Maps are devices that have an evolutionary path tied close to us. As soon as we have the means to map things better, we do. Science, art etc aren't all on the same trajectory, although the map is the perfect grey area between the two. In a digital world though, how useful are physical maps?
Before we could see the world from up high, making maps seemed like a dark art. Magic. It's perfectly understandable to see how we do it now, but then? Incredible.
Maps in their infancy were only able to map what had been explored, and even at that, they were primitive. Vast areas lay blank, marked only with 'TERRA INCOGNITA' by cartographers. Colonial powers, yet to make their presence known, were comfortable in the knowledge that it would one day have a name, likely of their choosing.
As political as maps can be, they're also a form of art. Cartographers added individual flourish to the maps as a means of differentiating themselves. If anything, that aspect of map making has been largely lost, kept alive by fantasy maps for things like Game of Thrones or computer games like Red Dead Redemption. Through the work of Scott Reinhard though, the map is still a medium to explore, not merely one of exploration itself.
Maybe part of the charm of physical maps has worn off. Why spend your time arguing over an Ordnance Survey on your trip to visit your in-laws when you can just Google it? It won't just show you, but it'll kindly, in a robotic voice lacking human empathy, tell you where to go. It's that easy. As drivers, it's one step removed from auto-pilot.
With Google Earth, we can likewise be anywhere at anytime, as long as there's internet connection. When was the last time you didn't have that anyway? The WiFi symbol is oxygen to our lungs. A tree is merely something we used to climb as kids. Reinhard has managed to encapsulate these feelings; a loss of attachment to our surroundings, the movement from analogue to digital and the longing we have for permanence.
His solution was to create his own maps, but maps that had contours, just like real mountains. They're three-dimensional objects that transport us to the very terrain that is being denoted by the contour lines on regular maps. Only we don't have to imagine what these mountain ranges would look like, we are instead already there.
Reinhard's maps are a combination of old and new, both in the concept and the execution. Utilising the information given by classical maps, he brings the elevation to life, yet still incorporates his relief figures onto the body of traditional maps. The cognitive dissonance, of old and new, especially with the American-centric approach to location, makes it feel like a pioneering breakthrough.
Although the land is owned, it doesn't feel that way when you're there. Ownership is far from the mind. Freedom often ranks near the top. It won't come as a surprise then that the locations Reinhard chooses have some personal significance. They're intimate renderings of memories or thoughts. Of a shared space, not only by the people that visit them, but now everyone who sees his maps. They too are exploring something important to him.
Maps might be the last place you'd expect to find art that is harnessing the present whilst still evoking the past. To many people now, maps never existed and never will, not beyond a screen that talks to you anyway. But with maps, these testaments to the brave explorers who had an insatiable desire to understand, sitting on the periphery of both science and art, is where Reinhard's modern mapping drew inspiration. Now, it's part of a similar fight to help us understand, not just about the world they map, but our connection to it.
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