How it all works.

I'm trolling New York City collecting maps from flyers, government reports, informational brochures and such with the notion that all these maps will all somehow join together to create a complete map of NYC. The maps have to exist in real life- no downloads and cannot be rescaled or cut to fit.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How it all began

Very often people will come up to me in the street and say, ’Martin, how is it you started your map project anyway?’
‘Well,’ I reply, ‘let me bring you back to that chilly day in November when it all started.’ I straighten out an old half finished cigarette which I produced from my shirt pocket and light it, pulling deeply on the smoke and I begin. ‘You see,’ I say, ‘I was walking through Bed-Stuy with my girlfriend and our mutual friend Chela Edmunds when I saw an old restaurant menu lying on the ground. Now, rubbish on the ground is no rare thing in Bedford-Stuyvesant but this piece of rubbish had a little map which intrigued me at the time. The map helped illustrate to the viewer the exact location of the restaurant by showing a few blocks, the names of a couple of streets and an arrow, as I’m sure you’re familiar with. Following a habit I had observed in my father, I put the menu in my pocket.

The story, such as it is, may have ended right there at the pocketing of the menu had I not found a second menu a little further along the road. This menu was from a different restaurant than the first and although the menu had a map, it showed a slightly different area of town than the first, illustrating its different location. I found to my delight that when I put the two maps together they made a larger, yet contiguous area. I surmised, foolhardily that if one were to walk the whole length and breadth of the vast metropolis one may very well gather enough such maps to build a complete map of New York City.’

So The Great Map Project was born and I have talked about little else since, to the detriment of friends and strangers alike.

Early on I set some basic rules for the project. The first rule is that the map has to be an actual physical object; I can’t just pull Jpegs off the internet. This rule has eroded somewhat since many documents exist only as PDFs, especially in the current economic climate, paper being the price it is, environmental considerations and such (ahem). So I pull the odd PDF, but no Jpegs.

The second rule became important as I began to use Photoshop- no resizing, no cutting no nothing. You have to use the map as you found it and use the whole map, no cutting out the bits you need or stretching it so it will fit. Some people think I’m crazy for having this rule, it’s certainly made things more difficult but the authenticity is important.

I decided to begin at the beginning- Downtown Manhattan and I gathered a great swathe of maps in one swoop, in a month I had gathered maps from Bowling Green to NYU, although Tribeca took an eternity to finish and the Lower East Side is still shitty even now. So anyway I glued all these maps down to a 1 foot by 3 foot board imagining that this would be a sufficient size for at least Manhattan. The board was much too small and by gluing the maps down before they were all gathered I was unable to place maps underneath.

I started again and this time I loosely built the map on my bedroom floor. Breezes, pubes, dust and cat prints forced me to adopt my third and most successful method of organization. I bought a scanner, scanned all the images into my computer and played with them in Photoshop. The actual maps are now in folders in a drawer in my studio. I found that this is the best place for them when, a year into my project, in the very early hours of a frosty January morning my flatmate’s room caught on fire and threatened to spread to mine also. The only way out for me was a 30 foot drop into the alley below. After dressing, calling the Fire Department and my girlfriend I threw my computer down into a trashcan below. I put the physical maps into a suitcase with some books I had yet to read and threw that down too. Those were the only things I wanted to save. With my head out the window because my room was filled with smoke I thought about, what? I don’t remember. I remember feeling lonely.

The Fire Department came within minutes and put the fire out before it spread to my room. It looked for a while that the only thing I lost in the fire was the computer but the thing started right up when I finally summoned the courage to plug it in. Thanks Julian Dumont of Practical I.T. Solutions of Colorado Springs, CO for building such a marvelous, impact resistant computer.

So the map existed only digitally for a long time before I finally printed it out. Here it is on 72 pieces of  8.5 x 11 glued together with Pritt stick and hung with masking tape. It was on the wall for a long time when, while we were away in Spain, the cats tore it down chasing a house centipede. Lisa, the house sitter rolled it up as best as she could and left it on a bench in the studio. The cats tore it up and used it as a bed and then pissed on it. I threw it away.
So the project continues and I explain more later.