16 August 2011


                                                                 ‘World Map’ , made by Frenchman Alexis Hubert Jaillot in the 1700’s


A map is a thing of beauty, as Jaillot is keen to show us.  But of course you knew that.  So what’s the connection between a thing of beauty and dogs tails?  Don’t know??  I’d never come across the word DOGSTAILS before, but now I can see why it’s relevant to a discussion on the subject of maps.  The National Geographic map making guide explains what it’s all about:


Date                                      D – when the map was made

Orientation                          O – directions ( north arrow)

Grid                                         G – locates places on the map

Scale                                      S – what the map distance is

Title                                   T – what, where and when

Author                       A – who made the map

Index                                I – map address of places

Legend                          L – what symbols mean

Sources                                     S – basis for map information


So now you know.  I’m reading up a bit about map making, and realising that I’ve always been drawn to maps but don’t really know much about how they’re put together.  As I’m making a map of sorts at the moment, I thought I ought to find out how the real mapmakers do it.

My map, though, is not an account of a geographical reality.  It’s a piece of abstract art which I’m making in response to a particular site.  So it is about a real place, but I’m using the map format to document issues of time, rather than issues of space.  In other words, instead of recording what you would see if you went there, I’m trying to show what lives the building has had through its history.  Or to put it in terms that appeal to me more, I’m giving visual form to the different worlds that the building has been a part of.  This makes my kind of mapmaking satisfyingly imaginative.  It’s based in the real world, but allows me to develop my own format, as what I’m recording doesn’t usually belong to map territory.

Why am I making a map at all?  I’ve been trying to answer that in the past couple of days.  Why do I find it such an exciting idea?  I’m discovering that I’m using the map as a basis for making art :

–  to give me the opportunity to debate where I am in the world, to place myself  in my own context of time

– to pin down, externalize, objectify experience

– to find a route from one place or experience to another

– to explore what’s there over the hill or around the corner, physically and mentally

– to present information in a condensed way, a different way of layering

– to present information in a way that allows the viewer to make their own narratives


I’m using it essentially to present information about layers of time.  Can it be said that maps have an element of the future about them?  That would be an interesting idea.  They are usually associated with the recording of the past, but perhaps they can be used for other directions in time as well.

A map in a strange way is also talking about movement, though in a very static manner.  It’s about the certainty that if I go this way, I am certain to end up in that particular place.  And it’s about the places I might have gone to, the experiences I might have had, as well as the ones that represent reality.  Can a map do that?  Isnt a map just a factual piece of work?

Mike Parker in his very entertaining book ‘Map Addict’, notes:

‘We like to think that maps are factual and somehow true, that they have little or no agenda, but that can never be the case.  Their representation of reality can only ever be subjective.  Every cartographer has to decide what to include on their map and, perhaps more importantly, what to exclude.’ 


That’s true, as it is for any work of art.  I leave you with this wonderful quote from Mike Parker’s book about the effect of maps on a map addict:

‘ makes me feel part of a long, unbroken continuum of travellers, pilgrims and folk who just love poking their noses into their own – and others’ – backgrounds to root around for the truffles of our national identity.

Now isn’ t that a great image.


Carmen Mills



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