Mapping—symbolism or realism?

Mapping seems to float between two poles—symbolism and realism, or abstraction and dimensionality—as the attempt is made to either (with increasing accuracy) simulate a landscape or environment, or interpret it as a sign or composite of signs. At first glance, the former could be considered the predominant direction—technology leading the way in the gradual displacement of the latter. However, not only are both vectors alive and well: realism has been an ongoing pursuit in mapping as long as symbolism, and symbolism is equally seeing a new resurgence due to technological developments.

Another analogy might entail viewing mapping as either a science or an art—science, as the pursuit of knowledge, or art, as the pursuit of expression or the interpretation of experience. The “scientific” approach would more readily appear to relate to realism, while the “artistic” approach would appear to call for symbolism. Yet here, too, the boundaries are blurred: symbolism is often a better communication method than realism, and hence may more successfully further an understanding of the subject matter, while realism is often used as an expressive medium. So, what remains is the existence of these two vectors, between both of which mapping is situated. The following work offers a critique.

Richard Galpin creates abstraction from photorealism, by removing elements of photographs to reveal patterns inherent within the source image. Beginning with realism, his approach of subtraction creates a tracing from a photographic image, a kind of structural map to the original image, rooted in an inherently personal symbolism with visceral and universal communication value.


Richard Galpin, CLUSTER XX (PLANOPOLIS), 2007


Richard Galpin, CLUSTER XXX (ANGELOSOPOLIS), 2007

Richard Galpin, CLUSTER XXI (DENDROPOLIS), 2007
Richard Galpin, CLUSTER XXI (DENDROPOLIS), 2007

Landscape architect Hajime Ishikawa (related article on PingMag) maps the urban environment of Tokyo. His studies are reflections of both serendipity and symbolism. His GPS drawings within the city, while not an entirely new idea, reflect a Situationist curiousity about the mundane and familiar city environment. He says, mapping is “a kind of language — you understand where you are in this sort of diagram. Though no map can picture the real space and the real experience, you still understand where you are…” Ishikawa’s tracing of his route from his home to his office has personal significance and a kind of individual symbolism, while the animal drawing evokes questions of familiarity with and a offers a change of perspective of the the Tokyo streetscape.

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