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The Myth of Cartography

These works were exhibited as part of the 'CABINET' exhibition held at The Peninsula Arts Gallery. Plymouth University. 2011

Culturally and personally, the museum is a place where we can search to find out about ourselves. In a very real sense we construct our identity from these encounters.

As we discover knowledge so we also discover ourselves. The whole process is akin to map-making. Our attempts to 'understand' are similar to the plotting and charting that is involved in map-making. We are apt to forget how our directions and destinations are shaped by the maps of our past. In the museum we give names to individual artefacts just as we name places. We give them locations that relate them to other places on the map of knowledge. We chart the connections between them, like trade routes or weather systems. We map whole continents of understanding, and organise them in relation to a larger geometry so that we might finally see who we are. Whether we are within the museum as scholars, keepers of collections, or curators, or whether we are visitors from outside - we are all authors of our own maps. We are all practising cartographers.

But there is always more to be mapped. The destination we hope to reach always remains in uncharted waters. We have a basic desire to complete our maps, but we know that the task is impossible. There is a myth right at the heart of the idea of cartography.

Using this metaphor of cartography I developed two drawings (one as a 'retrospective guide or map' for the other). During the voyage I discovered many places - How Cook sailed from Plymouth to chart unknown territories, how his ship was poetically named the Endeavour, how works of art, such as the 15th century painting by Antonello da Messina's of 'St Jerome in his study' can serve as the archetypal symbol of this whole condition, and how individual artefacts within the collection, such as a preserved octopus, a 'spirit jar', or the museum building itself, all reveal the presence of the myth of cartography within our basic understanding of ourselves.

The two drawings represent my own endeavour to come to terms with this myth. The first drawing is a map of the second: the second aims to transcend the myth entirely through the activity of drawing itself. Also, as one of the numerous allegorical layers within the drawing, there is the text 'The Myth of Cartography'.

In addition, as a complement to the above works, and as an article set within the exhibition catalogue, there is the short essay entitled 'Cabinets and Cartography'.