Denis Wood is an old friend who played an important role in nurturing The Paper Plant into existence in the early 1980s. He was an engaging and innovative professor during that tenure of his life, and now has turned his intellectual charms to the theory or philosophy of cartography, writing numerous books and just completing a lecture tour in Germany. His most recent publication, Everything Sings, is a book of radically different maps, illustrating his unique take on what a map can be and how it effects us. It is also a wonderfully quirky portrait of Boylan Heights, and the book’s success shows how interesting and important Denis’ work is, as well as how hot Raleigh is, and how treasured is that neighborhood in its history. The book cover, seen above, displays the location and carving pattern of Boylan Heights pumpkins on a Halloween. Pecan tree locations, utility services, and lot sizes all became subjects of innovative maps created by graduate students under Wood’s tutelage.
Denis spoke and presented this fall at the Boylan Ave Brewery to celebrate the publication of the book. It was well attended and Denis entertained quite well with the amazing story of how his book came to be – an interview for background information with Ira Glass for an NPR story on maps, his casual mention of a long term project with NCSU design students, and the subsequent segment of This American Life which brought the project to the attention of book publishers. The actual production of Everything Sings involved many winding turns, but now that it’s finally out, it is not only selling well, but been nominated for the University of Iowa’s The Essay Prize.
Denis is such a creative thinker and enthusiastic cultural worker. His talk presented small samples of the ideas in his major books – that maps represent not just a set of places but a representation of the way we think about places, if at all. Maps can take many forms, and the formats of our maps shape the way we think about the world. Maps can enhance, shift or corrupt our view of the world. We can also enlarge our sense of the world through creative use and creation of maps, and that is at the core of Denis Wood’s work.
The book that helped promote and elucidate these concepts on the national scene is The Power of Maps, his 1992 book, co-authored with John Fels, that helped literally turn everyone’s concpetions of maps upside down. Last year, they published the title pictured above, which updates and enlarges their approach.
Denis is continually sharing his ideas. His recent presentation at a conference called Mapping Maps: What’s New About Neocartography, in Seigen Germany, was part of a media studies program, and involved people working at what seems to this layman to be right at the edge of cartography: Geo-annotation, The Rise of Aerial Photogrammetry, Performative Cartography, Playful Cartography, and explorations of web resources such as OpenStreetMap. Denis was the main evening speaker and presented his critique entitled The Challenge to Neocartography Posed by Guy Debord and Kevin Lynch. His workshops in Frankfort shared his ideas on the nature of maps with graduate students, and in Liepzig he presented to traditional geographers about “A Place Off the Map: The Case for a Non-Map-based Place Title.”
All this was and is very interesting but I must confess my favorite stories from Germany were about the European flavors and customs, along with some delicious gossip about European academic politics. Denis provokes you to consider new ideas, but he doesn’t press them – mainly because he’s quickly on to some other new ideas – plus the ones you’ve made him think of during the conversation! He is a treasure, he is doing great stuff, and I hope you keep an eye out for him.
Siglio Press on Everything Sings:
Denis Wood has created an atlas unlike any other. Surveying Boylan Heights, his small neighborhood in North Carolina, he subverts the traditional notions of mapmaking to discover new ways of seeing both this place in particular and the nature of place itself. Each map attunes the eye to the invisible, the overlooked, and the seemingly insignificant. From radio waves permeating the air to the location of Halloween pumpkins on porches, Wood searches for the revelatory details in what has never been mapped or may not even be mappable. In his pursuit of a “poetics of cartography,” the experience of place is primary, useless knowledge is exalted, and representation strives toward resonance. Our perception of maps and how to read them changes as we regard their beauty, marvel at their poetry, and begin to see the neighborhoods we live in anew. Everything Sings weaves a multi-layered story about one neighborhood as well as about the endeavor of truly knowing the places which we call home.
That a cartographer could set out on a mission that’s so emotional, so personal, so idiosyncratic, was news to me. IRA GLASS, host of This American Life, from his introduction to Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas
Ira Glass interview with Denis Wood about Everything Sings:
Denis Wood website:
This book is featured on Places, the online journal of architecture, landscape and urbanism
The MUSA show at Cozart’s Antiques in west downtown Raleigh (just closed October 18th) was varied, intriguing and successful in presenting artistic takes on the issues behind the show’s concept – work and making things in the post-industrial age. The show was held in a back space which formerly housed a furniture factory. I have formerly described my personal connections to the space and its employees. I went opening night and then back for more pictures. There were a scattering of very interesting installations within this large show, and these were what I focused on.
One striking installation had some very cool craft history associated with it. Jon Barlow Hudson’s “Felt Hat Body” also offered a chapbook called “The Handmade Felt Hat.” I picked one up and found it, as a papermaker, a wonderful history of the craft and the culture surrounding it. There was also a beautiful accordion book by Kathleen Loeven on display, seen below.
The show was incorporated into its space in a unique way. Many trappings of the former furniture works were still in place – from commercial tin decoration samples to the old paint shop. One of the installations used spray paint and objects to evoke the history of the place’s paints. The large back room featured a working silk screen process as well as the installation of “Invisible,” the music group that played at the opening and other project events. Below, an Invisible member sets the pegs on the player piano wheel that provided some of the random sounds.
The artwork was extremely variable in style and quality. My favorite piece by far was a large contraption that hung clay “icicles” over a pan of water. As visitors pushed the lever that lowered them into the water, the blobs of clay were soaked and softened. Gradually they would slip off their strings and fall into the water creating an evolving pattern in the water. Below is a picture I snapped just after a young woman had been splashed by a sudden plop.
Another very fun piece was the shrine to highway US 1 by Dave Alsobrooks that was installed in a small side room. There was a church pew, a slide show of the artist’s road trip (whose imagery was “desaturated” for effect), and -best of all- a US1 bumper sticker which I have proudly displayed on my car! I liked the artist’s attempt to “find beauty in the mundane” and really like his description of the piece recording “the constant plodding of our human race towards an unknown future…”
The show was a lot of fun and thought-provoking as well. The gritty, down-n-dirty atmosphere provided an excellent setting for much of the art work. Carter Hubbard and Sarah Botwick are to be commended for finding a way to enlarge the possibilities for art events in downtown Raleigh.
Lee Moore and Nicole Welch conduct an afterschool program each year at Wake County’s Moore Square Museum Magnet Middle School. CAM, Contemporary Art Museum, has sponsored art programs associated with the school “since its first conception,” said Welch at the recent culminating event for the program. It was held at the Raleigh City Museum, which was the perfect venue. Amidst large images of Raleigh’s history, the young students got up in front of a good crowd of parents, friends and artsy fartsies like me, and described their efforts at coming to grips with the real history of Moore Square, essentially part of their schoolyard, and also the ways in which downtown Raleigh operates. They shared research photographs, artwork and tales about the urban history surrounding Moore Square. The Raleigh trivia game they conducted was a riot, and it’s clear that Lee Moore has found a wonderful venue for her wonderful mix of interest and talents. Lee has enriched the Raleigh art scene in so many different ways, with her music, her art, her studio, curating and promoting art through Rebus Works, participating in global art exchanges which have brought fascinating and important art workers into the area – and so much more.
Lee Moore, artist and educator, speaks at the Raleigh City Museum
Lucky kids. And lucky CAM, which has used programs such as this to maintain a presence and demonstrate viability during its long hiatus as a public space. Hopes are high with the new director, who says work to bring the West Street building up to code will begin soon. NewRaleigh just posted on the most recent design plans.
Below is the window display at the Raleigh City Museum in the old Briggs building on Fayetteville Street.
The visual products of the program are on display at several locations in downtown.
Way to go, Lee, Nichole, and Luke! hang in there, CAM!