October 11 to November 14, 2008
Diane Samuels’ Mapping Sampsonia is a work-in-progress that is based on the people, the place, and the history of a tiny inner-city alley in Pittsburgh, Sampsonia Way, where Samuels has lived since 1980. The work is literally about the street –the roadbed about which Samuels says, “Over the years the road surface has been marked by a spectacular accumulation of cracks and potholes that trace a history and an archeology of the alley and the people who use it. The roadbed looks like a giant dark scroll covered with a delicate and beautiful line drawing that grows in complexity over time.”
Part I (Objective Mappings, 2004-2006) was a mammoth photo-sculptural mapping of the entire alley surface. It was shown in 2005 at the Mattress Factory and in 2006 at the Kim Foster Gallery. 5,796 miniature digital photos were mounted in individual glass tiles and assembled to produce a 48-foot long panoramic map, depicting Sampsonia Way’s surface in minute topographical detail. Hand-engraved in the top faces of the glass were stories told to Samuels by the alley residents. When turned over, the bottom face of each tile displayed detritus tracing the contemporary use of the alley. The map could be reassembled into a whole new street like a jigsaw puzzle of identically shaped pieces and new stories.
Part II (Close Readings, 2008) shifts scale, point-of-view, and media to explore the role of the mapmaker rather than the world mapped. In place of story, we find interpretation and editing. The new pieces are romantic sublimes of mapmaking, tactile renderings of a few feet of cracked asphalt that are profuse and surprising as new found lands.
Drawing minute circles with a very fine pen, Samuels spends months “mapping” small sections of the street at a 1:4 scale on handmade Abaca paper. Each drawing contains over a quarter-million filigree-like circles. The accumulated pressure from drawing this way accentuates the natural buckle of the paper and creates an almost topographical distortion that interprets the drawing dimensionally. The drawings are suggestive of antiquarian maps and suggest the richness of the world when it is lavished with attention.
A second group of maps in Close Readings are cast impressions of large sections of the roadbed made by pressing black rag-paper pulp directly onto the street. The sheets are dried in place, and when lifted from the street the alley’s cracks become raised lines and cragged webs. The paper surface clings to the dirt and debris from the alley. The resulting pieces exude an overwhelming physicality. Giant black blankets, wrinkled in torsion and creased with the age-lines of the street, are like fire-blasted relics written by time itself. They create mystery by revealing what is hiding in plain sight.
Maps are one of the oldest forms of communication and one of the fundamental ways we construct and understand the world, find our place in it, and imagine other places. Map-making seeks to situate and give shape to the world and our future by translating the world into a portable form. In Close Readings, Samuels reminds us that maps are aide-mémoires akin to creative non-fiction. And ultimately, the work in Mapping Sampsonia demonstrates an ethic of seeing and creating rooted in patience and wonder.
Samuels has exhibited nationally at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Mattress Factory Museum, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Center for Book Arts, and the Kim Foster Gallery in New York; and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Samuels has also shown and worked extensively in Europe, including Germany, France, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. In 1998, she built The Alphabet Garden, a commissioned memorial garden in Grafeneck, Germany, site "A" of the so-called euthanasia experiments in 1940. Recently, Samuels has been the winner of two international competitions for permanent site-specific artworks, Luminous Manuscript at the Center for Jewish History in New York (completed in 2004) and Lines of Sight at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island (completed in 2006). For further information, please contact the galler