07.04.12 Larissa Nowicki in 'Material Measure: Use and Reinvention of Maps', The Institute Library New Haven

Sign up to receive the Man&Eve newsletter

The newsletter is a low-volume email and lets you know of events and exhibitions at the gallery. You can unsubscribe at any time.

‘Material Measure: Use and Reinvention of Maps’
curated by Fritz Horstman

Including work by Leila Daw, Billy Friebele, Mike Iacovone, Martha Lewis, Larissa Nowicki, Gerald Saladyga, Karin Schaefer, Kevin Van Aelst.

April 7 – May 5, 2012
The Institute Library
847 Chapel Street
New Haven, Connecticut USA

The artists brought together in Material Measure share an interest in maps. Each artist approaches the subject uniquely, employing different aspects of our cultural understanding of the cartographical form. The artists bridge the factual knowledge we expect of maps, to the non-empirical knowledge of a place – the feeling of a particular place –, which rarely is expressed in more traditional maps.

The uneasy marriage of these forms of knowledge is often contradictory. But in the overlapping and unaligned margins of the ideas, an emergent quality arises. Therein lies the theme of this exhibition. What will be taken from an art object that requires the viewer to reference his or her past experience of reading the charts and diagrams of maps? The exhibition explores the ways structured thoughts associated with maps are brought together with the meandering, inventive forms found in the wider realm of visual art.

Cartography has always been about finding ways to measure and represent the earth (or another celestial body, or in some cases, an idea). The field is necessarily an abstraction of reality. Not every bit of information can be included. The intentions of any particular map are reflected in the choices of which aspects of the landscape are represented on the map. A map of a family’s travels could include separate colors for each family member, tracing their relative positions to one another and their geographic locations, but exclude any topography or coastlines. A map of a group’s walk around a city could include information about street names and scale, but nothing of the identity of the group or the purpose of the walk. The choice of what material to present is the most important decision in cartography.

Historically, materialism has been contrasted with idealism. It is important to note that this is not the materialism of a consumer culture obsessed with constantly new gadgets. Rather, this is a philosophically grounded notion of materialism, which holds that matter is the base of all existence, and that the mind and spirit are also just matter acting upon matter. Idealism counters that without the mind and spirit, matter would not matter, so to speak. Idealism holds that the only truth that can be known is what is known in the mind. For the last century and a half, this divide has played a major role in defining the terms of art history, anthropology, history, politics, and many other fields. The debate is far from concluded, but with this exhibition, it is proposed that both sides of the conversation have valid points, and that a combination of materialism and idealism can yield knowledge inaccessible through either branch alone.

In the course of the last hundred and fifty years, this debate has been recast in many terms. Similar dialectics include romanticism/realism and beauty/the sublime. This essay and exhibition are presented within the dialectic of materialism and idealism because a mapmaker must strike a balance between those particular poles, more so than other dialectics. A map is inherently ideological, which can be most clearly parsed out in the terms of materialism and idealism.

The artists in Material Measure take material itself as a worthwhile subject for mapping. Some approach it from the general vantage point of idealism, where the formal presentation of their mapmaking material is most important, indicating that the mind and enjoyment of the beholder is paramount. Others produce art based more in traditional materialism, allowing the material being mapped – whether concrete or abstract – to have more importance than the material used in making the map. In all cases, material is the common ground upon which conversations take place. It may be that the texture of the rocks being mapped becomes the guiding principle. Or the material properties of paint might produce unique cartographical forms. Or the notes and photographs that document the artist’s movement through the mapped space, themselves become the material of the map. Each artist has approached the idea of a map with a particular sensitivity to how the materials used to create the maps reflect the material reality of the subject of their maps. The collective effect bridges forms of knowledge based in idealism and materialism, presenting the option of a third way of thinking, which takes information from both views simultaneously.