A Visual Art Interface to an Embedded Sequence of Maps

Article excerpt


This article describes the rationale and construction of a visual art object (a scanned painting) as an interface to an embedded sequence of maps. Having been a major yet decorative component in early maps and atlases (Casey 2005), art has long been ignored as a means to convey the essence of location or the geographic phenomenon being mapped. The science-led map has been the norm for the last few hundred years, but recent years has brought a growing recognition of the potential power of art to provide an alternative perspective on the world that maps alone cannot (Caquard and Taylor 2005; Cartwright et al. 2009; Iturrioz and Wachowicz 2010).

Krygier (1995) explores the relationship of art and science in cartography in depth, considering three relationships concerning the two approaches that had emerged. The first echoes the manifesto of the science-only cartographic trend, a dualism in which one cannot exist with the other. The second relationship is that art and science can co-exist in cartography, but are fundamentally different (e.g. one view is that science is progressive; art is somewhat permanent) and perform different roles (e.g. science uses art and aesthetics as a tool, a means to an end, while art has aesthetics as an aim, and the art object is an end in and of itself; Caquard and Taylor (2005) also stress aesthetics as the fundamental link between art and science). The third relationship is one that applies to the current situation, that in light of developments that have come to the fore in the last 20 years (GIS, geovisualisation, critical cartography), attempts should not be made to understand cartography in terms of art and/or science. From a sequential (comic) art point of view, McCloud (2000) supports the multiple perspective approach: "the best way to understand the nature of our environment is to return to it from as many vantage points as possible ..." (p. 19).

Into this mould Caquard and Taylor (2005) suggest three ways in which the combination of cartography and art could be effected. Firstly, the artistic is linked with the conventional map ("anti-map / map"). Secondly, the methods and techniques of artists are integrated into conventional maps. Thirdly, the artist develops their own vision in relation to the conventional map.

The research put forward in this artile, like Caquard and Taylor's proposed direction, is of the first kind. The art object, the anti-map, is kept in a separate "layer" from the maps, which lie underneath it. The maps are accessed through interactions with the scanned art object; in this way the art object is an elegant interface to the mapped information.

The history of the kea parrot in New Zealand has been chosen as the theme for this series of maps and the linked painting for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the bringing in of art to help cartography would lend an aesthetic hand to create a compelling interface that would increase the profile of this endangered bird. Also, the existence of historical data and research provides a rich timeline for habitat maps of the kea. The requirement for a multi-temporal dataset was paramount, as visual art (including sequential or comic art) has the ability to integrate time, space and themes cohesively, and in subtle ways. Exploiting this property would be a good strategy to fully explore the common ground between art and maps.

The next section will give a short background to the kea, including its history and current status. This is to help interpret the painting and to gain a context for it and the maps. The painting, maps and the construction of the interface is described, and forms an account of how the maps complement the painting (through careful composition and choice of symbology) and vice versa, arranged along space and time themes, both literal and metaphorical, and referring to examples from the history of art. Finally, this article offers a conclusion. …