When I was traveling through Eastern Europe, I always made sure to grab one of those tourist maps from the bus station. I liked to tear one off the giant pad sitting at the information desk and try to decode its symbols, streets and landmarks. This was a rite of passage for any new terrain I encountered. I felt grounded, oriented and safe when I knew where I was. Yet as places become more familiar to us, the need for a map decreases and our own internal navigation takes over – either that, or our iPhone does.
The dizzying patterns of American artist Shannon Rankin’s installation work acutely magnify the disorienting feeling of travel. I remember stumbling off a bus at 3am with no sense of direction whilst trying to ask, in a foreign language, where the tourist office was. Lines and colours appear arbitrary at first, yet after a few hours of feeling lost you come to follow the contours and learn you way.
Rankin’s maps work in much the same way: she uses the tactility of paper to examine the relationship between maps and nature. Throughout her oeuvre, references to seeds, transplanting, and anatomy exemplify a search for order amongst the chaos. Applying the naturally forming patterns of plants to the somewhat sporadic jumble of maps allows Rankin the opportunity to try and make sense of our experience of place. Despite how structured and planned a place might be, the experience can be very different at street level.
Her recent installation work was exhibited at the CMCA Biennial 2010 in Maine, USA. The most impressive work is titled Germinate (5000 seeds) (2009). It aims to pin point the experience of place using small circles that are carefully cut from a map, pinned to the wall equidistance from one another to form an optically paralyzing sight. The title suggests that we are looking at a group of seeds in the process of germination, or perhaps a group of tourists lost in the maze of a new city. Letting your eyes wander through this installation is almost as satisfying as getting up close and reading each circle – it is a nice analogy for the consummate traveler who picks and chooses what he or she enjoys. Falls , a work using shredded strips of map arranged in a triangular pattern, also adorns one wall. Natural processes amuse Rankin and each clump of mapped paper streams down the wall – I can hear the water gushing down just by looking at it.
As I travel the world and stumble upon artists such as Rankin, I am constantly reminded of the distance I have covered, where I just was and where I am heading. Maps equal survival for someone as borderless as myself, yet for Rankin they act as fodder for expression. As a contemporary cartographer, Rankin visually alters our experience of the lived map through spiraling patterns that are nauseatingly beautiful. Perhaps if we were to piece together those perfect circles we might reach some sort of Nirvana – or better yet, find a pot of gold.
Shannon Rankin: http://artistshannonrankin.com/home.html