MapCarte 329/365: Collapsed borders by Heidi Neilson, 2001

MapCarte329_neilson1The artist’s palette is enriched by maps as they make use of them in a multitude of ways to inspire their work or, indeed, as objects within their work. Artist Heidi Neilson produces a wide range of eclectic works mainly through the medium of publication. Her prints and other works on paper tend to take on a specific theme and she often explores the subject matter of geography through one medium or another. Here, a series of works entitled ‘Maps’ takes maps as they exist and then cuts them up before restructuring them to create an entirely new object. that object shows a careful redistribution of linework, shapes and colours that build something other than the map. The work takes on a new form and new meaning that encourages us to look upon the maps in different ways.

MapCarte329_neilson2Essentially, Neilson is taking an esoteric look at the way in which maps document space and through deconstruction and reconstruction, commenting on the ability of the same marks to give us something completely different, just reconfigured. The four works here reflect the new patterns that emerge. Sea level shows how strips of maps that contain broadly the same tone can be manuipulated to create a view of the horizon as if across a beach with the golden sands merging into the blue sky on the horizon.

MapCarte329_neilson3Projection takes tonal variation a stage further by reconstructing a map projection. Again, blues form the background while lighter colours and sharp lines are used to create the new map projection in the foreground. The other two examples are referred to as Collapsed Borders and the colourful vignettes often used to demarcate political boundaries are singled out and repurposed to create different shapes…a circle (perhaps a sun?) and converging lines (perhaps a mountain top with ridge lines). These two examples in particular show how the usual patterns we see on a map and the recognisable symbology can be manipulated into something quite different.

MapCarte329_neilson4Cartographically, it perhaps reminds us just how much we rely on our map user’s inate sense of what they expect to see on a map and how we design with that in mind. Rarely do we modify the codification of our maps beyond what is already familiar. We do this to establish trust and to ensure our map’s speak to our users. This sort of artistic venture with maps shows us that we can dare to be different and it brings a new aesthetic to the map. It may also help us to go beyond our defaults and search for new ways to represent meaning.

MapCarte 128/365: Stockport emotion map by Christian Nold, 2007

MapCarte128_stockportMapping physical space is the cornerstone of cartography but it certainly isn’t limited to that realm. In some ways, many of our own mental maps are the most interesting yet they are rarely drawn. We hardly ever see a physical representation of the way in which our brain sees the world with all its distortions based on familiarity and bias and how we get from A to B using our own unique points of reference. Of course, the realm of mental maps is a fascinating area of cartographic discourse in its own right but there are simpler ways of exploring how we think and feel about a place.

Christian Nold’s emotion map of Stockport in the UK goes beyond the conventional depiction of the buildings and urban fabric of a place. He has created a map that represents feelings, emotions, opinions and desires of local people. He bases the map on a project involving 200 people who completed a range of mapping exercises that required them to draw their responses to a variety of stimuli. What do they enjoy about Stockport? Where do they meet friends? Who are the most important or dangerous people in town? The resulting drawings were scanned and compiled into the map itself. He also measured individual arousal (positive or negative) at different places in town and included vertical bar graphs on the map to show how people react to different places. Finally, he annotated the measures with participant comments so we get a sense of what people think. It’s not one mental map – it’s a collective mental map.

What he ultimately creates is part art project, part insight into the way we really view a familiar place. The formation of clusters of concerns and comments gives rise to a way of seeing our surroundings that is often overlooked. These disconnected conversations become apparent through the map and reveal an until now hidden side to the way in which people feel about Stockport. For instance, the map revealed that the town’s history is somewhat marginalised, there is a predominance of shopping activities and young people feel somewhat isolated ¬†due to lack of provision of things they find interesting.


The map itself is a collage of different people’s work but that messy, unstructured appearance relates well to the project’s objective. This isn’t about creating a coherently designed view of features, it’s about exploring differences and the expression of those differences. The map won’t win any awards for the most beautiful map you’ve ever seen but it represents perhaps a hidden aesthetic – one that is only revealed when you stitch together seemingly random, disparate pieces into a whole. It’s not without graphical merit though – the hand-drawn approach follows through to Nold’s marginalia, borders and scale bar. There’s a consistent black on white treatment except for the emotional graphs that use colour effectively. Given the amount of random elements from multiple pieces, crafting a map that shows any amount of consistency in design is an achievement in itself.

Visit Nold’s web site here to see a larger version of the map and more detail. Nold has also taken completely different approaches to mapping different cities. Worth a look.