place, and spirituality. For me, map making is an act of meditation - when I’m making the repeated dots and lines of my paintings, I stop thinking about the mundane events and obligations in my life, and start thinking about more expansive ideas about time, the environment, layers of geological history, the vastness of the universe, and the fleetingness of each moment. I then put these thoughts into my maps using stencils, stamps and freehand writing.
My work is included in two books about maps and art: The Map as Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), by Kitty Harmon and From Here to There: A Curious Collection From the Hand Drawn Map Association (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010).
It makes sense that the SciArt Initiative matched me with a geographer for The Bridge Residency! I’m grateful to be connected with Innisfree McKinnon and I look forward to seeing where our conversations about maps lead us. I also love the fact that the SciArt residency emphasizes process (and the documentation of this process on the resident blog) and not on a specific product. Although a particular work of art (or multiple works of art) might come out of this residency, the mere act of having an ongoing conversation and reflectively writing about that conversation will lead to unknown territory.
My website: www.kareykessler.com
This residency produces an interesting tension in me because I have an ambiguous relationship with science. I have a strong interest in science and background in it, my undergraduate degree is in environmental science, which in practice means that I was trained by ecologists. And yet, I went searching for other perspectives as I launched into my graduate school career, ending up in geography with a strong emphasis on urban and regional planning and landscape architecture.
My interest in science, like many scientists’, stems from a deep feeling of wonder at the beauty of the natural world. As a young person, I hoped that my position as a scientist would allow me to speak with authority, that I didn’t feel, about the need for conservation. Through further study, I began to realize, that in many ways, the scientific or technical solutions are easy. Today, although scientists are always learning more about climate change and its impacts, the need for action to reduce our emissions is very clear. The problem isn’t knowing what we need to do, it is doing it. Understanding why we aren’t taking the needed actions moves us from a need to understand environmental or natural systems to a need to understand human systems including culture, politics, economics, and psychology.
I view environmental or conservation issues through a broad lens. I worked for about a decade as a science educator, pushing for people to understand, and love, science and through science, the world. Yet it is clear that science isn’t enough. So, I have searched in social sciences and in design fields for different skills, approaches, and ways of thinking that will help us build a better world. And that is where I found geography.
In the U.S., understanding of geography, as a field of study, is very low. The public mostly thinks of memorization of capitals, but geography was environmental studies before environmental studies was a topic of interest. It is a truly interdisciplinary field which has given me training in science, but also social theory, and cartographic design. It is only in the last few years, as I have met and interacted with people from other academic fields, that I realize how lucky I was to stumble on a field that allows for so much interdisciplinary thinking and training. I have colleagues (and friends) who are geomorphologists, and feminist glaciologists, landscape architects, and urban planners. Unfortunately, I think that kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration can be rare, yet so needed.
So, what I’m saying is that I often don’t think of myself as a “real scientist” and yet, my career has led me back to science. I teach largely in an environmental science program and my research is more and more about how scientists and other stakeholders can work together both to understand the world and to envision a better world. And that is one place that I see art (and design) making a huge contribution. Scientists work to understand the world as it is, but through creativity, we see how it could be.
Looking forward to exploring these tensions with Karey.