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Review: Here Be Dragons: Cartography of Globalization

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I wasn't sure what to expect when I heard that the Toronto Free Gallery was hosting an exhibit entitled “Here Be Dragons: Cartography of Globalization” (see earlier blog post). I had never been to the gallery and the information on their website in text that was small and hard to read was not much help. So, I went to this small exhibit as a cartographer; this review is from that unique technical perspective.

The exhibit features the works of what the gallery calls “critical cartographers” who are tackling the hefty task of making “visible the vast networks of national governments, transnational corporations, and international institutions which channel massive flows of people, labour, interests, dollars and meaning.” While roaming about the two rooms of the gallery and looking at the works on the wall, I was not sure if what I was art or cartography. Take Adrian Blackwell’s maps entitled “Detroit: Separation > Divesture > Erasure > Encampment.” Blackwell takes mosaiced air photos and looks at the changes Detroit has experienced over the past 80 years or so. The maps are large , about 4 feet by 4 feet, and are accompanied by lengthy explanatory notes, and timelines laying out events in labour, industry, architecture and politics. There is so much information on and around these maps that it is not immediately clear as to what the map is trying to convey. What, for example, is meant by “encampment”?

Pierre Bélanger, Joshua Cohen and Maya Przybylski have created a huge diagram/map entitled “Watershed-The Landscape & Economies of Landfills in Michigan.” The centre of this diagram is an outline map of Michigan and the surrounding provinces and states. Using white and grey on a black background the—artists? cartographers? schematicists?—demonstrate the complexities of taking garbage from other jurisdictions and putting it into Michigan landfills. The result, a map-centred diagram with numerous arrows and boxes representing government agencies and pieces of relevant legislation, has a mandala look to it. It works as art, by which I mean it is balanced and attractive but, techinically speaking, the boxes and arrows could have been rearranged so as to make the diagram easier to read.

Govcom.org’s few maps of the digital divide are simple, clear and uncluttered—and from a cartographic and information design perspective, the most successful pieces in the gallery. On the opposite side of the room and the clarity spectrum was Brian Holmes’ “Bureau d’Etudes & Text.” This series of schematics is so dense that a magnifying glass provided for gallery visitors is needed to read it. What was this? Perhaps an artistic interpretation of bureaucratic density.

Many of the issues (local community interests, big business, big government, democracy, human rights) touched on by the—artists? cartographers? schematicists?—are certainly part of the anti-globalization movement; but the collection of works as a whole lacks a common focus. Perhaps in that way the exhibit is merely reflecting the nature of the movement-very much localized and disparate. If the creators of the works truly are cartographers, however, they would benefit from a review of basic cartographic principles. A cartographer’s point of view can be universally understood and accepted if it is clearly and simply conveyed.

1 Responses to “Review: Here Be Dragons: Cartography of Globalization”

  1. Anonymous Vector One 

    This is interesting. I am glad you posted this, I following a few of the links and I too am wondering what to make of it.

    It is also interesting that they would choose maps as the medium to express their viewpoints and ideas.

    I wish I could see the real thing.
    Glad you posted this.


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