Category Archives: TED

Creative Cartography and Maps of the Imagination

Maps are beautiful. The fusion of information, art and science creates a visual device for making sense of the world. Maps provide structure and so give confidence in the unknown, and it is this ability to bring order to chaos which many artists have translated metaphorically to narrate the imagination. Maps and data visualisation are two things that I really love, and this beautiful combination forms the subject of Cartograms –  a delicious bit of vocabulary which is defined by ‘A presentation of statistical data in geographical distribution on a map’, yum. Although it’s not very sexy, this website, Worldmapper, which is full of pictorial distortions of the world informed by statistical data such as population, imports/exports, language and disease – it’s facinating. In this post, I’m going to share the work of some of my favourite creative cartographers, exploring their personal interpretation of the mapping process.

Grayson Perry

Cross dressing Turner Prize Winner, Grayson Perry, is arguably most famous for his ceramic vases – classic, Greek inspired structures, decorated with a cacophony of complex surface techniques to create designs with brash statements. His work is mostly biographical has many times used maps to communicate his thoughts and emotions. Perry’s ‘Map of Nowhere’ is intended to communicate his thoughts on the life and death – “I was playing with the idea of there being no Heaven. People are very wedded to the idea of a neat ending: our rational brains would love to tidy up the mess of the world and to have either Armageddon or Heaven at the end of our existence. But life doesn’t work like that – it’s a continuum.”

The piece, which was inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, adopts a traditional cartographic style that is enhanced by Perry’s printing process during which ink is left on the plate. The circular composition encompasses key elements of Perry’s personal world; such as his alter-ego, Claire, and expresses his opinions upon society and religion. You can use the zoomable map here to explore it in more detail.

Grayson Perry - Map of Nowhere

BBC4’s 2011 Documentary ‘The Beauty of Maps” features Perry, among many other fascinating artists and cartographers, talking about his personal take on the idea of mapping belief –

Another one of his cartographic works, ‘The Map of an Englishman’ is an intricate illustration of an imaginary island as a visual metaphor for his own mind. Deeply personal and admirably honest, the map gives a true insight into the psyche and mindset of one of Britain’s most influential artists of our time. Within this work, Perry has cleverly manipulated the traditional components of a map to twist them into a metaphorical visualisation of his background, mental state and emotions – The brain shaped landmass features locations such as ‘Wishes’ ‘Sissy Wet Pants’ ‘Bitch’ and ‘Dreams’ all centred around a large dark patch of ‘Consciousness’ and surrounded by busy seas of ‘Schizophrenia’, ‘Delirium’ and ‘Anorexia Nervosa’.

There’s a great resource for seeing this map in more detail here.

Paula Scher

“I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about the world from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. These are paintings of distortions.” Paula Scher

Paula Scher is a powerhouse for creativity and innovative designs – her ambition and ability to turn her hand to any task makes her work incredibly diverse and consistently fresh, and this cross disciplinary attitude to creativity is something that I find inspiringly admirable. In her series ‘The Maps’, Scher applies her design and typography skills to the art of cartography, thereby creating vivid colourful maps which give a personal and opinionated view upon regions and continents. The painstakingly intricate maps are bursting with names, numbers and information from within a clever composition that manipulates the size, direction and scale of the type to form in an impressionistic visualisation of her opinions. Although the maps may appear geographically accurate, Scher insists that “They’re all wrong, I mean, nothing’s in the right spot. I put in what I feel like. It’s my comment on information in general. We receive a lot of information all the time and mostly it’s lies or slight mistruths.”

close-up of the map of China, by Paula Scher, with the densely packed names of the cities and towns (often written in a filled-in-outline style) making up the bulk of the painting

Detail from ‘China’ 2006

The World

‘The World’

2007-12-15-00Tsunami.jpg

‘Tsunami’

‘Africa’

There’s a great interview with Scher here in the Huffington Post, in whish she discusses this series. You can also hear more about Scher’s excitingly diverse career in her 2008 TEDTalk, where she looks back on her career so far and emphasises the importance of play in creativity –

Yanko Tsvetkov

Helpfully more commonly known as alphadesigner, the proudly uncatagorised artist Yanko Tsvetkov claims that he is only limited by his imagination, a trait which, similar to all the other creatives in this post, allows for a diverse portfolio brimming ingenuity and a respectable moral attitude.

“I love honesty. If you try to mislead your clients or your public, you’ll have to do it on your own. Projects for social causes and charity get a special treatment. In contrast to my artistic philosophy, I think design is the perfect tool for making the world a better place. And yes, that’s a moral quest.” Alphadesigner

“Mapping Stereotypes: The Ultimate Bigot’s Calendar of Europe” is a brave project which represents Europe through the eyes of, among others, the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, the Vatican and Bulgaria, as well as other factors such as penis size and dictatorships. As you can imagine, these maps are brutally opinionated, often rather insulting, always intriguing, but ultimately hilarious. I defy you not to laugh.

World According to the United States of America

‘The World According to Americans’

‘European Penis size’

‘Europe According to Germans’

‘Europe According to the Vatican’

‘Europe According to Gay Men’

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The Beauty of Chaos – Fractal Geometry and the Science behind Jackson Pollock

Nature is incredible- it’s patterns and structures are the building blocks for the earth around us and inspire intelligent human design. The influence of nature can be seen in design everywhere, however discreetly or intentionally, and it works because it has evolved, it’s adaptable, it’s clever and it’s beautiful.

Naturally we have an eye for structure, rhythm, and pattern as it’s predictability comforts and reassures us. However sometimes structure isn’t immediately obvious- take tree branches for example- at first look growth appears haphazard and sporadic, yet this apparent randomness is repeated at different magnifications within the tree’s trunk, branches, shoots, and even the skeletons of its leaves. Chaos Theory, and its offspring fractal geometry is a branch of mathematics which provides evidence that this growth isn’t random, but is in fact controlled by a repeated geometric pattern  in a set of very specific conditions. This geometric repetition, which links to the Fibonacci sequence, creates a design in which patterns are repeated at various levels of magnification, and this can be seen in all kinds of nature’s formations – tree branches, blood vessels, flower petals and evencabbages! It’s not the sexiest of videos but stick with this one; it provides an easily digestible insight into a very complex topic!

Since he first splattered them out, Jackson Pollock’s ‘Drip Paintings’ have been a common face in the “But is it really art?” debate, many people questing his technical ability and criticising the work as childish, messy and pointless. But after careful analysis, physicist Richard Taylor has proved that Pollock’s controversial works are in fact made up of a fractal design, containing a repeated structure of patterns which have been formed by Pollock’s natural swinging motion that he performed whilst dripping paint. His continued research lead Taylor to create a ‘Pollockizer”- an instrument designed to mirror Pollock’s working swing and essentially replicate his paintings.

The precision, beauty, and functionality of fractal geometry provide perfect inspiration for modern design. In his TED talk, Designer Ross Lovegrove’stalks about how his work is inspired by  forms within nature to create organic design which is as functional as it is beautiful.

It seems that whether we realise it or not, the fractal geometry surrounds us in it’s natural state, in inspired human design, and also in accidental artistic expression caused by our inbuilt natural rhythm. So keep an eye out for it, it might just inspire something incredible.

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Cymatics – Visualising sound, the Patterns of Nature

Following on from my last post ‘Kinetic Typography and Synesthesia in Art and Design’, I’m venturing a little further into the world of sound visualisation by looking at Cymatics – the fascinating and beautiful study of the patterns created by sound vibrations. I first came across Cymatics at the fantastic ‘Shadow Catchers‘ exhibition at the V&A Museum, where (camera-less) photographic artist Susan Derges exhibited her 1985 series “Chladni Figures”- a series of photograms (camera less photographs) produced using a process pioneered by Ernst Chladni, in which photographic emulsion sprinkled with carborundum powder is exposed to sound waves at different frequencies. The vibrations of the frequencies creates intriguing, natural symmetrical patterns which are captured in a still image by the photogram.

Evan Grant‘s brilliant TED talk ‘Making Sound Visible Through Cymatics’  is a concise yet deeply informative insight into Cymatics, discussing both practical uses and artistic qualities. Evan was the organiser of the TEDx Education Revolution which I spoke at in September and I was lucky enough to be coached by him to prepare me for my talk. He’s a really great and guy and his company, Seeper, an Arts and Technology Collective who specialise in interactive design, are always throwing themselves into exciting and adventurous new tasks in order to “capture the essence of experience”. Up to the minute with technology and design, they do some truly “wow” things, it’s well worth checking out what they’re up to.

Visual representations of sound can be seen in other media too, for example, take a look at this slo-mo footage of a water droplet at 100hz-

Or this QI feature showing the effects of putting a corn flower and water mixture in a speaker cone, quite incredible!

So, from beautiful symmetrical patterns, to strange wriggly Morph-like substance, these experiments really go to show that sound can intrigue more than one sense.

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Taking the stage at TEDx London – The Education Revolution

Back in September 2011 I had the incredible opportunity of taking the stage at TEDx London’s Education Revolution– a special event held at the Roundhouse in response to Sir Ken Robinson’s influential TED talks, bringing together those who can help to put Sir Ken’s ideas into action. I spoke about the importance of vocational education as a route to a career (particularly within the creative industries) and drew upon the industry based experiences I’ve had working with the Ideas Foundation. My fellow speakers included Sir Ken Robinson, Jude Kelly, Scott Snibbe, Ken Spours, Geoff Stead, Dougald Hine and Dan Roberts – it was an honour to share the stage with such incredible minds.

You can see my talk here-

Click here to see videos of all talks from the event and here to see the event’s photostream on Flikr. Also, be sure to take a look at Oliver Quinlan’s fantastic live blog of the day here.

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