City Maps

Group Exhibition

Exhibition: Feb 5 – Apr 18, 2004

If given free reign to design a map of your city, what would it look like? Would it follow convention, mathematically plotting the relationships between streets and neighborhoods? Perhaps you would represent urban space more abstractly and personally. Rather than a purely geographic map, yours might be a mental map.

The artists included in City Maps have chosen the latter strategy. Erik Benson (Brooklyn, NY), Janice Caswell (New York, NY), Alex Lopez (San Antonio, TX), and Ruth Root (New York, NY) have created colorful guides that convey their feelings about a town rather than charting the space between one quadrant and the next. The works question whether the methodical graphing of space is any more useful than the depiction of what one might experience in it.

In the 1950s French theorist and artist Guy Debord began creating “psychogeographic” guides to Paris. Based not only on geographic markers but also on Debord’s experiences drifting through the city, they emphasized his reactions to urban space, not just what it looked like. Four decades later Frederic Jameson, one of America’s foremost postmodern theorists, hinted at the social potentiality of such ways of ordering the city in his essay “Cognitive Mapping.”2 He proposed that in the present phase of multinational (or late) capitalism there is a growing disconnect between “Wesen and Erscheinung, essence and appearance, structure and lived experience.”3 Mental maps help navigate the increasingly disjointed cityscape by asserting the importance of subjectivity and human experience. The artists in City Maps follow in Debord’s footsteps and have taken up Jameson’s task.

While geographic maps are rooted in physical proximity, the works in City Maps are grounded in the psyche. Benson, Caswell, Lopez, and Root each fabricate their understandings of the city by way of their emotional, temporal, and psycho-physical responses to it. They create links between memory, perception and physicality, simultaneously destabilizing notions about traditional maps and offering alternative ways of making sense of the somewhat bewildering contemporary landscape.

An example of that work is Discours sur les passions de l’amour (1957), which was included in Mapping, a 1994 exhibition curated by Robert Storr at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY which focused on the geographic map as an artistic motif.

2 Fredric Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 347-357.

3 Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping,” 349.


Alex Lopez

San Antonio, Texas, USA

Alex Lopez earned his MFA degree in sculpture from Alfred University, NY (1998). He taught at Trinity University and The University of Texas, both located in San Antonio before coming to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Lopez’s work is diverse, ranging from objects and videos to installations. His approach is that of scientist and anthropologist, observing, evaluating, experimenting and mapping spectacular moments and events. Alex’s explorations of social patterns during child development stages forces his audience to question the severity of compromise and conformity with an unsettling contradictory wholeness, as his work moves between factual and confabulatory narratives.

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Ruth Root

New York, New York, USA

Ruth Root (b. 1967 Chicago, lives New York) graduated from Brown in 1990. She received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993 and subsequently studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Solo exhibitions of her work have been presented at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, in 2015, and at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, in 2019. She was included in Greater New York, at PS1 in 2000, and in group exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Art, Columbus, the LA County Museum of Art, and the Seattle Art Museum, among others.

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Erik Benson

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Erik Benson makes paintings that are informed by fragments of urban landscape and culture that are found in the everyday. He is particularly attracted to imagery that is ubiquitous within an urban architectonic setting, in which elements of plasticity and temporality are depicted in a suspended state of in-betweeness. It is his intention that these elements incorporate a resonance of a special psycho-geography of place and placelesness that conveys the infrastructure (physically, psychologically, and conceptually) of an urban landscape. An urban sampling of fragment and space, that attempts to express something new about the spaces we inhabit.

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Janice Caswell

New York, New York, USA

Janice Caswell lives and works in New York City. She has had solo shows at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Savannah College of Art and Design, Schroeder Romero (NY) and Matteawan Gallery in Beacon, NY. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions at museums and galleries, including the Weatherspoon Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Marlborough Chelsea, ArtPace (San Antonio), the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Galerie Anne Barault (Paris). In 2017 Janice was awarded an Arts and Letters award and a purchase prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been a fellow at Yaddo, the Maison Dora Maar and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work has been featured in several publications including Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information by Manuel Lima and The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography, by Katharine Harmon.

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