Reading: Mapping Deeply by Denis Wood

Since the beginning of this series of work, I have been doing a large amount of reading and contextual research to support my practice and build upon my ideas. Looking deeper into the history and the contextual meaning of the maps I have been working with and from, I have been learning more and more about the art of cartography; the science or practice of drawing maps.

Stumbling upon an article written by Denis Wood titled 'Mapping Deeply' has turned my concept of mapping on it's head. In the article Wood describes the deep mapping project he carried out with his landscape architecture students in the early 1980s - before the term 'deep mapping' even came to fruition. In this project, the obsessive (admittedly by Wood) map-making practice turned into a printed atlas of the neighborhood they inhabited. The project concluded in 1986 but was resurrected in 1998 and the atlas was published as 'Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas' in 2010 (expanded in 2013).

Wood writes in his article that to him, "...deep mapping is about place, while thick description is about behavior. But aren’t the two all mixed up together? Isn’t that what deep mapping is supposed to be about — the unfolding of human life...the mutual relations of people and soil and plants and animals…here in this place?"

Something about that resonated with me and the way I view my practice. The landscapes I want to make are not a construction of pictorial space, but I want them to be a visual composition of what it is that makes that place, that place. The interactions that occur, the flowers that bloom, the pebbles that inhabit the beach, the sunsets, the sense of the place.

In the article, Wood writes about his first studio of landscape architecture students: "They had little professional training...They were wildly creative (which is why they had entered the School of Design). They knew nothing about the conventions of making maps (they were blank slates). So when I set them tasks like mapping sounds, or making maps from the perspective of bees, or constructing maps out of food they leaped at them like, like frolicking gazelles!...They made the most amazing things."

The mapping that occurred in the class became an art form. It established deep mapping and cartography as art in it's own right. Wood explains that he was trying to get his students to map "the way the land smelled, the way it felt in their legs when they walked it, the way twilight made all the difference."

He explains how once he encouraged the students to 'dump the map crap' (the neat line, the scale, the north arrow), the work being made became more and more minimalist and metaphorical. The neighborhood boundaries disappeared, as did the topography, the streets and even the 'default daylight that most maps take for granted — so that we were fooling around with circles of white on a black background'.

 The Cover of 'Everything Sings' - The second edition of the narrative atlas published by Wood, contaning 67 maps of the neighborhood

The Cover of 'Everything Sings' - The second edition of the narrative atlas published by Wood, contaning 67 maps of the neighborhood

"The usual “efficient” map would have located everything on the street onto a single sheet...Our inefficient map concentrated on a single subject and rather than lamp posts, it brought the pools of light into view. No legend, no north arrow, no neat line, none of the usual apparatus. At last: a modernist feel! Maybe even a sense of poetry, something imagistic...

That’s when I knew we could write poems in maps. That’s when I began thinking seriously about a poetics of cartography."

 The endpaper from the second edition of Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas.

The endpaper from the second edition of Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas.

The above image was put together taking excerpts of segments from twelve of the book’s maps. These include a map of the ages of the neighborhood’s trees, a map of the postman’s 1982 route, one of the stars that shine on the neighborhood, another of a selection of radio waves passing through the neighborhood and also a map of the pumpkins that were on people's front porches the evening of Halloween in 1982.

 

 Fences, map by Helen Waldrop

Fences, map by Helen Waldrop

The map above was made by Wood's student Susan Waldrop who charted the fences in the neighborhood. In the article, Wood recalls how in the making of the map his student walked the streets to gather her data and laid it down guided by the previously made map of streetlights, rubbings and photographs she had taken on her journey. 

I could write about all 67 of the maps published in the atlas that map the landscape as the ideas behind them are so intriguing and inspiring. Footprints found in the communal buildings; the neighborhood’s sewer, gas, and water lines; a map of the flow of rent; barking dogs; a map of sidewalk graffiti; of its streetlights...

A series of glicée prints were also made from the recorded maps. The separate layers were printed on top of one another, like the map below which combines maps made by different students, showing the neighborhood looking down through police calls (the numbers), overhead lines (the dots and lines), and fences. Wood explains how as greater numbers of layers were added to the prints, the depth of the cartographic meaning grew and grew. Rather than a flat perspective of the town that most cartography gives, in mapping this way a single image could take the viewer from a map of the stars, down to the depth of the storm drain, to the height of the rooflines, the power lines, the pavements, the leaves on the ground and the drainage system below.

 Three superimposed glicée prints of Police Calls (data collected by numerous students, map by Denis Wood), Squirrel Highways (data collected by Shaub Dunkley, Carter Crawford and Denis Wood, map by Carter Crawford), and Fences (map by Helen Waldrop).

Three superimposed glicée prints of Police Calls (data collected by numerous students, map by Denis Wood), Squirrel Highways (data collected by Shaub Dunkley, Carter Crawford and Denis Wood, map by Carter Crawford), and Fences (map by Helen Waldrop).

"The maps were hard to do. Much of the data had to be collected on the ground, walking through the neighborhood, systematically, again and again."

Wood acknowledges the idiosyncrasies of his project and understands the visual appeal of the maps but maintains that the key is the actual mapping - 'getting out and doing the fieldwork...Walking through it and writing it down forces a valuable kind of attention, an irreplaceable kind of attention'.

 This intense immersion in the landscape is, I think, what fuels a landscape artist or cartographer in their research. Reading this article written by Wood and doing further research into his life's work (see at http://www.deniswood.net/) has reassured me of the purpose behind my own work. It seems right to be thinking about these things. Right to be asking myself how I feel about this place I am making my home. Right to be creating work to respond to these questions.