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Post-Minimal Mapping | Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams

TCR 2-50 contributor Sharla Sava emphasizes, in her essay Gridlock: Antonia Hirsch’s World Map Project, that both the form and content of Antonia Hirsch’s World Map Project attest to social transformations brought about by the advent of a post-industrial, globalised world system. Rather than stressing the sovereignty of the individual nation-state, Hirsch’s art mobilizes data technologies that rely on abstract and standardizing language in order to establish relations and means of comparison. Aside from the political points to be drawn from such re-mappings, Hirsch demonstrates an important affinity with the minimal and post-minimal generation, adopting the language of a highly industrialised, information society that is more deeply reliant on networks and systems for social structure than on political mandates based upon the collective will of a given population.

Hirsch’s interest in maps shares something with Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, and with post-minimal Italian artists Alighierro Boetti and Claudio Parmiggiani, all of whom demonstrate a longstanding interest in cartography.

In 1975 the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers created a miniature atlas the size of a matchbox in which he reduced all countries to the same format, so that Austria was practically the same size as Australia. The artist explicitly recommended his pocket atlas for artists and military personnel alike - a neat example of imaginary geography and at the same time a real-utopian attempt at cultural re-mapping. Today the representation paradigm has been replaced by the concept of cultural mapping. Both the cultural sciences and the works of art themselves are playing an active part in the paradigm shift. The metaphor of cartography today serves as an alternative to the great epic narratives. Every map is a projection in two respects: on the one hand as the projection of a distorted world (although the world is only half represented, i.e. without the noise, smell and the children killed on the roads), and on the other hand as a piece of paper that contains the projections of the draughtsman.
ATLAS MAPPING exhibition, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, Co-production with the O.K Centre for Contemporary Art, Linz, Austria, 1998

Produced primarily during the 1970s and 80s, Boetti’s Mappa del Mondo introduces geopolitics into aesthetics (or vice versa) with its series of embroideries depicting a world map where countries are inscribed with their national flag. In another well-known project, The Thousand Longest Rivers of the World (1971–77), Boetti demonstrates how much of our knowledge of nature relies on a process of international data accumulation. Based on several years of amassing geographical facts, Boetti established the names and details of the world’s longest rivers, eventually publishing them in a thousand-page artist book.

For the sake of contrast, permit me to insert Anne Carson’s Short Talks “On Reading” as a poetic example of an internal rather than international process of accumulation of data toward a knowledge of nature:

Some fathers hate to read but love to take the family on trips. Some children hate trips but love to read. Funny how often these find themselves passengers in the same automobile. I glimpsed the stupendous clear-cut shoulders of the Rockies from between paragraphs of Madame Bovary. Cloud shadows roved languidly across her huge rock throat, traced her fir flanks. Since those days, I do not look at hair on female flesh without thinking, Deciduous?

Antonia Hirsch’s Average Country is also reminiscent of Broodthaer’s The Conquest of Space: Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military (1975), in which the artist created a miniature book depicting the silhouette of eight countries, each scaled to identical size.

Hirsch’s work in information and aesthetics is not confined exclusively to mapping. In other series, notably Anthropometrics (2004) and Photographie Métrique (2004), she approaches conventional systems of classification from another angle. These photo-based series are concerned with exploring subjective and non-standard responses to standardized forms of measurement, bringing to mind such work as American conceptualist Mel Bochner’s Measurement Room (1969). Where Bochner relied on measuring and documenting the dimensions of the art gallery, Hirsch has expanded the critique of standard measuring systems into the world of everyday life.

Sharla Sava / Gridlock: Antonia Hirsch’s World Map Project

I packed my rucksack with socks, canteen, pencils, three empty notebooks. I took no maps, I cannot read maps – why press a seal on running water?
Anne Carson, The Anthropology of Water


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