We tend to think of maps as definitions of space and geography. Lost? Check Google Maps on your phone. Planning a round-the-world trip? Chart your locations on an atlas (or online as most people do nowadays). But maps are not exclusive to locations and destinations. Maps can look at our DNA, our relationships, global development or life expectancy, our futures and linguistics. What is a family-tree if not a map of our lineage?
Hans-Ulrich Obrist, art curator at the Swiss Serpentine and the foremost contemporary artist conversationalist, recently asked 130 creatives to contribute maps of their own for the book Mapping It Out – An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies. The maps are created by architects and artists, scientists and designers. They are simple and complex (often at once), and force you to rethink the idea of a map. Some maps in the book are traditional, such as Jona Meka’s ‘Map of 1960s New York from Memory’. Others, like scientist Albert-László Barabási’s, are factual and contemporary. Then you have the abstracts from Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. A leap out of the ordinary.
Maps can provide a unique way of examining the human condition. Much of life can’t be defined by political or geographical borders, but that does not mean they can’t be visually illustrated the same way. A recent project by MIT is creating maps based on microstories – where to find independent coffee shops in San Francisco, people who are awake in Philadelphia, bicycle crashes in Austin. Such maps might be a better representation of ourselves than the ones defined by our passports.