MEANING IN ART: 21st Century Cartography: Dialectic Map-making on the Surface of Culture

The Cartographer's tool box
Cartography (from Greek chartis = map and graphein = write) is the study and practice of making maps. Combining aesthetics and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

When Aaron Berger first started his collage works for the Cartography series, he set very few expectations on what the work would become, saying he had “no destination in mind but knew their identity would come from outside of the piece”.  The series of 18 works was completed during a 2 week artist residency at 17 Cox in Beverly MA and is currently on display at Marblehead Arts Association.  During this relatively quick period of time, Berger left vital room for the slow growth and maturity in the series of works by encouraging random viewers to critique, collaborate and engage in other dialectic strategies.

Berger in his studio
Initially, Berger set out to use a series of maps as the staging for his collages, both aesthetically and thematically.  Aaron balanced his composition through the addition and subtraction of collage elements, layering new materials and then digging through the landscape with an X-acto knife or sandpaper.  Berger layered hand-dyed paper, maps of trading routes between ancient civilizations, clippings of typography and sections of the daily New York Times, August 27 - September 1, 2011.  He then removed what was deemed unnecessary, whether by his own aesthetic judgement or through peer critique.

The addition of text and print contributed the weight of current events, but when the composition became too heavily pop culture or political, Berger sanded or cut down through these layers to return a balance to the work.  Too often we think of the aesthetic balance of a work and overlook what could be called the connotative balance: the leveling of culturally or emotionally charged iconography.  Too much  sensational imagery or text can disturb the balance of a work.  The Cartography series is not just a negotiation between vibrant colors, rhythms and shapes, but also loaded subject matter from magazine and newspaper clippings of Hurricane Irene, the Arab Spring, the recession et al.

King Weeps2011
Collaged newsprint, Coloraid
and hand-dyed paper on panel
18 x 9.5”
Regarding map-making, cartography is the study of the different ways humans model our world, a process altered by current events.  Map-makers create visuals to articulate the distances between points, and Berger has begun plotting the emotional and aesthetic differences that mold our perceived sociopolitical boundaries.  In effect he is creating a map of time and content, instead of just location.   In it’s most linear form,Berger’s compositions connect separate social phenomena with visual reference points, read: roads.

Berger trusts that the collaborative, dialectic and often off-road process is inherently beneficial because a map is a tool that seeks to communicate borders between social and cultural realms, something not easily done without the knowledge base of others.  Rather than traveling down roads that he already knows, Berger and his collaborators blazed new trails and found broader ways of connecting current events than any could do alone.