Nowhere: selections from the files of the Hand Drawn Map Association includes over 60 examples of maps drawn by artists, cartographers and amateur map makers from around the world. Included in the exhibition are works from the archive of the HDMA as well as new works chosen expressly for this occasion. The exhibition, curated by Kris Harzinski, coincides with the release of From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association published by Princeton Architectural Press.

"Nowhere," as the title of this exhibition, is a way to suggest how maps reveal something unattainable. Through idealization, simplification, or the choice of one detail over another, they interpret rather than reflect the world they represent. This is true of all cartography, but perhaps even more so for the hand-drawn map as the lack of technological assistance affords the cartographer more subjective license. Nowhere can also suggest a place beyond reach in the form of a utopia, a word that can literally suggest “no place.” Certainly the word draws references to early utopian literature, such as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) and William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890). Perhaps more interesting is the relationship of the word nowhere to the site of the exhibition itself, as Arcadia is frequently used to describe an idealized, if not unreal place.

Nowhere is more a place to start, my point of departure, than an overarching theme. The works chosen for the exhibition represent a variety of cartographic approaches and artistic interpretations. Their commonality is that they all reveal a quest for something, be it just around the corner, slightly out of reach, or truly unattainable.

Installation details, Arcadia University Art Gallery, 2010. Photo courtesy Green House Media.

ANTHONY SKAGGS, Map of Alphistia, 1977, pen and ink

Points, lines, and grids can be used to explore worlds both tangible and fictional. Many artists in the exhibition seem driven to explore imaginary places from an early age. Stiendel, for example, has used cartography as a creative device since he was in grade school. Anthony Skaggs developed the fictional country, Alphistia, when he was nine years old and has continued to explore it as a project ever since. Andrew Herman has also drawn maps from an early age. His fictional cities resemble official maps yet are drawn with ball point pen, markers, and highlighters.

ANDREW HERMAN, Untitled, c. 1999, ink, marker, and colored pencil on paper

While these artists embrace cartographic conventions, other artists in the exhibition throw out the rules to map the unmappable. Wythe Marschall reveals his vision of a hollow planet Earth (inside of which all manner of odd phenomena exist) in the same way that Karey Kessler and Ray Ogar use drawing to map their emotions, thoughts, and dreams.

WYTHE MARSCHALL, Our Hollow Planet Earth, 2009, pen and paper

KAREY KESSLER, An Invisible Scaffolding, 2008, ink on paper

RAY OGAR, Dream Map, 2009, pencil, ink, white conte on paper

DASH SHAW, Boney Borough Map from “Body World,” 2007, pencil and ink on paper

A series of meta maps in the exhibition reveal layers of self-reference. These maps of maps represent a more complex relationship to the signified territory as they chart a map before charting a place. An example is this drawing by Scott Griffith created by tracing roads, buildings, and other features seen outside onto the window of his office. In the image below, Griffith has photographed himself holding the book in which his map is printed in front of the map on the window beyond which exists the actual territory.

SCOTT GRIFFITH, Window map of Anchorage, 2010, marker on window

SCOTT GRIFFITH, Untitled photo, 2010, digital image

Beyond these general classifications, I’ve included a variety of works by artists using maps as a creative device. One of my favorites is Matt Lafleur’s The Grand Union. Visually, it is so far away from resembling a map, yet it reveals an essential part of the theme: when we view a map of a place we’ve never visited, the shapes may seem familiar but the actual identity remains well beyond our grasp. We know the basic layout, but haven’t yet heard the noises on the street, the smells in the air, or the dog barking in the distance.

Installation detail, Arcadia University Art Gallery, 2010. Photo courtesy Green House Media.

The exhibition begins with works focusing on some basic cartographic conventions. For example, points are used to visually plot specific locations, as in Marilyn Murphy’s notecard charting injection sites for her arthritis treatment. Lines, on the other hand, begin to reference a journey from one point to another as seen in John Hutchison’s drawing of his commute from Grand Central Station to his office. From here maps become more complex. The layers of information gradually increase as points become symbols, lines become roads, and roads begin to intersect. Eventually line gives way to the grid as seen in Perry Stiendel’s untitled drawing from 1965.

MARILYN MURPHY, Humira Injection Sites, 2005-2008, index cards, pencil, pen

JOHN HUTCHISON, Homage to My Commute, 2009, watercolor on paper

PERRY STEINDEL, Untitled, 1965, pen and pencil on paper

As an exploration of things more tangible, I couldn’t resist including some maps referencing the local territory, Philadelphia. Will Haughery’s map of his neighborhood, Fishtown, searches for a tangible line to represent the conceptual boundary of the area. Ryan Anderson’s map for a visiting friend reveals some common and not so common points of interest in the city.

WILL HAUGHERY, Boundary Line, 2009, micron and chalk on paper

RYAN ANDERSON, I’m Going to Work. Here Do Things, 2009, ink and crayon on paper

JENNIFER MCTAGUE, Map 10, Eastern State Penitentiary, from Adventure a Day Series, 2004, digital print

There’s even an interesting parallel between a map of Boney Borough, a fictional place Dash Shaw explores in his comic Body World, and Eastern State Penitentiary. The striking similarity is revealed by Jennifer McTague’s computer drawing where she traced her walking path while visiting the site in 2004.

MATT LAFLEUR, The Grand Union, 2010, cut paper and acrylic