Representing Place

Experience, Traces, Imagination

Posted in student presentations by mjcaraccioli on February 17, 2010

The constitutive role of place in the formation of human identity is two-fold: first, the experience of place allows for a form of geographic self-understanding to emerge, through which human beings identify themselves in the spaces, places, and landscapes around them; second, through this same process, the idea of place also plants the seeds of desire for more places, where the individual and collective formation of a place can be read as part of the perpetual search for a place-to-be.

Paula Scher - Manhattan (2002)

Paula Scher - Manhattan (2002)

Political considerations aside, these two dimensions of place point to the complex tapestry of meaning that human experience constructs in conjunction with the imagination. The space-in-between these two facets of human life, their mutual condition of possibility one could argue, is best illustrated through the phenomenon of a trace.

Paula Scher - The World (1998)

Paula Scher - The World (1998)

As illustrated in the work of Paula Scher (The Map As Art, p. 163), there are multiple layers of experience and history that have coalesced to define our world and the places that today make up our own existence. These layers are often glossed over in the day to day workings of modern life, and indeed, it can be said that both geography and art tend to ignore the “overload of information” that has both defined their craft, as well as constituted their objects of study. Like a palimpsest of ancient texts and legends, however, Scher depicts modern life as overlapping with both the past and future. In her world, territorial states are mutually constructed through narratives of inclusion and exclusion, be it nationalism or zip-codes; today – in cities, classrooms, and even personal emotions – the negotiation between my meaning of a place and everyone else’s is often similarly constituted, where at times we like to highlight what is unique and different in our life and work, as opposed to addressing how it emerges from a continued conversation or exchange of ideas with the past.

Paula Scher - Africa (2003)

Paula Scher - Africa (2003)

What Scher ultimately allows us to see in her work is a way of “thinking spatially” about our local and global conceptions of place, where space is not the background against which “real” things happen, but rather the means through which meaning for these things is made possible. In this sense, she is not only concerned with elaborating a certain “sense” of place, but like Cézanne attempted over a century ago, Scher looks to reveal a certain “texture” of place that makes human life today more indebted to its past than to any sense of future it seeks to enact. Though this would be an infinitely easier task is we could readily see and document our traces on place through a history of our experiences, it would still ignore the complex way that places themselves leave their traces in us. At the very least, we’ve uncovered only the first layer.

Paul Cézanne - Mont Sainte Victoire (c.1880)

Paul Cézanne - Mont Sainte Victoire (c.1880)

For more on Paula Scher’s work and collaboration with other artists, please visit: www.paulascher.com

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