Peripheral Landscapes: People, Gods, and Flora/Fauna

A collage of cutouts against a black backdrop, showing mythic figures like Greek gods and goddesses, figures symbolic of the four elements, angels, and merpeople

In 2015, Electric Objects put out a call for a net artist in residence to work with the New York Public Library Labs. Electric Objects was a company producing screens meant to show portrait-orientation art, whether still or animated. The prompt for the residency was to use old maps from the library's Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, which had recently been digitized and made available, to make work for Electric Objects displays. My proposal was to use only elements that were not part of the maps proper, but rather those that made up the context and ornamentation in the margins.

After searching for and extracting these elements, I sorted them into three collages presenting roughly: 1) people, 2) gods and other mythical beings, and 3) flora and fauna (whether real or fantastical). These marginal beings show how what would have been understood at the time as a scientific, neutral picturing of the world was culturally framed – literally, in this case. The ornamentations preserve traces of heliocentrism, an imperial colonial gaze, superstition, and more. They end up being more telling of the times than the cartographers could have ever known.

A collage of cutouts against a black backdrop, showing depiction of royalty, pilgrims, natives, people on horseback, and historical figures like George Washington and Queen Elizabeth
A collage of cutouts against a black backdrop, showing tropical plants alongside birds, fish, and other animals, some of which are depicted inaccurately or appear based on fantasy

In May 2015, Peripheral Landscapes was displayed on Electric Objects screens at the New York Public Library in the same maps room that the original maps had come from.