Art & Cartography

An article for the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, published by Elsevier Press. Download article.


Art has taken a distinct “cartographic turn” in the last century. This period represents a veritable explosion of artwork that takes on cartography in order to critique, subvert, and reimagine territory. Artists have made maps, subverted maps, performed itineraries, imagined territories, contested borders, charted the invisible, and hacked physical, virtual, and hybrid spaces. There are three loose groupings of important mapping impulses that have characterized the artistic appropriation of cartographic strategies, both literally and metaphorically, from the early twentieth century to present times: 1) Symbol Saboteurs: artists who use the visual iconography of the map to reference personal, fictional, utopian, or metaphorical places; 2) Agents and Actors: artists who make maps or engage in situated, locational activities in order to challenge the status quo or change the world; and 3) Invisible Data-Mappers: artists who use cartographic metaphors to visualize informational territories such as the stock market, the Internet, or the human genome. This article outlines and contextualizes these three impulses with numerous examples.