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Longitudes and Latitudes of Civilization

“Power is the ability to do work. Which is what maps do: they work.”


   The ongoing Festival of Maps: Chicago is a citywide celebration that joins more than 30 cultural and scientific institutions in a distinct collaboration, showcasing humanity’s greatest discoveries and the maps that record our boldest journeys.
    Imaginary Coordinates, opening May 2, is Spertus Museum’s contribution to the city’s Festival of Maps. Curated by director Rhoda Rosen, the exhibition will focus on antique, modern and contemporary maps of the Holy Land, primarily from the museum’s collection, juxtaposing them with objects of material culture and with the works of contemporary Israeli- and Palestinian-born women artists.
    From the time of modern debate, maps have become powerful tools of communication, and in contemporary art, map-works have erased the conventional cartographic lines to produce new configurations of space, subjectivity and power.  At the Spertus Museum, Israeli-born artist Shirley Shor breaks new grounds through a stunning installation of liquid architecture.
    In “Landslide” (2004), Shor mounts a projector on the ceiling and places a large box full of white sand on the floor. Onto the sand the artist projects loops of real-time animation generated by computer code, transforming the installation into a self-evolving system. Each sequence begins with 16 basic colors and thousands of tiny blinking color cells. In the process, a play of territorial domination occurs as the map created over the sand evolves. The blinking color cells conquer neighboring fields until only two colors remain and a new, unique sequence begins. The sand’s physical properties create an intense visual experience. A terrain of hills and valleys, veiled by constantly shifting fields of colors and borders, link the viewer to the topography of conflict, referencing the artist’s homeland. In her statement Shore writes, “I recreate space by constantly changing it.  I do so by injecting real time virtual elements into physical space and physical objects. The raw moments are a synthesis between the code and the territory.” And about impetus she expresses, “The motivation for attempting to make sense of space is coming from familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (I was born in Israel and moved to the States in 1997). This conflict is about territory and place.”
    Imaginary Coordinates offers a space to reflect, debate, and engage in civic dialogue. “The choice to include only women artists is not insignificant,” Rosen told Chicago Life. She argues that through conscious strategies of disidentification the artists featured in her exhibit deliberately disturb axiomatic categories. She explains that the historical maps in the Spertus collection were produced by men only, and therefore, including contemporary women artists counters and loosens that historical reality.
    The works in Imaginary Coordinates translate ideas of past, present and future. The translating artists become authors of personal visions, and the map-works delineate desire, human intention and hope. For archeologists, maps are tools for discovery into the past. This month is marked by the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad. Today, regrettably, maps are being drawn by archeologists to convey destruction and loss.
    Iraq—ancient Mesopotamia—is the cradle of civilization, the region that invented writing, the calendar, the wheel and the concept of cities. The history of our world began in Mesopotamia, and hence, the loss of its cultural patrimony is humanity’s loss.
    From April 10 to December 31, the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago is presenting an exhibit entitled Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past. Archaeologists involved with the exhibit include McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago professor of Mesopotamian archaeology, Geoff Emberling, director of the Oriental Institute Museum, and exhibit co-curator, Katharyn Hanson. The exhibit focuses on looting and damage to archaeological sites. On view are dramatic photographs, including recent satellite images that show illicit looting and destruction of sites. Visitors can learn about the routes that looted artifacts take from Iraq to art markets around the world and where seizures have been made. The Iraq Museum, five years later, is also highlighted with information on the progress of recovery efforts.
    The curators expound on the threat of war, combat damage and significant construction damage caused by the U.S. military at important sites including Babylon, Ur and Samarra. They also examine what efforts are and can be made in order to stem the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq, on local, national and international levels. 


Published: April 06, 2008
Issue: 2008 Spring Green Issue