August 20, 2012

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought at CaixaForum Barcelona

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought at CaixaForum Barcelona
Curator: Helena Tatay
Through 28 October 2012

CaixaForum Barcelona presents works created in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by artists that explore and question systems of representation

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought is a major exhibition, presented by CaixaForum Barcelona, featuring cartographies drawn up by twentieth- and twenty-first century artists who explore and question the systems of representation that humans have used for centuries as a way of understanding the chaos that is life.

The exhibition, organised and produced by ”la Caixa” Foundation, pursues one of the organisation’s long-standing goals, that of  helping to increase the capacity to generate knowledge and awareness of the most recent art whilst fostering greater understanding of contemporary creativity and breaking down the barriers that often prevent such art from reaching wider audiences.

To this end, the Foundation’s cultural programme focuses particularly on the most recent artistic manifestations, both in the exhibitions it organises – including such recent shows as  The Cinema Effect. Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image; Displaced Modernity: Thirty Years of Chinese Abstract Art and those devoted to such artists as Hannah Collins, Omer Fast and Pierre Huygue – and in the acquisition policy followed with regard to the Contemporary Art Collection. 

The ”la Caixa” Contemporary Art Collection is formed, at present, by more than 900 works by some of the most important artists of the last 30 years. Today, this collection is unquestionably a reference in the art world, as is demonstrated by the fact its works are regularly requested on loan  for exhibitions all over the world. Moreover, the Foundation organises frequent  exhibitions at its CaixaForum centres, as well as travelling shows that tour Spain, Europe and the rest of the world.

In order to further intensity its cultural activities, moreover, ”la Caixa” Foundation also establishes strategic alliances with major museums around the world, such as the Louvre and the Prado. This line of action also includes the agreement between ”la Caixa” and MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) Foundation to jointly manage their respective contemporary art collections, establish a coordinated acquisition policy and co-produce exhibitions based on these collections.

In this latest presentation of contemporary art works, ”la Caixa” Foundation takes a universal concept as the starting-point: the human need to understand and represent the world around us.

The central aim of this exhibition is, therefore, to explore the ways in which contemporary artists have used cartographic language to subvert traditional systems of representation, propose new formulas or  suggest the very impossibility of representing a globalised, ever more chaotic world.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought features more than 140 works, including installations, video installations, paintings, drawings, projections, digital art, maps, etc., from a wide range of institutions and galleries, such as MOMA, the Pompidou Centre, Museo Reina Sofía, IVAM, MUSAC, MACBA, Fundació Joan Miró, the Hirshhorn Museum and ”la Caixa” Contemporary Art Collection itself.

We map our world in order to gain a glimpse of the reality in which we live. Since time immemorial, maps have been used to represent, translate and encode all kinds of physical, mental and emotional territories. Our representation of the world has evolved in recent centuries and, today, with globalisation and the Internet, traditional concepts of time and space, along with methods for representing the world and knowledge, have been definitively transformed. In response to this paradigm shift, contemporary artists question systems of representation and suggest new formulas for classifying reality.

The ultimate aim of Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought, an exhibition that seeks to draw a map formed by cartographies created by twentieth- and twenty-first century artists, is to invite the visitor to question both the systems of representation that we use and the ideas that underpin them.



Joaquín Torres García, América invertida, 1943.
© Joaquín Torres García, Museo Torres García


The exhibition, organised and produced by ”la Caixa” Foundation, is comprises more than 140 works in a wide range of formats - from maps and drawings to video installations and digital art - on loan from the collections of several major contemporary art galleries. The artists represented include such essential figures as Salvador Dalí, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein, Gordon Matta-Clark, Richard Hamilton, Mona Hatoum and Richard Long, shoulder-to-shoulder with a roster of contemporary artists, including Art & Language, Artur Barrio, Carolee Schneemann, Ana Mendieta, Erick Beltrán, On Kawara, Alighiero Boetti, Thomas Hirschhorn and Francis Alÿs, amongst others. Finally, the exhibition is completed by a series of revealing documents drawn up by experts from other fields, such as Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Lewis Carroll and Carl Gustav Jung.

oyvind_fahlstrom_artwork Öyvind Fahlström, Column no. 2 (Picasso 90), 1973.
Photograph: Alexander Hattwig, Berlin

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: The artists whose works are featured in the exhibition are:

Ignasi Aballí
Francis Alÿs
Efrén Álvarez
Giovanni Anselmo
Art & Language
Zbynék Baladrán
Artur Barrio
Lothar Baumgarthen
Erick Beltrán
Zarina Bhimji
Ursula Biemann
Cezary Bodzianowski
Alighiero Boettti
Christian Boltanski
Marcel Broodthaers
Stanley Brouwn
Trisha Brown
Bureau d’Études
Los Carpinteros
Raimond Chaves & Gilda Mantilla
Salvador Dalí
Guy Debord
Michael Drucks
Marcel Duchamp
El Lissitzky
Valie Export
Öyvind Fahlström
Félix González-Torres
Milan Grygar
Richard Hamilton
Zarina Hashmi
Mona Hatoum
David Hammons
Thomas Hirschhorn
Bas Jan Ader
On Kawara
Allan Kaprow
William Kentridge
Robert Kinmont
Paul Klee
Yves Klein
Hilma af Klint
Guillermo Kuitca
Emma Kunz
Mark Lombardi
Rogelio López Cuenca
Richard Long
Cristina Lucas
Anna Maria Maiolino
Kris Martin
Gordon Matta-Clark
Ana Mendieta
Norah Napaljarri Nelson
Dorothy Napangardi
Rivane Neuenschwander
Grayson Perry
Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Vahida Ramujkic
Till Roeskens
Ralph Rumney
Edward Ruscha
Carolee Schneemann
Robert Smithson
Saul Steinberg
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Willy Tjungurrayi
Joaquín Torres García
Isidoro Valcárcel Medina
Adriana Varejao
Oriol Vilapuig
Kara Walker
Adolf Wölfli


Art & Language. Study for Index: Map of the World, 2001.
Acrílico, lápiz y Tipp-Ex sobre papel

The exhibition, which opens with reflections by the cartographer Franco Farinelli and ends with an interview with the philosopher Alexander Gerner, also features several eighteenth-century manuscript maps from the National Library. Moreover, some sections also feature dialogues between contemporary artists and outstanding experts from other fields, such as  Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Carl Gustav Jung and Lewis Carroll.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Physical, mental and emotional territories

Humans have always needed to design and build structures in order to understand the chaos that is life. Maps break down  reality into fragments, enabling it to be presented in the shape of tables. In this way, we translate and codify, not only physical space, but also knowledge, feelings, desires and life experiences. 

Representing the Earth on a plane, projecting a three-dimensional object in two dimensions, was an astounding transformation. This  process enables us to grasp the idea of space, which has shaped European  thinking. As the geographer Franco Farinelli notes, since the beginning of European knowledge there has been no other way of knowing things except through their image. It is difficult for us to go beyond their appearance, their representation.

In the seventeenth century, classifications and phenomena began to be drawn on a plane. Mapmaking knowledge was combined with statistical skills. In this way, data maps emerged, helping to visualise knowledge and converting it into science. A century later, linked to the colonial expansion of certain European countries, scientific cartography came into being.  At the same time, maps of emotions began to appear in French salons hosted by women. Since then, maps have been used to represent and make visible physical, mental and emotional territories of all kinds.

In the twentieth century, technical advances such as the airplane and photograph, which enabled reality to be reproduced exactly, wrought changes in the way the world was represented. Moreover, non-material communication – the telegraph and the telephone  – caused the “crisis of space” that was so ably reflected by the cubists.

Internet finally dispelled all traditional concepts of time and space. The contemporary space is a heterogeneous space. We are aware that we live in a network of relations and material and non-material  flows, but we still do not possess a model to represent this invisible network. We live in tension between what we were and can think and these new things that we are unable to represent.

This exhibition explores a theme that has unattainable ramifications. Based on art (a microspace for freedom in which models of knowledge can be reconsidered and redefined) it proposes a map – arbitrary, subjective and incomplete, like all maps – of the cartographies formulated by twentieth-century
and contemporary artists. This map invites us to question the systems of representation that we use, and the ideas that underlie them.


Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Cartographic language

The reduction of the Earth to a two-dimensional graphic image constituted a technical and cultural revolution. It enabled gradually built up knowledge about the territory to be transmitted whilst also, acting as an interface between us and the world, it changed our relationship with reality and helped to shape and inform European knowledge. 

In order to represent the world and other things, we project them onto the abstract space of geometry, which takes no account of nuances or qualitative differences between places. In this process, the geographic space takes on the properties pertaining to its material  support, the map. As Karl Schlögel points out, there can be nothing that resembles a correct figure on cartographic maps; the map’s rectangular coordinates iron out the world’s wrinkles.

michael_baldwin_and_terry_atkinson Art and Language, Michael Baldwin and Terry Atkinson,
Map of itself (Map of an area of dimensions 12" × 12", indicating 2,304 1/4" squares), 1967. MACBA Collection. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona Consortium. Philippe Méaille Collection.

Cartographic language translates the world’s reality. However, like all languages, it imposes its rules and establishes limits. Representation transforms the chaos of the world into its opposite, a logical space. 

Since the early-twentieth century, countless artists, like the Surrealists, have played with the cartographic language. Lewis Carroll, Art & Language played with cartographic grammar. As well as artists like Stanley Brouwn or Artur Barrio turning its logic into something apparently absurd.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Types of space

Knowledge of the space, reflection about its nature as collective representation and the need to classify and define the different types of spatial representations; these are all characteristics of our time. 

edward_ruscha_artwork Edward Ruscha, 9 to 5, 1991
”la Caixa” Foundation Contemporary Art Collection
© Colección Arte Contemporáneo Fundación "la Caixa"

The idea of space, which shaped European knowledge, has impregnated all the realms of our thought. We speak of personal, public, symbolic and many other types of spaces. Space is, today, the metaphor that is most often repeated in our discourses. This is, no doubt, because we feel that, through space, we free ourselves from the linear nature of language and writing. In it, thought finds expression for its plurality and dynamism. 

Michel Foucault defined the transformation of the notions of time and space through the idea of “other” spaces, which are neither here nor there: the telephone call or the Internet space, as well as the mirror space and the sound space. Non-material communication has changed our notion of time and space. Little by little, we find different forms in the time-space relationship in the images around us.

This section contains works by artists in which space and time are linked in different ways. There are social spaces outside time (Constant), countries of the mind (Evru), displacements of mirrors (Robert Smithson), invisible spaces (Giovanni Anselmo), empty spaces generated during the running time of a film (Hiroshi Sugimoto), sound spaces (Milan Grygar), a million years organised in just one space (On Kawara) and many more.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Social and political cartographies 

Far from being merely descriptive, maps impose a structure on the world, describing it in terms of power relations and cultural practices. In the modern period, topographic and data maps have played a very important role in the constitution of nation-states and empires.

Topographic maps, which reduce the world to a single plane, provide an “ideal” space in which the modern territorial state and its colonialist policies draw straight lines: the former, drawing borders in an abstract way, the latter – railway lines and roads – to cross it and increase the speed at which goods are exchanged.

Whilst we continue to hold the same idea of territorial space, processes of globalisation have decreased spatial barriers. Moreover data on patterns of activity and planetary capitalist relations –capital flows, business concentrations and their geographical and political ramifications– are so abundant that we are lost in a mire of information. We experience complex perceptions. Immersed in world markets for material goods, messages and migrants, we need to delimit and define the singularity of the territory we inhabit. The states need them in order to express a distinctive cultural value, and we, in order to feel and construct our own identity.

Through critique of the geographic discourse, some artists question the existing political and social order. Others attempt to make sense of the vast quantity of data on capital flows, power relations and political events, which are so difficult to understand, or organise diagrams and cartographies to make them visible.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Cartographies of the body

The body is our measure of the world. We use our bodies to perceive and delimit the space around us. We measure in feet and in palms, and we speak of celestial bodies or major arteries in the city.

richard-long_artwork Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, 1967.
Dorothee and Konrad Fischer Collection.

Throughout history, we can find countless examples of cartographic maps with human forms. The equivalence between the Earth and the body was developed socially in the eighteenth century as part of a new ideal for the representing the territory topographically. Romanticism, on the other hand, sought the echoes of its feelings and images of the self in sublime, disturbing nature. For the subject, the body-Earth equivalence is established by taking the body as part of the cosmic meaning of life.



Michael Druks, Druksland–Physical and Social, 15 January 1974, 11.30 am 1974 © Michael Druks. Photo: England & Co Gallery, London

In the twentieth century, the body-Earth fusion generated images of footprints in mud (Ana Mendieta), bodies marked on the map (Adriana Varejão) and traces of the body moving over the canvas (Yves Klein).

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Cartographies of experience and life

However, topographic cartography is always a drawing of a lifeless form that does not represent what moves and breathes, not the territory or city that is travelled over and experienced (Bas Jan Ader). When we move through the space, we break the fixed nature of the cartographic subject, which, by moving, awakens its emotions. Cartographies made by the body’s movement, as in dance (Loïe Fuller) or performance (Carolee Schneemann), draw evanescent maps of the space of representation in real time.

If we try to make a cartography of our life, having resource to memory, we will find a mixture of houses and cities, everyday occurrences and social events, fears and desires that fuse into an ethereal amalgam that resounds to the echoes of our relations. If we attempt to order this amalgam onto the linear time that governs the world or to draw it on a plane, we realise that the internal and external, personal and social limits that we establish to separate the human being from the world become porous or disappear altogether. In the maps that represent our lives there are no borders between what is perceived and what is felt, nor is there any distinction between social and personal territories.

That is why many artists infuse time lived into the spaces of common topographic maps (Grayson Perry, Zarina Hashmi, Guillermo Kuitca) or use ordinary postcards to record their everyday, repetitive movements (On Kawara). Other artists draw the landscapes of their inner journey in search of America (Raimond Chaves & Gilda Mantilla) or create an internal cartography of desolation by filming the empty places of extermination in Uganda (Zarina Bhimji).

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Cartographies of the intangible

Discarded by European rationalism and classified as esoteric, astrology, mysticism and occultism, amongst others, have been  sidelined for centuries, consigned to limbo by official culture, along with everything else that exceeds the limits of space and time and cannot be demonstrated empirically.

According to the esoteric philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the goal of knowledge is not to repeat in conceptual form something that exists, but rather to create a completely new sphere, which when combined with the world given to our senses constitutes complete reality. 

This section features cartographies that make intangible aspects visible. Here are structures whose dimensions are not always ascertained, and which map the vibrational, the suprasensitive, the multidimensional, the unconscious and dreams.

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought: Conceptual cartographies 

When we draw conceptual maps or diagrams, we are seeking to give structure to unresolved questions and problems. We order our formulations by drawing a logical plan of relations, with points of intersection, nodes, empty fields, connections and disconnections. In this way, we are able to articulate our thought, giving it shape, form, and making it visible.

The relations between ideas or things appear more clearly because we establish a dynamic and indicate the forces of change that are established between them. This, in turn, enables us to understand the effect of one on the other. Whilst topographic cartography is static, these maps record changes and transformations.  Conceptual maps made using images (and whose mythical origins in the art world are found in Aby Warburg’s  Atlas Mnemosyne) are tools that enable us to conceive of reticular relations and to construct new models of orders and senses.


Kris Martin, Globo terráqueo, 2006.
Colección Teixeira de Freitas, Lisboa, Portugal.
Courtesy of Johann König, Berlin; Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf.
Photograph: Ludger Paffrath, Berlín


The appearance of technological networks greatly boosted diagrammatic and reticular thought. Internet has accentuated the production and dissemination of knowledge, and interaction enables us to create new personal and collective realities. Today, we use conceptual maps and diagrams as tools to help us understand the complex transformations that take place in the world around us. At a time of accelerated change, technological innovation, urban metamorphosis, social transformation and political conflicts, we need new maps that can help us to visualise this transformation.

Curator: Helena Tatay

Contemporary Cartographies. Drawing Thought. Organised and produced by ”la Caixa” Foundation. The exhibition opened 25 July and is on view through 28 October 2012 at CaixaForum Barcelona (Av. de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 6-8).