Curatorial Projects > Here Be Dragons: Mapping Information and Imagination (2011-12)

Here Be Dragons: Mapping Information and Imagination

October 21, 2011 – January 14, 2012
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A group exhibition featuring work by JD Beltran & Scott Minneman, Val Britton, Eric Fischer, Flora Kao, Wendy MacNaughton, Tucker Nichols, Jenny Odell, Matthew Picton, and Lordy Rodriguez

Mapping is a fundamental part of how we relate to and make sense of our surroundings. More than just tools for getting from A to B, maps are selective records of the wider world, loaded with creative, and often subjective, meaning. The artists in this exhibition utilize the tools, language, and strategies of mapping to distill and interpret large quantities of information and data, while also imaginatively envisioning place through charting stories, history, emotion, and ideas.

Historically, both scientists and artists have created and used maps in innovative ways to visualize information and study the world from new perspectives, revealing patterns and phenonema otherwise unseen. The exhibition references the phrase "here be dragons" used in medieval times to denote unexplored territories, where mapmakers placed sea serpents and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps. Like cartographers centuries ago, the artists in this exhibition map both the real and the imaginary.

About the participating artists’ work in Here Be Dragons: Mapping Information and Imagination:

JD Beltran & Scott Minneman are a collborative team who have produced the Magic Story Table, a large interactive multi-media “story table” that fuses maps, texts, images, sound, interactivity, and storytellers’ own voices. Using video projection of online satellite mapping onto a table surface, viewers can interact with the projected map by tilting and turning the table to virtually fly all over the world to discover stories embedded within the map itself. Once positioned over a specific geographic location, the viewer can zoom into these locations and hear and see dozens of stories related to that place.

Val Britton makes immersive, collaged works on paper that draw on the language of maps. The impetus for this work was Britton’s longing to connect to her father, a cross-country truck driver who died when the artist was a teenager. Based on U.S. road maps, routes her father often travelled, and an invented conglomeration, mutation, and fragmentation of these passageways, her work maps not only physical locations but also the blurry terrain of memory and imagination. She will create a new installation, constructing visual metaphors for traveling, retelling stories, and reconstructing journeys.

Eric Fischer is a photographer, programmer, and amateur digital cartographer who turns large amounts of data into visually striking images. He mines data found online to examine the information people anonymously leave in their wake on websites like Flickr, Cabspotting, NextBus, and Picasa in order to reveal the patterns of major cities, resulting in vivid maps that provide fresh ways to look at race, trafic, tourism, and crime. Selections from Fischer’s different mapping series – including Locals and Tourists, Race and Ethnicity, See something or say something, and Cabspotting – will be included in the exhibition.

Flora Kao, an artist based in Los Angeles, CA, works in installation, painting, sculpture, video and photography. Her work is inspired by the psychological potential of urban and constructed spaces. In excavating details like the hum of electricity, the relentless city grid, or the sterility of institutional space, she seeks to inspire a heightened awareness of our relationship to the built environment. A triptych from her City Studies painting series will be shown, depicting an extensive city grid underneath layers of texture and blue tones, reading like a historical blueprint of how to map a large city.

Wendy MacNaughton has been chronicling San Francisco for years through character studies of commuters and mental maps of different neighborhoods. Building upon her social work experience (she has a Masters in International Social Welfare), she has documented various populations in the city in their own words, including Market Street chess players and Civic Center Farmers’ Market farmers. She creates a new series of portraits of people living and working in the neighborhood of 5th and Mission Streets, where Intersection is located, with corresponding psychological and physical maps.

Tucker Nichols’ work is simultaneously elegant, low-tech, humorous, and deceptively simple, and usually involves drawing and painting on paper or directly on walls and windows. Common themes include fragments of found text, anonymous buildings, maps without any sense of scale, and other ambiguous remnants of our everyday world. Much of his work borders on abstraction, as if the presented subject has been left behind for so long it is no longer recognizable. Nichols’ work is as much about process as it is about the resulting work. He will create a site-specific piece, referencing map-life forms and structures.

Jenny Odell creates digital collages from satellite imagery, specifically things isolated from Google Satellite View – parking lots, football stadiums, landfills. The view from a satellite is not a human one, but it is precisely from this perspective that we can read our own humanity, in all of its tiny, reliably repetitive marks on the face of the earth. Odell creates new pieces of public plazas in San Francisco, such as Dolores Park and Pier 39, where everything has been removed but the people in the plazas, resulting in works that surprisingly reflect the geography of these areas with minimal information.

Matthew Picton is a British-born sculptor based in Portland, OR. Cartography and the inherent beauty of lines and forms that arise from natural topography and built environments influence his work. His series of “city sculptures” look at the organism of the city as being shaped by social, political, economic, and topographic factors, illustrating a systemic pattern of human civilization. His work included in this show, San Francisco 1906, is a portrait of downtown after the 1906 earthquake and fire, painstakingly constructed out of burnt covers of the 1936 film San Francisco starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald.

Lordy Rodriguez’s work emanates from the human urge to locate ourselves by charting our environment in precise detail and utilizes the language of cartography to transcend map-making into abstracted, imaginary terrains. He often reconfigures boundaries and uses text to question social and political classification. Dislocation is a constant theme throughout his work, and he frequently investigates the interchangeability of symbol and meaning.

- Kevin B. Chen