Gilles A. Tiberghien
No. 103-104 – spring-summer 2013

The Imaginary Cartographic World in Contemporary Art 1

Art and cartography have been interwoven for a very long time, perhaps as far back as the very beginnings of cartography. Medieval T and O maps were often richly ornamented, as were the portolan charts that appeared in the 13th century;2 indeed Renaissance artists often took part in creating these maps. Today, at a time when artists have largely distanced themselves from this activity — as they have done for centuries — interest in cartography nonetheless has greatly increased in the art world since the 1970s, together with what we call conceptual art in the broad sense.3

In fact, artists are re-examining cartography procedures. They stress the problems that cartographers, in the regular exercise of their profession, stop noticing because they are too focussed on producing reliable instruments for positioning oneself in space and evaluating the distance between particular places. However over the last thirty years, geographers have taken a lively interest in cartographic activity, in what Anglo-Saxons call “mapping,” to some extent shifting their analyses more towards processes than objects.

Meanwhile, contemporary artists have considered the map, on one hand, for its pictorial and semantic complexity (Jasper Johns, Pierre Alechinsky, etc.) and on the other, as a means of “documenting” ephemeral actions and for locating hard-to-access works of certain Land Artists (Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Dennis Oppenheim or Richard Long), but they have done so in order to subvert it, and explore all of its possible uses.

This dual interest follows the complex nature of maps, being neither completely

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