Journeys and Voyages
by Michael DeVoll
I'm laying down in the back seat with my head on the armrest, my brother's legs resting against my arm. I can hear the radio, which Dad has up only just loud enough for him to hear; there is a baseball game on, but the signal fades in and out as we drive. As I look out the window, I can see the streetlights pass by — the rhythmic punctuation of darkness and light. We're on the nine-hour trip home from Grandmother's house. It's another annual summer visit and school will be starting again soon. I can remember many similar car trips as I was growing up. Trips to see grandparents, family vacations, moving to a new town (again). Part of this was the nature of my dad's job as a preacher. Part of it was the geographic nature of living in small towns for most of my childhood. But I can always remember Dad taking out the maps and drawinga straight line from where we were to where we were going. Then he would plot a route that was the most direct. That wasthe purpose of the map: to show us where we were, where we needed to go, and how to get there. These are all memories that were brought to mind from viewing the work of Vicki Ragan.
You Are Here
Ragan, a visual artist from Atlanta, Georgia, uses the map as the foundation for her work. Visitor's Center was an installation on view at HCP. This installation started as a dollhouse-sized diorama of a room covered entirely with maps. The wallpaper of the room is the Rocky Mountain National Park; a small framed picture shows a section of northeastern Colorado; the furniture is covered with states in the Mountain Time zone; the door is an aerial map of New Mexico. For the installation, Ragan photographed the back wall of the diorama and enlarged it into a single photographic print measuring 14' wide by 9' high. This image, loosely hung on the wall with grommets and nails, serves as a backdrop for life-size reproductions of the furniture, which have been decoupaged with the specified maps. The table holds the original diorama and a lectern is covered with the original Rocky Mountain National Park map.
Text on the wall gives you the background from which Ragan works.
My mother and I could never read [maps] without a struggle, and it drove my dad, a naval veteran, crazy. Mother would hold them upside down. I remember my parents driving along outside Wagon Mound, New Mexico, on vacation. They were lost, Dad was driving, and Mom couldn't read the map. He got so frustrated with her he just started screaming.
This informs you of the significance of the maps that have been used in the installation. The ashes of her parents' remains have been scattered in Rocky Mountain National Park; the park and her hometown of Greeley are both located on the map of northeastern Colorado; the other maps are from various family travels.
Scale in Miles
Ragan says maps have long been a source of "curiosity, aesthetic pleasure and emotional conflict." Part of her fascinationcomes from the paradox of the view they provide; at the same time "so concrete and real yet so abstract." She sees in her work a tension between "the undeniable history, autobiography, commerce, facts, things-and the mysterious or improbable myths, make-believe, intuition, dreams, poetry." In the installation, the colors of the maps have been made subtler through generations of reproductions. The words and other markings of the maps are texture until they are viewed on closer inspection. Then they take on the nature of lines on an aging person's face; you know that there are stories of a life there, but it will take time, memory and reminiscences to learn those stories. You can see the abstract miles of the journey made, but you have only an indication of the actual journey made.
Points of Interest
If you look for the core of artistic expression, it might be boiled down to the artist's exploration of her or his place in the world. Ragan has skillfully taken this idea and represented it graphically with the map. As individuals, I believe that we each search for our place in the world. The map can be used on both ends of this "journey." Before the journey begins, a map can help us know where we want to go and show us the best path to get there. Remembering that the map is only anabstract representation, however, reminds us that our plans may not be borne out in reality. After the journey is complete (or at least the most recent leg in an ongoing voyage), the map can serve as a souvenir; a reminder of where we have come from and the lessons we have learned along the way. Ragan has shown us a glimpse of the souvenirs of her journey while providing us with an evocative catalyst for our own memories of journeys past and expectations for voyages yet to come.
Michael G. DeVoll teaches video production and media literacy at a private high school in Houston. He recently began pursuing a M.Ed, in Counseling and should complete this leg of his journey in three years.