A map of the world. Not the one in the atlas,
but the one in our heads, the one we keep coloring in.
With the blue thread of the river by which we grew up.
The green smear of the woods we first made love in.
The yellow city we thought was our future.
The red highways not traveled, the green ones
with their missed exits, the black side roads
which took us where we had not meant to go.
The high peaks, recorded by relatives,
though we prefer certain unmarked elevations,
the private alps no one knows we have climbed.
The careful boundaries we draw and erase.
And always, around the edges,
the opaque wash of blue, concealing
the drop-off they have stepped into before us,
singly, mapless, not looking back.
― from “Necessities”, Lisel Mueller, Alive Together
A map such as that one is worth many hundreds, and as luck will have it, thousands of dollars. But more than this, it is a remembrance of that time before our planet was so small. When this map was made, I thought, you could live without knowing where you were not living.
Hala Stulecia, or Centennial Hall, in Wrocław, often known as Breslau, Poland, was finished in 1913 and was, at the time, the largest concrete structure in the world. The dome measures 65 meters in diameter and was the first to exceed the size of the Pantheon in Rome, built almost eighteen hundred years earlier. Architect and city planner Max Berg built the impressive building to commemorate the 1813 War of Liberation against Napoleon Bonaparte and it is considered his masterpiece. In 2006, UNESCO awarded it the title of World Heritage Site.
This riveting video, O (Omicron), shows an audiovisual installation created by Romain Tardy, Thomas Vaquié and the innovative visual art production company AntiVJ to celebrate the centennial of Hala Stulecia. These artists have mapped and projected images onto the interior of the dome itself, highlighting and reinterpreting the architecture, converting it into a spaceship, disco hall and theater all at once. O (Omicron) is more than a fantastic light show. It also serves to project the building into the future by referencing the past, including images from Fritz Lang’s classic film, Metropolis, and futurist projects by Archigram. The result is breathtaking and disorienting in its timelessness, thanks to absolutely stunning execution and impeccable production values. It is difficult to capture something so large and ambitious on video, but AntiVJ does a fantastic job. You should check out their latest projects on their blog, including Paleodictyon, inspired by the marks of a mysterious underwater creature on the deep ocean floor. Fascinating!
The relatively young art of projection mapping, formerly known as spatial augmented reality, uses software to map two dimensional and three dimensional objects or figures onto a display surface. These surfaces are often buildings with complex shapes of their own, such as the dome used in O (Omicron). The first recorded use of the technique was in 1969 at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride, where disembodied heads were projected on the walls. The innovation since those early days is extremely impressive. Projection mapping has been used to great effect in advertising campaigns and live events, especially concerts, due to its potential to capture the attention and energize a crowd.
Maybe we are all prospective migrants. The lines of national borders on maps are artificial constructs, as unnatural to us as they are to birds flying overhead. Our first impulse is to ignore them. If we stay where we are it is not because the instinct for migration is entirely absent from our nature, but because friends, family, home, opportunity — or fear, laws, inertia, laziness — keep us from moving. For me, as an immigrant, recognising that those already resident in the place to which I have immigrated often themselves wish to emigrate suggests a giant circle of human motion and potential motion of which I am a part.
Yin Xiuzhen is an installation artist exploring the impact of globalization and technological advances on society and the individual. The demolition and reconstruction in her native Beijing illuminate and inspire her work and help her capture the social change caused by both sudden and gradual transformations in physical space. As cities evolve, along with our ways of experiencing and navigating them, memories of the past become more distant and more precious. In China, where large numbers of rural citizens are being forced to move into new urban housing, this ache for the past is accelerated and exacerbated, but it can be found in any modern city. Xiuzhen uses her art to map these cities and the memories behind them.
Xiuzhen’s Portable Cities are three dimensional maps of actual cities made from articles of clothing and fabric modified and arranged in suitcases. We get the idea that the city is made up of the people who live and play there, not just the structures themselves. People leave their mark–just as we may spot a label, collar, or other adornment decorating these miniature cityscapes. The suitcase is a bold metaphor as well, connoting both the mobility of modern technology and its capacity for isolation. Can it be that the city is carried with us as we travel, insulating us from other experiences? There is a sense of fragility and impermanence here as well. You can see more of these clever and unusual Portable Cities in this lovely photoblog from Beautiful Decay.
I speak to maps. And sometimes they say something back to me. This is not as strange as it sounds, nor is it an unheard of thing. Before maps, the world was limitless. It was maps that gave it shape and made it seem like territory, like something that could be possessed, not just laid waste and plundered. Maps made places on the edges of the imagination seem graspable and placable.
There are several other sources of enjoyment in a long voyage, which are of a more reasonable nature. The map of the world ceases to be a blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures. Each part assumes its proper dimensions: continents are not looked at in the light of islands, or islands considered as mere specks, which are, in truth, larger than many kingdoms of Europe. Africa, or North and South America, are well-sounding names, and easily pronounced; but it is not until having sailed for weeks along small portions of their shores, that one is thoroughly convinced what vast spaces on our immense world these names imply.
Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.
Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh, 1888
…to look at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots of a map representing towns and villages. Why, I ask myself, should the shining dots of the sky not be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?