Subjective Mapping? Tell me more!

5 min readFeb 24, 2017
Artworks on the collage feature the amazing work of: Shannon Rankin, Stephen Walter, Sohei Nishino, Becky Cooper, Mira Rojanasakul and Alexandra Nikolova.

Let’s dive into cartography in a very personal manner.

Yeah, 2017 starts well! Our project “Subjective Mapping” was approved by Erasmus+ and it will take place in France later this year!

Just to tease you a bit… “Subjective Mapping” will invite 24 artists, educators and social workers to discover, represent, explore and learn from the emotional layer of our perception of space. The training in rural France will give participants the unique opportunity to experience and explore subjective mapping as a tool that they can later on use for community development.

The application will be soon open, so stay tuned. Here is more info about the project.

What is subjective mapping?

Maps hold unparalleled storytelling power. A map, unlike a photographic sketch, looks like the way we think. Cognitive science nowadays insists on the ability of our minds to create mental maps before we take snapshots, storing information and space representation in a schematic form. We only need a few lines, relations between elements, some dots marking important points — for a whole story of experiences to come alive in our imagination. The most wonderful appeal of maps, perhaps, is that it stores and expresses our emotions into minimalistic shapes. We want to explore the beautiful subjectivity of maps as a tool for intercultural understanding, inclusion and active participation, especially related to migration.

Installations, sculpture and collage

Artist Shannon Rankin does a brilliant work on this. She uses “the language of maps to explore the connections among geological and biological processes, patterns in nature, geometry and anatomy”. The subjective mapping is very much about the way you feel about a place or a journey. It tells a story and the story can be visualized in many ways.

“Pod” by Shannon Rankin, 2009

She creates installations, collages and sculptures that use the language of maps to explore the connections among geological and biological processes, patterns in nature, geometry and anatomy. Using a variety of distinct styles she cuts, scores, wrinkles, layers, folds, paints and pins maps to produce revised versions that often become more like the terrains they represent. These new geographies explore notions of place, perception and experience, suggesting the potential for a broader landscape and inviting viewers to examine their relationships with each other and the world we share.

Drawing and typography

Stephen Walter has drawn gigantic maps of London and Liverpool in a sort of report of Situationist drifts (derives) experiencing the psychogeographies of those two cities. His maps are mostly constituted by doodles and words that places various neighborhoods and its characteristics but also his autobiographical feeling about those places when he went there. Space’s representation and narratives are then completely colliding in one document and make S. Walter’s maps fascinating!

Subjective cartography by Mira Rojanasakul.

Mira Rojanasakul is questioning borders with her pen and ink. She writes “Herds, flocks, dots must abide not only to the limitations produced by natural geographies, but also the borders invented by man — regardless of how “imaginary” they are. Suggested movements and these populations’ relationship to their surroundings are intended to depict a silent resistance carried out unknowingly, simply because they have been programmed throughout the generations to move as they must to survive — whether the journeys end at better feeding grounds and survivable climates, or freer nations with better wages.

There’s a beauty in the numbers — each “speck” incapable of seeing or knowing what our false birds eye view of the world offers.”

Photographic Maps

Sohei Nishino is using photographs to compose his maps from aerial views by assembling pictures together despite their different vanishing points. He chose some very generic photographs from main monuments of each city to make the map more recognizable but one could imagine his work with an approach more similar to Stephen Walter’s that would assemble pieces of life brought together with personal pictures that would eventually constitutes the city.

Amazing — just look at the details on his website here!

Sohei Nishino “Bern” 2012

“Mapping Manhattan”

How about collecting the subjective perceptions of a super famous place? Artist Becky Cooper did just that!

She was on a mission to explore Manhattan through an ongoing collaborative art project that began in an appropriately personal manner: Cooper became an accidental cartographer when she was hired to help map all of Manhattan’s public art. As she learned about mapping and obsessively colourcoded the locations, she considered what it took to make “a map that told an honest story of a place” and was faced with the inevitable subjectivity of the endeavor, realizing that an assemblage of many little subjective portraits revealed more about a place than any attempt at a “complete” map.

And so the idea was born: to assemble a collaborative portrait of the city based on numerous individual experiences, memories, and subjective impressions. She painstakingly hand-printed a few hundred schematic maps of Manhattan on the letterpress in the basement of her college dorm, then walked all over the island, handing them to strangers and asking them to draw “their Manhattan,” then mail the maps back to her, which, in a heartening antidote to Gotham’s rumored curmudgeonly cynicism, they readily did. Dozens of intimate narratives soon filled her inbox: first loves, last goodbyes, childhood favorites, unexpected delights. In short, lives lived.

This helped her constitute a tender cartographic love letter to this timeless city of multiple dimensions, parallel realities, and perpendicular views, featuring contributions from both strangers and famous New Yorkers alike.

Examples of subjective maps of Manhattan, NYC — “Mapping Manhattan” by Becky Cooper

Do you wish to create something like this? Applications for “Subjective Mapping” in France is open untill 15. May 2017. Apply now!

Article created by our Anne & Alex.

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We craft international workshops for artists, educators and youth workers. Together we create pedagogical artwork, share and invent practical solutions to social problems.

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