As the novelist Tom McCarthy points out in his introduction to this engrossing and beautiful new book, in some ways smartphones have fundamentally changed our relationship with maps. But the outcry over inaccuracies, glitches and inventions in certain map programmes proves one of the longstanding fundamental truths about that relationship; “that maps don’t work, and never have.”
He goes on: “Projections are not neutral, natural or ‘given’; they are constructed, configured, underpinned by various – and quite arbitrary – conventions…And yet, explicitly or not, all maps carry with them a certain claim; that this one is somehow truer than the others with which it competes.”
His essay forms the introduction of the Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s handsome new book Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies. It brings together 130 maps from artists, designers, writers, scientists and architects including Jon Baldessari, Yoko Ono, Tim Berners-Lee and Ed Ruscha. They range from the hand-scrawled to the exquisitely-rendered, arranged in chapters including The Unmappable, Invented Worlds and Redrawn Territories.
Some carry small explanatory texts while other are left to speak for themselves but all explore interesting questions about reducing the world – real or imagined – to a designed image.
Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies published by Thames & Hudson is available now.