Recently I created a series of map art, using maps of Pittsburgh as the base. There is something completely fascinating to me about the physical shape of a city. I’m thinking of the shape you see when you look at a city map, or a satellite view at night. City contours, from this perspective, remind me of live organisms like lichen or sea stars, the way the roads reach from the center in all directions, with buildings popping up along them. When I think of a city as an organism of its own it forces people into a new light, too. If we are not the thing itself, then are we blood cells? Atoms? Years back, I was trying to put this thought into words. Here’s a piece of what I wrote:
We are pulsing through city arteries. New buildings rise with our pumping each day, resting in winter then greedily inhaling spring. We rush to work to push our crumbs or bricks or bits of paper here and there before the sun dips to the horizon and the millions of us again jam through the city’s blazing veins, the maze of dark canals through which we inexplicably find our way. Streets through which we do not pass wither and decay. The shape of the city organism thus dictated by a collective will of which none of us is directly aware. If we are sick, the city is sick. And with all of our exertions, over years, The City creeps outward, taking its particular shape, from small brown blotch to great, sparkling mold, becoming darker and more textured at its center, tentacles reaching further.
Living in the city, we see only the comforting tubes of streets in which we move, the honeycomb of apartments. But let’s move back further. From an airplane we get a sense of the vastness, but not always the structure of our organism. Step back further, to the moon and take a look at the city from there. An intricate brown fungus welded to Earth, spreading its ruffled rings slowly. Like an anthill or barnacle, it clings for dear life. It too is watered by rain and warmed by sun, can be battered by hurricanes or crippled by infection. It may, parasite-like, eventually choke the host. But at night its magic is revealed.
Though I’ve examined this concept through writing, I had never tried an exploration through art. Last month, serendipitously, I was contacted by a representative of Modern Map Art and asked whether I would like to write a review of their maps. They offered to send me a free map of Pittsburgh in any size of my choosing for me to write the review of. I asked if I could have three 8 x 10″ maps and create an art series out of them, they agreed, and that’s exactly what I did.
I highly recommend Modern Map Art prints to anyone. As you can see in the photo, they’re very attractive, with simple bold lines. You can really see the organic shape of your city. If I hadn’t created paintings on mine, I would have liked one just plain, to hang on my office wall and gaze at to try to understand the topography of Pittsburgh better. The paper is also nice and thick and was good for drawing on, in case you’re so inclined. I created three pieces of map art. One explores the city as plant life, another, the city as seen from space, and the third as a human heart. Take a look below.
Which piece do you think seems most true to the nature of a city? What do you think I should do with these? Thank you, as ever, for following Green Comma.