The title of this project, Art Maps, entails a deliberate ambiguity, depending on whether ‘maps’ is understood as a noun or a verb. 

Art Maps are a set of user generated digital maps that allow for the embedding of the explicit or, sometimes, implicit locations of artworks in the Tate collection into sets of geographical maps. These may show a location that is represented in an artwork, or one that an artwork may have been associated with, for example, because the artist used materials from a given location or because the work was exhibited there, allowing users to further refine or add, or even dispute the original location associated with the work.

Art Maps are generated on the move, over time, individually, though they could also be developed collaboratively by a family, a school or a group. They capture how we perceive and look at where we are in relation to art. Users can pinpoint artworks to precise locations; adding place names and descriptions of locations that may further qualify what we know about the work. They also allow users to map their movement in space in relation to the position of existing artworks; search for further information about them and add personalised comments to do with place, space, location and environment.

When ‘maps’ is understood as a noun, Art Maps can be seen as objects that capture how users move in space, and how they associate space, place, environment and art. However, when ‘maps’ is understood as a verb, Art Maps can be seen as defining a process, that of art mapping those who look at it. In this context users of Art Maps are not only mapmaking, they are mapping through art, using art for orientation in the physical world.

While mapping and mapmaking are sometimes seen as synonymous, there are differences in the way that researchers have understood these terms. Denis Wood, for example, suggests that today people are often ‘map-immersed in the world’ (Wood 1992: 34), using mapping as ‘a universal expression of individual existence’ (Wood 1993: 50). Elaborating on Wood, Tim Ingold notes that knowledge about the environment is determined while we are ‘on the move’ within it. The traveller who ‘knows as he goes […] is neither making a map nor using one. He is, quite simply, mapping.’ (2000: 231, original emphasis). Maps, however, Wood notes, are ‘a social construction of reality’ (1993: 52) and constitute ‘system[s] of signs’ (1993: 51). In Art Maps, users are both mapping through art and mapmaking with art.

It has been argued that, over time, maps have became ‘divorced from the experience of bodily movement in the world’ (Ingold 2000: 234). However, the explosion of mapmaking tools, from Google Maps, to Trail Finder, suggests a growing fascination with the act of reading and/or documenting physical movement through increasingly personalised maps. It has also been suggested that ‘as mapmaking triumphed over mapping’, and ‘as cartographers sought to disassociate themselves professionally from artists, so maps were stripped of their pictorial attributes’ (Ingold 2000: 235). Through Art Maps, we aim to reintroduce art to mapmaking and mapping. In Art Maps we use the environment to place the art, and the art as a lens through which to perceive and document our environment.

References cited

Ingold, T. (2000) The perception of the Environment, London and New York: Routledge.

Wood, D. (1992) The Power of Maps, New York: Guilford Press.

Wood, D. (1993) ‘The fine line between mapping and mapmaking’, Cartographica, 30:4, 50-60.