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Maps, mazes and landscape: how art can offer new perspectives on the physical environment

I recently completed a piece of work, Fault Line. We’d been playing around with copper and Verdi gris in the studio and the effect had a much higher contrast in the colours in this piece than I had originally imagined. The end result reminded me of cracks in a parched ground, or on a larger scale, fault lines that span lengths of our land, buried beneath our feet. It felt to me like a map of an unseen landscape, one that is hidden from our view.

The idea of a hidden landscape is something I come back to time and again. In much of my mixed-media work, I allude to memory-landscapes - ephemeral, dream-like places that neither feel fully real nor fully imagined. I’m currently doing experiments with the works which are seeing me associate the works more closely with the landscape, looking at stone and moss as potential materials.

On a related theme, last year I worked on a project, Engramographs, which used maps as a way of locating and exploring memory as part of the landscape. Through my research I stumbled across Critical Cartography, which calls into question the power relations inherent (and largely unquestioned) in maps. We are asked to consider what is included - or excluded - from maps, who gets to decide, and what ideologies these inclusions or exclusions propagate. The practice of critical cartography frames landscape not just as a physical environment but a social and ideological environment too.

Charcoal map and snail painting on fabric voile
Engramograph on Fabric Voile by Anna Masters

These are ideas that I also play with in my social practice. One piece that I’m currently working on is based on mazes - which feels like an appropriation of maps in play. Instead of being situated within a physical landscape, this maze considers our social landscape and the cultural infrastructure that makes resources either accessible or inaccessible. There’s more to do here, but here’s a draft.

An impossible line maze
Social Mobility Maze by Anna Masters

So throughout this meandering practice I’m left with a number of questions. Are there different ways in which we can document our landscape in ways which feel more meaningful to the individual? How can we expose the fault lines in our social landscape? What does it mean to engage with the landscape in contemporary life? How do we interrogate the assumptions that we make about our physical and cultural landscape in order to create a place that feels like home?

The lived experience of landscape - and the legacies we leave on our physical environment - are increasingly becoming a focus in my practice. As the landscape changes around us, we are able to explore sites anew, to find new ways of navigating, to create new maps in our imagination. We are all explorers. So with that in mind, where to next?

Let me know. x

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