Monday, November 9, 2015

In the age of Google Maps,
the term "cartographer" can sound outdated.
Not only do we know what our
planet looks like (hello "Blue Marble"), but we have also optimized how to
go from here to there without ever really knowing where we are exactly.
Even so, our own coordinates have always fascinated us, as evidenced by
Phaidon's new book MAP.
From the political ("Palestine Index to Villages
and Settlements, Showing Jewish-Owned Land") to the otherworldly ("Table
of Asterisms," a Hindu astrological chart), from the ancient (the
Mesopotamian "Plan of Nippur" from c.
1500 BC) to the contemporary (the
2015 "Velib Docking Stations Map" that displays data about London's
bike-share scheme), the selections in the book reveal the infinite forms that
maps can take, the diversity of information and perspectives they can convey,
and their essential role in understanding our world.
Travel + Leisure spoke with John Hessler, a contributing editor for MAP as
well as the Specialist in Modern Cartography and Geographic Information
Science at the Library of Congress.
We discussed about the vibrancy of the
map-making business, the exciting new developments in his field, and the
challenges he faces even in the information age.
Courtesy of Oliver O'Brien, Dept of Geography,
University College London How did the book come about? The
book was the brainchild of Phaidon.
Phaidon approached a group of about 10
experts from various fields with 500 maps and asked us to cull the list down
to the most important and interesting.
I was a consulting editor.
In these
discussions, a basic question constantly came up—what is the definition of a
map? Are artists' maps really maps, or are they pieces of art? Cartography
is on the line between design, science and art.
We attempted to include a
diverse group of maps.
We wanted to arrange them not thematically or
chronologically, which has been done so many times before.
We agreed on a
format of one map per page so that two maps always face each other.
The two
maps are in dialogue.
Some of the pairings are obvious.
Some are somewhat
vague and ask the reader to consider the commonalities and contrasts.
Flowminder Foundation
and WorldPop project Do you have any personal favorites of the
included maps? I'm a modern cartographer.
I've written a lot on
historical cartography.
Right now, we're going through a golden age of
cartography.
We have all these tools—geosimulation, big data,
computers—which come to bear on our problems.
What's especially new and exciting to me is the pairing between
"Visualizing Facebook Friends" and "Mapping the Brain" by the Human
Connectome Project.
These maps get to the social network world and the network
in our brain.
The brain map was very special, and it was a matter of much
discussion between myself and the editors.
Was it really a map? We finally
decided it was.
The Facebook map tells us something about our current
world.
You see no base map or piece of cartography underneath.
When you look
at it, you're only seeing connections between Facebook friends.
It looks
like you're seeing the entire world but some parts are missing.
China,
Russia, and Sub-Saharan Africa are totally neglected.
You begin to see how
Internet freedom is displayed, and economic issues come into play.
I'm also
very attracted to artists' maps and maps that have particular design.
Ai Wei
Wei and Maya Lin's contributions are both very compelling.
© The Saul Steinberg
Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/DACS, London 2014
Speaking of artists' maps, there are many examples in the book of artists
who have reinterpreted the form in their work.
What do you think attracts them
to the concept of maps? When you look at the variety of artists who have
used maps in their works, from Maya Lin to Jasper Johns to Ai Wei Wei, you
begin to see how cartography, although limitless in its ability to convey, has
formal models and limits that one must use.
In Japer Johns, the form [an
altered map of the United States] is very particular.
When you look at the map
of China by Ai Wei Wei or Maya Lin's Blue Pass Lake, you see spaces they
chose to represent that are very important in their lives.
We all move around.
We're all affected by space.
Artists see cartography
as way to reduce complex experiences to formal constraints within which they
can express themselves.
You can compare it to painting—it's artists
seeking to express complex feelings in a simpler medium.
Courtesy of the
Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging,
Consortium of the Human Connectome Project You travel a
lot.
Where in the world have you been that you've found most difficult to
describe using a map or any visual representation? Most cartographers
travel.
You have to have a view of the world.
You want to see it up close.
We
have cartographic minds, looking at new places and wondering how we can
represent them.
How can you reduce a place to a 2-D visualization or surface
that people can understand? My most challenging project right now is mapping
the glaciers in the Alps.
They're difficult to see from satellite
imagery.
There are very steep areas and cliffs that are impossible to map from
space.
You have to get on the ground and map the space.
The temporal dimension
is also difficult.
The glaciers change quickly.
It's difficult to map things
that aren't static.
Take epidemics, the movements of Syrian refugees and the
crisis in Europe, or global warming changes.
Things are changing so
rapidly.
Once you make some representation, it's already obsolete.
Courtesy of the
artist, neugerriemschneider, Berlin and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York /
photo: Tanya Bonakdar Galler You teach a class that calls the
mapping of the brain "cartography's final frontier." Can you explain why
you feel this way, and if there are any other developments you see on the
horizon for cartography? It's the final frontier because it's the
ultimate mapping project.
There's nothing that cartographers or people
interested in mapping have done that's been as complex.
We're a long, long
way from understanding the special structure of the brain and how it
operates.
We're using the best technology we have, but it's not
enough.
The rest of the planet has been mapped using GPS and satellite to
extreme accuracy.
What's left now is mapping how humans act in space.
The
social network.
Tracing the Ebola epidemic.
Mapping using time as a
dimension.
Yet none of these have complexity of mapping the human
brain.
It's a difficult process.
Technologies are improving.
We have a process called diffusion MRI.
We're
trying a remote sensing of our consciousness.
Just think about the sheer
complexity of the billions of neurons in brain.
We're trying to get a
resolution.
One of the difficulties in originally mapping the surface of earth
and terrestrial bodies was finding adequate technologies.
Now we can get
extreme accuracy.
We just don't have technology at the neuron, fiber level
right now to do the same for the brain.
At the moment, we're mapping
pathways.
In the same way that when satellites are focused they give us
information about our environment, the mapping of brain is shows us how we
operate.
Think back to the Internet—mapping it when it was new was
impossible.
No one understood it.
Once technology grew, we got a better handle
on how it operates and grows.
The mapping of the brain has a lot in common with social network mapping or
the mapping of people's cell phone connections.
Maps today aren't
concerning themselves with distance but with connection.
You can get to a
Facebook friend in the speed of light.
The idea of distance has evaporated.
In
its place are concepts of network and connection.
That's what cartographers
are more interested in now. A look inside Phaidon's new
book MAP.

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