DC Moore Gallery
Those who accept the veracity of maps may never see the world in quite the same way after viewing Knowledge: an ongoing fresco project by Joyce Kozloff. The series consists of 8 x 10 inch frescoes inspired by the inaccuracies found by the artist on early maps. Kozloff began by concentrating on the work of 16th century European cartographers during what is sometimes called the "Age of Discovery," though she has since expanded the scope of the series to include the work of Arabic, Chinese and Korean cartographers, as well as maps dating back to 150 AD. The series, begun in the summer of 1998, currently numbers over fifty panels and may eventually extend into the hundreds.
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Kozloff explains, "I really love the beauty, richness, and intricacy of old maps. The more you look at them, the more there is to see. They depicted everything, not just geography -- sea monsters, storms, trade, battles, settlements, agriculture, customs, flora and fauna. To me, they are endlessly fascinating records of their cultures."
The series roughly breaks down into several geographic areas: the New World, the Holy Land, Asia and Europe. Budding members of the National Geographic Society will make such illuminating discoveries as the maps dating from 1625 and 1696 which show the "island" of California distinctly separated from mainland North America and the 1661 map in which Japan is attached to Asia as an anvil shaped peninsula. Europe is generally depicted more accurately, though in one undated map, Italy is broken into a number of islands. "The maps represent the societies, biases, and knowledge of their time," says Kozloff. "I will paint a roomful of these miniatures to reveal the errors that were repeated for centuries and question the validity of any accepted beliefs. Fresco seems right for this art because it evokes an earlier era, that of the maps themselves."
Since the early 1990s, Kozloff has utilized mapping as a device for contextualizing her long term interests in history, culture, decorative and popular arts. Her earliest map pieces concentrated on cities known to her, onto which patterns and images were laid that reflected their past. Sometimes, she combined geographically distant metropolises that had been colonized by the same conquerors, indicating the linguistic and behavioral characteristics that were superimposed on them. Her second mapping series examined bodies of water, beginning with great rivers and their tributaries, into which narrative episodes from related fictions were inserted, juxtaposing scenarios from more than one continent. Next, Kozloff created paintings based on nautical charts of the Baltic Sea, over which ribbons of human veins and arteries were floated, creating a fusion of disparate organic topographies. The works which comprise Knowledge: an ongoing fresco project are her most recent cartographic explorations.