Maps of the present and of the possible by artists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison
The exhibit“Global Mapping” consists of not just maps of the world as is, but also maps of how it could be and, how it should be. Eco-artists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison's 40-year body of work is highlighted in the current exhibit at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.
By Ashley P. Taylor
Often annotated by hand, some of the maps show how the rising temperatures and sea levels of global warming are predicted to affect geography—of Europe, of Tibet, and of the globe. Others illustrate the Harrisons’ proposals for changes in land use and city layouts to protect ecosystems.
Every project seems to involve a proposal of some kind. Initiated by invitation and commission only, the Harrisons’ projects are persuasive in a collaborative, rather than antagonistic, way, engaging governments, scientists, communities, and environments themselves. In “Force Majeure,” a series in progress, this proposal takes the form of a poetic manifesto for environmental stewardship in the 20th century, part of which is displayed in the gallery. The ‘force’ refers to industrialization and the global warming that has resulted from it.
The cartographic images of the exhibit arouse curiosity that leads to education—about geography and science—and, potentially, persuasion. Collections of related maps keep the eyes darting and the feet dashing back and forth from one map to the next for comparison purposes. Two maps are particularly engaging— displayed on the floor and related to maps mounted on nearby walls, viewers are welcome to walk on them. Like cartographic linoleum, Sierra Nevada: Adaptation (2011), part of the “Force Majeure” series, is an aerial photographic map of the California mountain range affixed to the wooden-paneled floor.
The Harrisons wanted viewers to be able walk on the map, according to the work’s caption, and also kneel to get a closer look at the mountains’ logging-inflicted swaths of khaki-colored baldness. Do so—zoom in the old-fashioned way—and tiny handwritten labels for each river, creek, and lake come into focus. Which side is east? Which body of water is Mono Lake? Consult the series of California maps on the wall, Meditations on the Condition of the Sacramento River, the Delta and the Bays at San Francisco-cartoon and first critique (1976–77) to find out.
A Vision For the Green Heart of Holland (1994–95) is a second ensemble of floor and wall maps that relate to a Dutch government plan which would have disrupted an area of villages and green spaces known as the Holland’s Green Heart. The Harrisons’ proposal for preserving the Green Heart inspired the Dutch government to protect the green space—morphing the Harrisons’ map of what could be into reality.
“Global Mapping” through February 8, 2014
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
31 Mercer Street
New York, NY