The worlds biggest gallery of maps

[ Sun. Oct. 17. 2010 ]

Whats the connection between Kevin Kellys habits on the internet, Louise Bourgeoiss contented view of France, and Craig Venters genome?

They can all be represented as maps. And this weekend, they all were -- along with hundreds of maps of experimental art, of the worlds oldest-known words, and of the steampunk-and-superheroes content of BoingBoing.

Oh, and not forgetting dozens more maps celebrating this magazines fascination with data visualisations as a way of turning data into stunningly beautiful visualisations.

Let me explain. Over the weekend I took part in an epic project organised by our friends at the Serpentine Gallery in London -- the Map Marathon, a live two-day event at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington. It was the fifth in the annual series of Serpentine Gallery Marathons, conceived by super-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the gallerys extraordinarily energetic co-director of exhibitions, with gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones.

The Swiss-born Obrist, featured in Wired in February, was once called by Art Review "the art worlds most powerful figure". After seeing the impressive cast list for the two-day event, youll understand why -- with contributions from the likes of Anish Kapoor, David Adjaye and Gilbert & George.

In previous years, the Serpentines marathons have been curated around themes such as interviews and poetry. But this years theme was just up Wireds street (well, perhaps a short walk away up the A315): maps, in all their forms and beauty, from literal representations of physical landscapes, to abstract conceptualisations by scientists. The overall aim was "to challenge notions of art, culture, science, technology, and methods of public discourse and debate" -- and in that it more than succeeded.

From noon until 10pm on both Saturday and Sunday, there were non-stop live presentations by more than 50 artists, scientists, poets, writers, philosophers, musicians, architects and designers. There were also special collaborations with the Edge community and with the DLD conference community run by Steffie Czerny and Marcel Reichart, whose excellent events Ive written about here before.

On Sunday lunchtime, I shared the stage with Hal Bertram of ITO, the smart visualisers who worked with us on our "Data into Information" feature in Septembers issue of Wired. Our conversation was titled: When Data Meets Maps: How Datavisualisation is Changing the World. Hal showed some of our favourite visualisations, including examples of how OpenStreetMap was used to save lives after the Haiti earthquake in January, plus examples of how open data streams can be used effectively to visualise traffic flow.

Also up on stage were Wired friends such as Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen, whose work we featured a few months ago; and Aaron Koblin, who presented on "Re-Embodied Data: Mapping the Unseeable". But data visualisers were just one thread running through this constantly surprising event. There was Marina Abramovi? presenting on Body Maps; the writer Russell Hoban; and Marcus du Sautoy talking about Mathematical Maps.

One of my favourite panels was run by John Brockman, the literary super-agent who runs the EDGE community of "some of the most interesting minds in the world". Together with Lewis Wolpert and Armand Leroi, he presented maps submitted by members of the EDGE community. So we got to see Kevin Kellys internet; plus philosopher Eduardo Salcedo-Albaráns map of interconnections between Mexican drugs cartels.

That was followed by two strikingly contrasting but equally compelling sessions - C. E. B. Reas, the co-inventor (with Ben Fry) of the Processing software language, who explored the beautiful patterns it creates out of data; and architect David Adjaye, who showed some of the 35,000 photos he took in Africa.

Well done to the @WiredUK Twitter followers who got to go free of charge - the rest of you really will need to follow us on Twitter so you get early warning next time. And contragulations to all at the Serpentine for a rich and brain-expanding weekend.