award for art of cartography

The Ordnance Survey in collaboration with the British Cartography Society, have announced an award, the OS OpenData award, for work that spans art and cartography, using the hard data supplied in OS OpenData but combined with the flair of the creative individual.

The award celebrates the fact that “The creation of maps is a fusion of art, design, science and IT …”, reflecting some of the issues I’ve raised myself in recent posts such as “flowing cities – beauty in bits and buildings“, “maps in textiles“, and “Stilgoe on why precision is not always best” as well as general awareness of the importance of non-standard maps.

Stilgoe on why precision is not always best

Good article “You can have too much precision” on Guardian Geography blog by Jack Stilgoe picking up similar themes to my recent blogs on maps and mapping:

“The search for precision is a defining feature of scientific reductionism. But as our maps and models become more sophisticated, there is a danger that we lose track of why we have them.”

The text starts off looking at maps, including the Borges 1-1 map, but then applies this to climate science asking whether exactitude is more important than communication.

(cc) loronet@Flickr

Incidentally, if you don’t know the Borges story, it is repeated in the above post and basically is about the end of geography in mythical land due to the desire for ever and ever more exact maps, that are eventually the same size as the land being mapped.  The story ends:

In the deserts of the west, there are tattered ruins of that map, inhabited by animals and beggars

I have often thought that this would make a wonderful art project1, to literally make ragged fragments of 1-1 map and leave them in the locations they represent.  Anyone care to join me in this sometime (after the walk!), something you do in different places, sort of distributed-flashmob-like.

  1. Maybe my fascination with this is inspired in part by the 1966 television series “The Master“.  Two children are stranded at a secret base inside Rockall where an ancient scientist plans to take over the world. Deep in the heart of the base there is a chamber containg a huge map (not life sized, but BIG) where, at one stage, a minion is zapped to a charred patch by a giant laser.  The series was based on the novel “The Master: An adventure story” by T.H. White, but the episodes of the black-and-white TV series are now sadly lost.   [back]

flowing cities – beauty in bits and buildings

Flowing CityI have written quite a lot about the use of local maps that emphasise the identity of an individual or of a place.  However, there are also incredibly creative uses of maps that are more in the Cartesian tradition, combining geospatial data and digital mapping to creative visualisations that may be informative, subversive, beautiful and, at their best, all three at once.

As part of her master’s studies Margarida Fonseca has created Flowing City,  a stunning collection of visualisations of urban data1. From routes of Beijing cabbies, to galvanic skin response in Greenwich, and social network language in Milan, the examples Margarida has collected show the amazing ways different projects and individuals are remixing their own data, or publicly available data in order to make the often unseen patterns around us visible.

Urban computing with taxicabsGreenwich Emotion MapMaps of Babel

Many of the projects are by university research groups, but I’m also aware of many basic, but often transformative uses of data by simply mixing open data with Google maps or other similar technologies.  I’m wondering what it would be like if visualisations such as those found in Flowing City could be in the hands of every community group, urban or rural: campaigning for better transport, understanding education needs, preparing for floods.  But while pondering that I have downloaded a copy of Margarida’s thesis.

So, just browse the Flowing City site, compare with the Maps in Textiles I posted about a week ago: art and technology, the Cartesian and the idiosyncratic, may be not so far apart.

  1. Thanks @aquigley for sharing this link on Twitter. [back]

Maps in Textiles

Fiona pointed me to the wonderful web site of Valerie S. Goodwin, who creates quilts based on maps of real places and cartographic themes – stunning.


She also has a page listing other map-inspired artists, I visited a few and they were a joy too.  It is interesting that just as anodyne Google mapping is taking over the web, artists are reclaiming the medium and creating vibrant and individual images of real and imagined places.