Sculptural Maps Tell the Story of Cities’ Darkest Moments

City maps are the tools of the modern urban explorer, but they also carry the scars of the history that helped create them. Matthew Picton, a British-born artist living in the United States, combines cartography and artistic intervention to illustrate defining events in a city’s past. Picton constructs sculptural city maps out of paper, book covers and other materials, then intervenes on the maps to visually represent the trauma of a particular past event in that city’s history. Each map is based on historical accounts of events and their damage. “The sculptures while fictional creations, are in part documentary records, the line of truth being firmly attached to the cartographic evidence,” Picton writes in his Fictional Perspectives of Urban History. In perhaps the most emotional work for a contemporary American audience, a burned out patch of paper and smoke covers the part of a map of Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center fell.

Lower Manhattan, New York City (At Toomey Tourell Fine Art, San Francisco, Calif.)
Lower Manhattan, New York City
But even Picton’s maps of more distant events, such as the London Blitz or the 1812 Fire of Moscow, tell a compelling emotional and geographical narrative, demonstrating the power of maps as storytelling tools. “The sculptures interweave the narratives of personal and public history and place them within the mapped framework of the urban form,” he wrote.
Four wards in London during World War II (At Toomey Tourell Fine Art, San Francisco, Calif.)
London 1940, Southwark
As Picton continues to expand the range of what he depicts in sculptural map form, including music and literature, he demonstrates the variety of ways in which maps can contextualize and enhance our relationship to other types of information. His latest show at Toomey Tourell Fine Art in San Francisco ends July 15.

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