Reading: Edward S. Casey / Earth-Mapping / Four Ways to Map

This week has been a reading, research and writing week. In preparation for my trip to Paris, I have been dipping into an English translation of Walter Benjamin's 'The Arcade Project'. Another book I happened upon when looking for more reading material regarding mapping in the art world was Edward S. Casey's 'Earth-Mapping'.

From my reading of the prologue alone, I was curious to learn more about Casey's perspective on the philosophy of mapping, place and time. As I move through my reading in this book I will write up my personal reflections of the particular chapters in detail. I already feel that this book will be a key turning point in my pinning down of the conceptual context behind my practice.

In the 'Earth-Mapping' prologue, Casey introduces his thoughts on how maps and works of art can both figure and reconfigure our world, as well as our role in it. He presents the idea of rethinking art as a form of mapping, of which he names 'Earth Mapping'. 

Something that struck me as interesting was the reasoning Casey gave for why so many artists today are compelled to work with the concept of mapping. He suggests that due to the demanding nature of scientific aspects of cartography on account of the intense industrialisation and urbanisation in the modern world, any pictorial or decorative elements from traditional cartographic drawings have "ceded place to symbols for the measurement of space...rather than with the landscape of place".

Casey goes on to write about how the increasing demand for cartographic exactitude in mapping and the rejection of pictorial representation in landscape painters' work would seem to move painting and cartography practice in completely different directions. However by 1886, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Monet were all creating landscapes in which isomorphism with an original landscape was 'no longer a controlling criterion'. For the postmodern artist, being 'true to the motif' became much more important than being true to the landscape. 

The modern day aim of mapping through painting became one of regarding the painting AS a map. Casey believes that representation became optional rather than required in landscape painting; it was highlighted at times and sometimes altogether neglected, but the work was always 'mapped'. 

Casey defines the postmodern artist as engaged in letting the invisible become visible. Thus, mapping becomes possible in abstract art. Not the everyday, recognisable sort of mapping, but something that in some comprehensible way can be considered as mapping. The core of this new era of mapping the land or sea is not explicitly pictorial or isomorphic, but a re-representation of the Earth and its re-implacement in an artwork. 

But what does it mean, 'to map the Earth'?

Casey explains that there is no longer any "privileged sense of looking on from above" in contemporary mapping. Earth-mapping in art is a matter of 'going through' and 'going over' the landscape, providing a haptic aspect to the mapping of land. A sense of what the Earth feels like - the stones underfoot, the rain, the physical feeling of being, is what is key. Such mapping encourages an artist to see and feel the world during their foraging for creative material.

Artists leaving behind aspirations to pictorial completeness in their abstract 'Earth Maps' has led to landscape art no longer being in competition with traditional cartographic practices. The two can now collaborate in "new and unprecedented ways"; visual information drawn from maps for art's sake has moved past being 'decorated distraction' and has progressed to being a recognised area in fine art.

The latter part of the prologue breaks the concept of mapping down into four separate categories; the mapping 'of', mapping 'for', mapping 'within' and mapping 'out'.

Mapping 'of' is as straight forward as it sounds; Casey describes it as the 'pinning down with resolute exactitude' a particular place in an effort to capture its geography on a grid. Mapping 'for' relates to maps like the 'YOU ARE HERE' maps found in cities, maps that are designed for others' geographic know-how.

Mapping 'within' is where the maps are taken deeper into contextual cartography. What is mapped 'within' is the human experience of the known world. With this cartography, the concern isn't 'how to get there' or even where 'there' is - it is to indicate to a reader of the piece of work the internal complexity of being in a place - the psychogeography of an area.

The viewer and the map-maker are drawn in to the experience of the map as opposed to viewing from above as with other well-known cartographic representations. With these maps, one is with landscape as opposed to being apart from it; a person feels a certain withness in the world, they are not a mere witness of it. The 'with' implies the 'withness of the body' as an effectuator of experiencing the natural world. In this, Casey is suggesting that it is possible for the double facticity of one to be existing with both the landscape and the body at once. Essentially, to 'map within' is to furnish an piece of work in some medium, such as paint or photography, of what it is like to be in a place in a bodily way.

Mapping 'out' is the forth and final dimension to Casey's definition. Casey suggests that the boundaries between the self and the landscape, the cartographer and the earth that is to be mapped, are porous. In order to make the experience of 'mapping within' into a visual format such as a painting, the cartographer/artist must find a virtual 'way out' in order to represent their experience of deep immersion in the landscape as accessible to others. 

Mapping 'out' does not mean lifting and copying what is visually available in the landscape since Earth Works - both map and work of art - are not pretending to regulate representation in a conventional sense. Instead, it means the careful curation of the lineaments of place; recording distinctive features be those sounds, textures, colours or abstracted forms.

Casey's prologue gives praise to the artists whose practice maps out this world from 'within it'. These contemporary artists such as Sandy Gellis, Richard Long, Michelle Stuart and Dan Rice are in turn enabling the historical art of cartography to renew its comprehension in an art movement that connects both artist and viewer to the complex psychologies behind our geography.