As objects and as subjects, maps hold a special appeal for contemporary visual artists, in that they portray data in a distilled graphic form, using color, line, and symbols to communicate information that helps us find our place in the world. A smart, thought-provoking little show at ArtCenter/South Florida offers viewers a glimpse into how seven artists approach the broad subject of mapping—from the spatial to the temporal, and from the external to the internal.
Curated by Lauren Wagner, Director of Exhibitions at the Bakehouse Art Complex, the exhibition showcases five Miami-based artists, represented by one piece each, as well as a dynamic duo from New York who contribute four pieces. A common thread among all the works on view is the use of either actual printed maps or other graphic imagery that likewise uses symbols to serve a communicative function. These include dress patterns, patterned duct tape, leftover consumer packaging, and a diagram of neurons. All of the artists use their chosen source material as a starting point for conceptual and/or formal exploration, much as one might use a map (or a GPS device) to help orient oneself during an exploratory excursion.
Lucinda Linderman's Consuming Time takes the packages that are byproducts of her own consumption and contorts them into a twisted, tubular sculpture that maps said consumption. The work is both environmentally admirable and visually striking. However, Linderman's aim of referencing the human digestive tract is not quite as clear as it could have been. I had a hard time shaking my initial reaction—that the piece looked like some kind of trumpet/saxophone/tuba.
Regina Jestrow incorporates dress patterns, which hold personal significance for her, into five vertical hanging strips that together form a sort of contemporary abstract tapestry. The work is colorful and attractive, and it may function as a kind of memory map for the artist, but I found it a bit too decorative for my taste.
Amanda Serrano takes the pages of a historical atlas of the U.S., and, through careful folding and assembly, transforms them into an undulating sculpture that appears to emulate a topographical or chemical model. The piece is elegant and eye-catching, yet there is also a sense of loss, as the historical data in the original maps becomes completely obliterated—perhaps echoing the historical amnesia that is all too prevalent in this country.
Rosa Naday Garmendia, for her part, deconstructs patterned duct tape—apparently with a hole punch—and artfully reassembles it to form words and lushly gradated circular backgrounds. The words spell out sentences starting with the root "I am"… One might read the piece as a thought map of the various identities that all human beings share. It is a fairly strong installation, weakened only by two unfortunate misspellings.
Carrie Sieh's installation also incorporates text, and also maps out thoughts, but in this case the emphasis is on random free-association and audience participation. The artist began by painting large black silhouettes of neurons onto the gallery wall. Then, at the opening, she had viewers select folded cards that had splotches of invisible ink inside them. Upon opening the cards and developing the ink, each participant would write what s/he saw, as in a Rorschach test, and the cards were then attached to the wall's giant neurons. I found the project conceptually intriguing, but I was put off by the paleness of the developed ink patterns as set against the bold blackness of the neuron shapes. Also, I was disappointed by the participants' often banal interpretations and/or scratchy handwriting.
Jake Margolin & Nick Vaughan, Marlboro, 2011, AAA United States road map, 20” x 31”; Courtesy Art Center/South Florida
The stars of this exhibition are the New York-based husband-and-husband team of Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughan. Each of their works starts with an actual road map, either of the U.S. or New York state. Crisply-outlined images and/or text are "added" by painstakingly cutting away sections of the map, letting the resulting voids become positive space, while the physical map becomes negative space. This process—along with background video footage from Utah and Nevada—allows the artists to bring together images of the American West with personal imagery. The result is a poignant meditation on their ambivalent relationship with their own nation—this beautiful "land of the free" where marriage equality has finally been achieved in a handful of states, yet where, in most places, equal rights for LGBT people still remains but a dream.
—Eduardo Alexander Rabel
(Image at top: Lucinda Linderman, Consuming Time , 2011, Left over consumer packaging and clothing , Dimensions variable; Courtesy Art Center/South Florida)