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Posts Tagged ‘cartography’

A Corporation for Every Artist, and Other News

October 21, 2015 | by

Andy Warhol, lenticular prints designed for Rain Machine (Los Angeles version), 1971. Image via Hyperallergic

  • Fact: there are men still walking the earth who have shared a meal at Denny’s with Orson Welles. “One day in 1974, Orson Welles, John Huston, and the comedian Rich Little were sitting in a Denny’s near Carefree, Arizona, about to order a meal … A waitress approached the table where the three men sat. She recognized Little right away. After bantering with the impressionist for a bit, she nodded toward Welles and asked Little, ‘Who’s your fat friend?’ Huston, saving the day, answered for Little with a straight face. ‘You know, we don’t actually know this man,’ he said, indicating Welles. ‘We picked him up on the highway and he seemed undernourished. We’re going to feed him and then send him on his way.’”
  • Today in the sex lives of whalers: few things speak to the hardships of a whaler’s life than dildos, which were ubiquitous (or, okay, maybe just not uncommon) in the New England homes such men abandoned for the seas. At least one such dildo survives to this day, all plaster and memories. “By 1830, the average length of a whaling voyage was thirty months, but they were often longer—Nantucket wives were dubbed ‘Cape Horn widows,’ because their husbands might be gone for eight years. In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab tells his first mate, Starbuck, that of the past forty years of ‘making war on the horrors of the deep’ he’d only been ashore three, leaving only ‘one dent in [his] marriage pillow.’ ‘[W]ife?’ Ahab rages, ‘wife?—rather a widow with her husband alive!’ The dildos, called ‘he’s-at-homes’ in some books on the history of the Yankee whale fishery, were meant to be some insurance of fidelity for a husband who was rarely present.”
  • Halloween is coming, which means it’s time to practice an age-old ritual: reading online essays about books bound in human skin. Bonus points if you go on to give them to trick-or-treaters. “The earliest examples of books bound in human skin date from the seventeenth century and were produced in Europe and the United States … Many of the earliest examples relate to punishment. England’s Murder Act of 1751 stipulated that those convicted of murder would not only be executed but, as an additional deterrent, could not be buried … making items out of criminals’ skins provided yet another way to ensure the body stayed aboveground. A famous example of such punishment was the body of William Burke, who, with his accomplice William Hare, killed sixteen people in a ten-month period in 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then sold the bodies to medical schools. After being caught, executed, and dissected, some of Burke’s skin was used to make a pocketbook as a final—and lasting—humiliation.”
  • Back in the sixties, Kaiser Steel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, RAND, and Lockheed Aircraft started a program to match artists with corporations—a kind of late-model patronage system. “Some of the collaborations resulted in successful projects. Working with the magazine publisher Cowles Communication Inc., Andy Warhol created holographic photographs of daisies … Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Ice Bag (1969) was produced in collaboration with WED Enterprises, the design and development branch of Disney. The pink sculpture was designed to undulate and twist as it deflated and inflated, in accordance with Oldenburg’s interest in objects that broke and then reconstituted themselves … Richard Serra, who was matched with the Kaiser Steel Corporation, created stacked sculptures that did not differ radically from his usual output. In contrast, Robert Rauschenberg, who collaborated with the industrial company Teledyne, created an installation that split from his best-known assemblage work but was consistent with his later interest in viewer-activated spaces.”
  • Andrew DeGraff’s Plotted: A Literary Atlas makes maps from great literature, allowing you at last to visualize, say, every nook and cranny of the bleak terrain in Waiting for Godot. Hours of fun await. “DeGraff’s book … raises the question of the way we tenuously hold fictional universes in our minds. Absent anything concretely visual to latch onto, we create messy, complex maps to maintain a grip on the disorienting profusion of information coming at us. If we could transcribe these mental representations, they would probably look less like DeGraff’s thorough, well-executed images and more like those medieval maps, with small pockets of knowledge surrounded by huge swaths of emptiness. In literature, as in life, we can’t see everything. We can’t keep track of all the details, nor can we truly envision specific geographies, even ones we’ve visited before.”

Curtains for the Editor

August 24, 2015 | by

Editors beware.

Over the weekend, I was attracted by the cover of a 1940s pulp paperback for sale on upper Broadway. The book was called Curtains for the Editor, and featured a bleeding body sprawled over a giant manuscript, so obviously I was sold before I’d even picked it up. But then when I turned it over, it was to find that the edition had even more to recommend it than the terrific title and vivid cover art: it was a Dell Mapback!

As any pulp lover knows, Dell produced these thrift editions—often mysteries, often hard-boiled—between 1943 and 1951. Each one was characterized by the detailed map on its back cover: often a “scene of the crime,” showing, say, the layout of a police station, a blueprint of a mansion, a neighborhood peopled with suspects and characters. There’s some variation depending on the artist, the plot, and the era; some maps are more stylized, others more colorful and precise. But all of them are “accurate” insofar as the plot goes, and they do give as good and tantalizing a glimpse into a book’s plot as any more conventional flap copy. Read More »

Your Art Will Last Forever, and Other News

March 25, 2015 | by

cave of altamira

An ancient bison painting in Spain’s Cave of Altamira. Image via Nautilus

  • So you’re making a work of art—congratulations! If you want it to endure physically for eons to come, thus imbuing you with a kind of immortality, you should look to the past: marble, granite, wood, rabbit-skin glue, oil paint, and other biological materials are still the most durable ones around. “Conservators still don’t know how some new art materials—like dibond, used previously in outdoor signage, or acrylic paints—will hold up over decades and centuries, but they seem promising.”
  • Susan Howe and R. H. Quaytman—poet and painter, mother and daughter—are reluctant to foreground their relationship, but they’ve collaborated on a book together and given their first joint interview. “During the afternoon I spent with them, they happily talked over each other: about archives; about Mark von Schlegell, whom they both adore; about television; about Victorian novels; about vitrines.”
  • A thirteenth-century cartographer drew a map of the Mediterranean so accurate that ships today could still navigate with it. “The mystery is how he managed to reconcile all this contradictory, incomplete information into one brilliantly precise chart of the Mediterranean that allowed mariners to visualize, for the first time, the sea on which they’d spent their lives sailing.”
  • “Clive James made his name as a television critic, essayist and wit. But he began as a poet, and four years on from being handed a death sentence (with leukemia, emphysema and kidney failure—‘the lot’), he is ending as a poet.”
  • Charlie Victor Romeo, a film and play, “features six episodes of real-life airline disasters as experienced from the point of view of the crew in the cockpit.” “There’s no romanticism in a crash. There’s regionalism,” one of its writers, Robert Berger, said. “Every other moment is intense technical troubleshooting about ‘mach-speed trim’ … As you watch it, you can see it as an opera in a language you don’t speak. You get love, hate, anger, struggle, and the battle of man and machines, and the energy of those things.”

Map Quest

September 4, 2012 | by

The draw of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s classic breakup song “Maps” is that it is as plainly sad as possible. “Wait,” the band’s lead singer, Karen O, sings over and over, “they don’t love you like I love you.” But “Maps” is also enigmatic: beyond its abject chorus, the lyrics are cryptic, with verses that are brief and opaque—“Packed up / Don’t Stray / Oh say, say, say / Oh say, say, say.” Karen O repeats maps, plaintive and without context, stretching the word’s aaa over four bars.

According to fan mythology, “Maps” is an acronym for “my Angus please stay,” referencing Liars lead singer Angus Andrew, whom Karen O has said the song is about. There may be other ways to read the song’s title, though. “Maps” evokes the physical and metaphorical distance that is felt from a lover who is leaving. It is a kind of emotional cartography, mapping two people’s painful journeys away from one another. This will serve as our foundation: maps aren’t impersonal, objective. They aren’t.

Read More »


Dahl, Maps, The Royal Tenenbaums

August 14, 2012 | by

  • The new Vogue features contemporary authors as members of Edith Wharton’s circle and was shot at the Mount. Look for Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Junot Díaz as Henry James, Morton Fullerton, and Walter Van Rensselaer Berry. (Wharton herself is played by model Natalia Vodianova.)
  • Essential cartography books.
  • Bookshelf of the day: a literary staircase.
  • The hundred best-selling British books of all time. (The usual suspects, plus Eats, Shoots and Leaves.)
  • The books from The Royal Tenenbaums, actualized.
  • “For material things, we were fortunate, but it was not a happy beginning to my life.” Tessa Dahl talks about the difficulties of growing up with her famous father. Perhaps sensationalism is no shock in The Daily Mail, but we defy you not to be taken aback by Roald’s penchant for home-medicating his children.


    The Grand Map

    October 5, 2011 | by

    RV890, Norway 2011.

    Toward the end of Lewis Carroll’s endlessly unfurling saga Sylvie & Bruno, we find the duo sitting at the feet of Mein Herr, an impish fellow endowed with a giant cranium. The quirky little man regales the children with stories about life on his mysterious home planet.

    “And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
    “Have you used it much?” I enquired.
    “It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr. “The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

    Among Mein Herr’s many big ideas, none is as familiar to us as the Grand Map. We use it, or a version of it, on a daily basis. With Google Street View, which allows us to traverse instantly from a schematic road map into the tumult of the road itself, we boldly zoom from the map to the territory and back. As the Herr said, “we now use the country itself as its own map.” Read More »