Atlassed

Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartography edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist, introduction by Tom McCarthy. 2014, Thames & Hudson, 9780500239186.

Guest book review by Robert in San Diego

I like maps and atlases, but grit my teeth when I find mistakes. The town up the coast is Solana Beach, not Solano Beach! And if you ever visit San Diego, I’d like to apologize in advance for Friars Road and Pacific Highway being grade separated and having no interchange.

When I feel the onset of mapping rage, I calm down by thinking of Mapping It Out — a witty coffee table book and fantasy atlas. Its staid red buckram cover, reminiscent of mid 20th century reference books, conceals 131 astounding “maps” by a wide range of contributors. These maps cover topics in a range from the DNA of artificially created organisms to memories of the New York City art scene in the 1960’s. Editor Obrist curated an art gallery installation along similar lines as part of the 2012 London Olympics. Mapping It Out is a followup project.

On each page, a section of text describes the contributor and their motivation. The rest of the page is their map. Marcus Du Sautoy, who identifies himself as a mathematician instead of an artist, uses his map to compare the “Seven Bridges of Konigsberg” problem (which helped launched the study of graph theory) with the modern city of Kaliningrad’s water crossings. The much-lionized Tim Berners-Lee shares his map of the World Wide Web; it looks like a sketched map of a role playing game’s world, right down to the dubious entities inhabiting marginal lands. Albert-Laszlo Barabari’s map of the relationships between human diseases is remarkable. Artist Qin Zhijie’s fantastical “Mapping the 21st Century” includes a Nuclear Battery Store and the ominously named Food Shortage Crisis Park.

Rereading Mapping it Out calms me down when confronting the little discrepancies between a map and the territory.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest review!

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