Map  – 

Which Way to the Ocean?

I think of collages as poems. Both take existing elements—images, language—and piece them together in new ways. When working in either medium, I collect, collate, and layer data, much as a mapmaker would, and the resulting piece orients the reader or viewer, as well as the artist, toward or within an experience. So when I make collages, and when I am making poems, I am also making maps.

In the case of this piece, called Which Way to the Ocean?, I’ve used existing maps to create a collage that looks like a map. A map of a map of a map. When collaging, I work by hand with paper, scalpel, and glue. Collage, like poetry, is precise work, painstaking. Sometimes I cut things I don’t mean to cut. Sometimes I glue something down, then think better of it. Often I get glue where I don’t want it. I make messes. I embrace happy accidents. I look at what I’ve made and ask the piece what it’s saying.

Which Way to the Ocean? can be looked at from any angle—the arrow of land could be pointing any direction within a circle that has no top or bottom, no east or west. This is a map that disorients more than it directs. It’s familiar: The shades of blue and yellow, taken from an outdated world atlas, clearly signify water and land. It’s even possible to pick out recognizable place names. But when taken altogether, something is clearly off. This land mass is no known island. Or maybe, like the harms we perpetrate against the planet, we do know it but we’re loath to acknowledge it. Which ocean is this? Is this a dial we keep turning hotter? Is it the spinner from some sort of game we’re playing with the future of the planet? Which way is up? Which way is out


© Kathryn Smith