Thursday, 25 April 2013

Maps as Mediators of Memory

GPS, Satnavs and Googlemaps have seemingly marked the demise of the humble map. At the mere touch of a button, a person can immediately ascertain his or her current position and receive instant directions to any desired location. Maps, in contrast, are unwieldy and complicated, requiring actual effort to decipher. It is also a well-established fact that a map, once unfolded, can never again be returned to its original folded state, causing significant mental anguish to all who vainly attempt to fold a map into submission.

I can’t remember the last time I used an actual hard-copy map to navigate anywhere. Yet, despite their apparent uselessness, I love maps. And, apparently, I am not the only one

Academics have long been discussing the importance of maps beyond their main purpose of visually representing an area. They cement national identity, affirm global political power, and tame unexplored territory. But more than that, maps are a physical embodiment of how we, as individuals and communities, relate to our surroundings. In many ways, maps reveal far more about the creator than they do about the space they seemingly portray.

In Becky Cooper’s book, Mapping Manhattan, maps become autobiographical projects, expressing graphically people’s histories and memories. Life events, feelings and whimsical invented futures all feature in the maps showcased. Some are beautiful, some thoughtful, and some plain weird. But what’s really striking is how alive they all seem.

As maps become more and more obsolete in assisting in navigation, these other uses will become more prominent. That ripped, wrinkled, unfoldable sheet of paper stuffed in your glove compartment will soon transcend the humble and become art.

No comments:

Post a Comment