No, I know it isn’t – though many people who live here evidently think otherwise – but on the first full day of the London Olympics it seems appropriate to re-visit Landon Mackenzie’s Vancouver as the centre of the world, a remarkable (and huge) work commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.
This may seem a world away from my current preoccupations, but it isn’t – in all sorts of ways. Robin Laurence described the work ‘as a complex metaphor of power, place and ethnocentricity, the painting throbs with meaning. Throbs with menace, too. Those wine-red splatters look a lot like blood.’
‘On first viewing, Vancouver as the Centre of the World looks abstract—an enormous red oval floating on a ground of blue-green and sandy-ochre stripes. In fact, the work is highly representational, its variously translucent and opaque washes of colour inter-layered with subtle forms and ambiguous lines. Alluding to the formal problems posed by creating a two-dimensional map of our three-dimensional planet, and the weirdly distorting cultural biases of cartographers past and present, the painting folds references to moons, satellites, time zones, Internet cables, shipping lanes and airline traffic into its teeming surface. It also focuses us on the geopolitical forces that shape our vision of the world.
‘“It’s about the creation of a complex fiction,” Mackenzie says, pointing to the midden-like heap of maps that went into the painting’s making. Oceans and landforms shift and merge, national boundaries are erased, and cities like Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Timbuktu rotate around the place that was once the end of the Earth.’
There’s also an excellent interview here with Didier Bigo, from Cultures et conflits, in which Mackenzie talks about her cartographic obsessions:
‘I liked the idea of this presentation because in reality all maps are a construction and a kind of fiction. In the late nineteenth century the Olympics became re-organized under nation states and so to erase national boundaries symbolically was a simple way of commenting on this relationship in contrast to most maps or globes which show a colourful spectrum of individualized territories.’
My own cartographic obsessions are rather different, as I’ll explain in another post, but I’m particularly interested in these marchlands between cartography and art. Alan Ingram’s more general work on art, geography and war – he explains the inclusion of the middle term here – is exemplary. In my own case, ever since I encountered elin o’Hara slavick’s “Bomb after Bomb” (see ‘Doors into nowhere’ in DOWNLOADS), I’ve been drawn to the work of artists who, like her, work to both reveal and subvert the spatial-visual logics that make possible the targeting that is the dead centre of military violence. I’m most interested in ‘aerial works’, and I now have a long list that includes Martin Dammann [the Überdeutschland series], Joyce Kozloff ['Targets'], Raquel Maulwurf, Gerhard Richter, and Nurit Gur-Lavy, and I’ll say more about them shortly. But if anyone else has others I ought to include, I’d be very pleased to know of their work.