“What if mapmaking were an expressive art, a way of coming to terms with place, with the experience of place, with the love of place?” What if the atlas sought to embrace everything, and everything sings? In the 60’s, cartography student, Denis Wood, was beginning to rethink the map, envisioning it not as a politically neutral, reference-only object, but as a way to capture the resonance and experience of place. With a dissertation entitled I Don’t Want To, But I Will, and a tendency to look askance at what all those other map makers were doing, (“dot distribution maps of Kanas hogs”) (“What the fuck was all this antique shit!?”) it is clear that Wood held little interest in churning out standard issue products in service of those who wanted to mine, drill, buy or sell, or bomb a particular square of land. He didn’t want to box up the land. Instead, he wanted to create maps that breathed, “to emancipate dream and desire as subjects of the map. What a delirium!”
Bolan Heights. Raleigh, North Carolina. With Central Prison, Dorothea Dix State Hospital, State School for the Blind. Cement Factory. The spines of railroad tracks. Street names, arrows, legends, and grids. These are the maps we know. But Wood’s maps are different. They show us a narrative of a place, at once a unique neighborhood and a neighborhood that could be anywhere, a real place where we might live and wear out our clothes at the elbows. These are maps that show experience, history, and lives, measured not by the same grids and arrows pointing north, but by the resonance and imprint of our constantly changing experience. Wood does this through what he choses to map: pools of light, police calls, the disfigured trees of the neighborhood (showing the route of power lines), and sidewalk graffiti: “Baby Cake I love you, Sweet Meat 1981”; “Babe Shit Hi Bob”; “Project Enlightenment”; “Bobby Bobby Bobby.”
He maps rhythms of the sun, absentee landlords, wind chimes (“They were all over—bamboo, glass, shell, metal tubes”), and the color of autumn leaves (greenish yellow, green green, gold green, olive, bruise, red, mottled, dappled). He shows us that we’ve been here, that we are here, though no face (other than a map of jack o’ lanterns) appears.
So rather than straight lines, there are maps that look like spines and maps that look like intestines. There are ribbon maps, maps etched out like brain waves. There is a paint-by-numbers type map, and a map like a bird’s spindly stamps in a patch of loose dirt. One even looks like a giant cauliflower floret (a map of the broken canopy of trees). This is the neighborhood as “a metabolic machine.”