Related UCL Art Collection
Plan of London from Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1572)
The place of mapping in visual culture and the ways in which, possibly due to its functional usage, the history of map-making is often omitted from the history of ‘Fine Art’ seems to be a relevant topic of investigation for art theorists and historians after the postmodern moment. Through both my research and artistic investigations I have be interested in how maps, like other forms of visual art, reflect and are part of the visual language and socio-political landscape of their time. I was struck by the fact that contemporary maps – such as Google maps – contain a very different agenda in their systems of organisation than, for example, the Plan of London from Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1572) in the UCL Art Collection. Google maps are scientifically accurate in terms of geographical specificity, giving prominence and preference to roadways – and therefore cars – in their depiction of that space. The Plan of London, on the other hand, in the style of its time, is laden with iconography and depicts space and the buildings and waterways of that space as elevated, flattened objects from a birds eye view. This view is not an unintentionally incorrect rendering of perspective but instead reflects the meanings and functions of various parts of the city whilst conveying information on how these parts come together to construct the whole of London. I was especially interested in the placement of two or three small animals per field and boats at various points along the Thames. These figures, obviously, do not have any correlation to either (i) their actual size or spatial location or (ii) the actual animals or boats in the city.
Instead, they represent the presence of boat(s) or animal(s) at these points and their intrinsic significance to the ways in which the city lived and breathed in 1572. In comparison, most conventional A-Z-type street maps, which make up the majority of maps produced for contemporary cities, are incredibly alien schemata devoid of the buildings, people, animals, or even vehicles that make up the city space. Unlike the Plan of London, place and street names are emphasised in the A-Z, usually without any explicit reference to how they are used, by whom, or for what purpose. My map of the Thames, like the 1572 Plan, shows the usage of the river today through video.
Like the drawings of boats in the Thames on the 1572 map, the time- based images captured at various points along the river can only ever be representative and symbolic of the contemporary usage of the river.
These videos, through their depiction of contemporary river life in comparison to 1572, give the viewer some sense of the decline of the river as the major facilitator of commerce and traffic within the city. Each video is taken from a straight-on perspective yet placed in a birds-eye view map structure, much like an updated version of the Plan of London.