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Mapping the Soul of New York City

Chris Dickman Mon, 12/05/2016 - 13:29

You Are Here: NYC
Mapping the Soul of the City

By Katharine Harmon
Princeton Architectural Press
192 pages, $24.95

From the publisher: "New York City is rife with mapmaking possibilities — thick with mythology and glutted with history. You Are Here: NYC assembles two hundred maps created between 1600 and 2015, charting every inch and facet of the five boroughs, depicting New Yorks of past, present, and imagination. Here you will find Andy Warhol’s Central Park, Paula Scher’s poster art for the High Line, Christopher Mason’s subway bacteria map, and John Cage’s waltz map that heralded Rolling Stone’s relocation to the Big City. With essays by Brainpickings’ Maria Popova, the New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff and Becky Cooper, and the New York Times’ Sarah Boxer, this follow up to the best-selling You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination (2003) will inspire artists and lovers of the Big Apple all over the world.

"New York’s enduring icons, both physical and conceptual, anchor its maps. A deep repository of historical documents provides a base. In this book, you’ll find a 1908 map of the pneumatic telegram service, a proposed subway bomb shelter in the 1950s, and an interactive walking tour with attractions (forests and swamps) that existed in Manhattan 400 years ago. You’ll also discover where to find solar alignment phenomena (like Manhattanhenge), the nearest bodegas, or the most bedbugs. The Ghostbusters subway map plots the route from Astral Projections Place to Stay Puft Street. Other maps take us inside one of the largest penthouses in Manhattan or trace the longest graffiti tag in the world. They range in style and material, including 3D maps made of gelatin, ceramic, and newspapers dated Sept. 11, 2001. Some maps are digital and still being updated. Others are made by aerial photography, whether photographed from the International Space Station or a pigeon named Reuben."

ANONYMOUS, New York, 1970. Credit: Courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Sohei Nishino: Diorama Map New York, 2006. Credit: Courtesy Michael Hoppen Contemporary.
Sohei Nishino, a Japanese artist, walks the streets of a city for weeks, taking thousands of photos from every angle, from high atop skyscrapers down to street level. He makes his own prints from 35mm film, surrounds himself with mounds of photos, and painstakingly arranges them into a sort of memory collage. Although the large, detailed assemblages look like bird’s-eye views, each one is a multi-perspective image of a multi-dimensional milieu. Nishino likes subjectivity in maps: “Distance, size — these are such personal things when you think about it,” he has said in an interview. “All people perceive them differently. You could say I’m obsessed with finding my own inner scale.”

Rick Meyerowitz: The Meltropolis 2108, 2008.
Rick Meyerowitz’s projection of life in the city less than a century from now — made for Forecast, the tenth book in the Nozone series edited by Nicholas Blechman — looks, on the face of it, pretty sodden. But it won’t be all bad, what with coffee by the boatload, a water park at the Guggenheim, and plenty of shopping mega-emporiums such as Wholefiger Depot Bucks. The Last Piece of Greenland (while it lasts) and the Monument to the Last Liberal will make pleasant boat tour destinations.

Julie Marabelle: New York City, 2010.
The French illustrator Julie Marabelle makes whimsical cut-paper maps of cities she loves. She begins with a series of loose sketches, joins them as one piece, and draws the entire scene on the reverse side of a sheet of thin paper. Then she uses a scalpel to cut out the negative spaces around the images and text. To see the creation of this piece — twenty hours of real-time cutting compressed into a couple of minutes, accompanied by “Rhapsody in Blue” — go to Famille Summerbelle’s website. Caveat: watching the video may make your carpal tunnels ache.

Jane Hammond: The Wonderfulness of Downtown, 1997. Credit: Courtesy the artist and Greg Kucera Galle.
Jane Hammond reverses historic traditions in mapping her home in lower Manhattan: the explorer is a woman, and she is not claiming to present objective information about conquered territory. The streets are unnamed and the grids imprecise. Photos show everyday moments — a reliquary for a dead bird at Tompkins Square Park, three Dominican men outside a funeral home, a cat sitting on her front steps — “the things the world is really made of,” she says. Here is “the wonderfulness” of creative mapping: acknowledging subjectivity and revealing emotional responses to places that matter to us.

Bernie Robynson: In the Heart of Harlem U.S.A., 1953. Credit: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Lovely cupids and mermaids grace Bernie Robynson’s map of Harlem, “the largest Negro community in the world.” A 1936 article about the artist in the New York Age (located at no. 46 on the map) noted that he “finds that drawing — like any creative work — is exhausting, and for relaxation plays handball and swims at the Harlem Y.M.C.A.” (no.12). This print was inscribed as a gift from Langston Hughes.

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