Cartography

Today I attented a meeting between the researchers and the designer of the upcoming cartography exhibition, where the overall plans for the exhibition content and layout were finalised. The three main focuses of the exhibition will be the mapping of North and East Greenland in the early 20th century Danmark-Ekspeditionen in the Dronningesal montres; the science and beauty of especially geological maps at Udlånsbroen; and the oeuvre of Danish pioneer H J Rink. In addition to this, photograps and unique historical maps will be on display in the older parts of the royal library.

Following on from this, I spoke to one of the researchers to get his perspective on the underlying story and relevance of the exhibition. And it was great to witness his enthusiasm for cartography, to hear about the fascinating mix of science, art and perception that makes up the discipline. So for him, clearly, that was the story that needed telling.

In this perspective, the maps and stories from North East Greenland are little more than instructive illustrations of this point. And yet, because of the full blown drama of the expeditions, the extremities of the landscape and the beauty of the hand coloured maps that represent them, this content is a valid story to tell as well. In fact, my immediate guess – based only on my limited knowledge of the plans for the exhibition so far – is that this story line will have the more immediate appeal to the public, or at least be more visible at a glance, because of it’s great narrative and helped along by the arctic animals on display and the national interest in the region’s history.

So there’s two tracks that could be explored in the online iteration of the exhibition. One which focuses on North East Greenland and the cartographic expeditions, and one that seeks to engage the visitors in the history of cartogaphy and the complex nature of maps. Perhaps it is possible to merge or combine the two online as is the intention onsite, or perhaps it would be more fruitful to tone down one aspect, to allow for the other to be unfolded in more detail and in other ways than are possible in the physical exhibition.

At this point, I am most drawn to the cartographical focus. Partly because I have already been persuaded by the fascinating implications of the seemingly simple question ‘ What is a map?’, and partly because I think it holds more potential for this project. Whereas the stories from Greenland could be represented in a fairly straightforward (but beautifully crafted) ‘1.0’ website (this is, of course, not the only option, but the most obvious) and so be more an exercise in graphic design and information architecture, the other calls for more innovation in terms of how to engage the audience and how to express a more conceptual content.
Or, perhaps the thing to do would be to work on both in parallel. Not necessarily with the aim of combining them in one (fictitious) site, but in order to explore and illustrate two very different approaches to online exhibitions. Hmmm…. But then, would I end up spreading myself too thinly? Perhaps ‘develop’ one only to a sketch or principles stage, and then explore the other more fully? Ah, decisions, decisions, decisions. Enter iterative processes!

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4 comments
  1. Susana Tosca said:

    cartography… interesting! it is certainly a “digitally hot” topic, with google earth, virtual worlds like second life and what not. how are certain characteristics chosen to represent the physical world in different platforms, how do we read the conventions? how do we deal with abstraction and travel mentally in the represented spaces?
    the other option is more traditional storytelling, maybe it could also be done in more innovative ways than a support static website. I am reading a lot these days about sms novels, and because of the fragmented nature of the narrative of expeditions (in diary entries), this form could be really appropriate for time& space distributed narrative and could be done via sms, twitter, facebook, etc…
    hahaha, I always just give you more stuff to think about and never have a clear vision. 🙂

  2. rikkebaggesen said:

    Yes, it’s a great topic, isn’t it?
    And as for your suggestion, that’s a really cool idea. I had had the idea of a fictitious blog from Danmarks ekspeditionen in my idea-generation session, but you’re right about it being a great candidate for time&space distributed narrative and using other media, because it’s such a cliffhanger. Of course there’s some restrictions in the 140 units that may clash with the length of the original entries; I need to see if I can find Jørgen Brøndlund’s diary online and give that a ponder.
    Christopher, the researcher, gave me some titles on the wonders of cartography; if you know any good titles on the VW perspective (as in the philosophical implications of mapping a virtual world) please let me know as that could be a an interesting dimension to include (or it could be opening another can of worms, trying to cram too many things into the project, but I could always take a look and see if it’s relevant).

  3. Susana Tosca said:

    I will check my books about VW stuff, nothing obvious comes to mind but then again I am not big on that. 🙂

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