Critical Cartography

Mapping Peoples

3511.3 - Art and Cartography as a Critique of Borders

Monday, July 3
2:10 PM - 2:30 PM
Location: Hoover

This study focuses on the convergence of art and cartography, whose approach provides relevant discussions about the critique of scientific maps. In the context of the Critical Cartography, Jeremy Crampton says that a critique is an investigation of the assumptions of a field of knowledge, not a disapproving judgment. In his own words, “critique is a political practice of questioning and resisting what we know in order to open up ways of knowing”. In that sense, contemporary art plays an important role not only to discuss the relationship between power and knowledge in cartography, but also to propose other categories of thought. Embracing aesthetic purposes, artists use maps as an expression against the false neutrality of the formal cartography, which considers a map as precise tool to represent space based on strict conventions. J. B. Harley says that a map will always be a partial representation and cannot be exempt from its ideological inclination. Thus, the explicit manipulation of the cartographic language in the context of visual arts can uncover other qualities of the space, making clear the partiality of the maps. Therefore, we emphasize the potential of artworks to communicate different insights about how we experience and live the contemporary space.

Among several map properties, there is a crucial visual element: the representation of borders, understood here in a broad sense as an arbitrary delimitation of a certain space. In general, borders are based on political decisions, often involving tensions and power dispute. Therefore, scientific maps have to clearly communicate these borders according to strict rules. However, people’s perception of the real space could not exactly correspond to this rigid definition. This scenario leads to the following question: how the intersection between art and cartography can improve the critical thinking about borders? By questioning borders, we suggest that art is able to show that real spaces are characterized by liminal spaces or thresholds, not by absolute or strict separations. Contrasting with borders, the notion of threshold not only indicates the separation of two ambiences, but also includes aspects of transitions, gradual change, movement. Therefore, this concept connects space and time, allowing a transition between two points, experiencing limits, testing forces, leaving the comfort zone, risking new approaches.

From this perspective, we highlight some artworks: first, we selected an image of the installation called Area Restringida (Restricted Area), an artwork created by Mateo Maté. Using barrier poles, Maté created a restricted area in a shape of the whole American continent, which is also under surveillance of a camera and security agents. Visitors are blocked by these “borders”, preventing them to trespass the installation. Second, we’ve chosen an artwork called Upotia, created by Nicolas Desplats. The artist created several paint buckets, labeling them as upotia: the ink supposedly could be used to set the frontiers of an imaginary land. Referring the famous concept of Utopia, Desplats brings some interesting discussions about the “cartographer’s perfect dream” of tracing an ideal frontier. Finally, we highlight the work of Francis Alÿs, an artist that proposed performances in two of the most controversial borders worldwide: the US-Mexico border and the Green Line in Israel.

These examples deal with the strictness of the borders, demonstrating how an aesthetic approach can be used as a mode of interpretation of cultural aspects regarding space in contemporary society. By recovering Critical Cartography investigations to support discussions about borders in arts, this study also raise questions about the arbitrary delimitation of spaces that are otherwise composed by diversity, power relations and conflict.

Daniel Melo Ribeiro

PhD Student in Communication and Semiotics
Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo - Brazil

PhD Student in Communication and Semiotics (PUC-SP Brazil). MSc in Digital Design (PUC-SP Brazil), PGDip in Information Management (UFMG Brazil) and BSc in Communications (UFMG Brazil). Assistant Professor in Communication and Advertising. Member of the Peirce’s Studies International Center (CIEP/PUC-SP). Academic visitor at Geomedia Lab at Concordia University in Montréal/CA supported by ELAP Scholarship. Professional experience in knowledge management, interface design, information architecture and usability. Research interests: data visualization, information design, semiotics and cartography.


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Daniel G. Cole

Geographic Information Systems Coordinator & Chief Cartographer
Smithsonian Institution

Daniel G. Cole is the GIS Coordinator and Chief Cartographer of the Smithsonian Institution (SI). He has worked in this position since 1990, and since 1986 has served as the research cartographer at SI. He co-edited, with the late Imre Sutton, Mapping Native America: Cartographic Interactions between Indigenous Peoples, Government and Academia, 3 vols., 2014. He has designed and created maps for multiple exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian. He also serves as GIS, cartographic and GPS consultant to other scientists, exhibit staff and illustrators within SI. From June 2009 to June 2010, he was president of the Canadian Cartographic Association; and he is now the vice-president of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, and will become the president-elect in the spring of 2017.


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3511.3 - Art and Cartography as a Critique of Borders


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