Andrew Turgeon- Sensory Cartography

Andrew is a National Geographic Intern with NG Competitions. He is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the honors College at the University of Vermont with a degree in Geography and Latin American studies.  Andrew conducted thesis research in his hometown of Bennington, Vermont on the intersection of teen identity, public engagement and the rural experience. We are excited to kick off the Blog-a-thon with his post about a very special kind of mapping… enjoy!

The crispy crunch of fall leaves below our Converse sneakers. The cooling taste of watermelon on a hot summer day.  Those weird smells that waft into our nostrils. These experiences all make up our ‘Sensory Cartography,’ the mapping of our world through the five senses.  Inspired by this delicious, loud and sometimes stinky method of mapmaking, I present to you a tasting sample of sensory interpretations.  From a critic to an illustrator to an electromagnetic induction artist, these three individuals creatively reveal how the discoveries and explorations of geography can occur right beneath our very noses. Literally.

image_turgeon_3.jpgJonathan Gold Eats Pico Boulevard
Jonathan Gold is LA Weekly’s restaurant critic and 2007 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism – the first ever restaurant critic to win the award.  Like the city of L.A., Gold’s love of food is sprawling and diverse.  In his early twenties, Gold attempted to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard in L.A during one year. Passing through Japanese, Persian, Central American, Jewish, African-American and Korean neighborhoods, Pico Boulevard is a melting pot of cultures stretched across fourteen-plus miles of pavement.  Gold worked his way – restaurant to restaurant – from downtown LA towards Santa Monica Beach, the west end of Pico.  Although Gold’s expedition was never officially finished, he did end up writing about the diverse restaurants he visited – from Salvadorian pupuserías to steak houses, Southern soul food to Scandinavian delis.  In effect, Gold “mapped out” the world of Pico Boulevard that year, eventually making a career out of expanding people’s geographic awareness through their palates.

Jason Logan Noses through Manhattan
Jason Logan is a writer-illustrator who created the infamous “I [Nose] NY” map featured in the New York Times this summer.  On a series of “smell stops” through the neighborhoods of Manhattan, Logan’s nose picked up a plethora of scents: tangerine candy, metallic telephone booth, a “deep fried something” and even a “warm, bacon-y wind.”  A true cartographer, Logan has divided his map into neighborhood categories – each with a separate doodle – that reads much like a thematic map.  What’s so great about Logan’s work is that it creatively (and comically) conveys its message and the message of all maps, revealing something about a place by ignoring everything else around it.

image_turgeon_1.jpgChristina Kubisch Walks through Sound Waves
Christina Kubisch’s “Electrical Walks” project employs specially-built headphones that receive electromagnetic signals from the environment and convert them into sound. Kubisch maps a given territory, noting “hot spots” (ATM machines, security systems, electronic cash registers, subway systems, etc.) where the signals are particularly strong or interesting. She has also lent out headphones to the public, allowing participants to undertake their own “Electrical Walks.”  Whether walking through the Centre Pompidou in Paris or a religious service in Switzerland, Kubisch has found that “nothing looks the way it sounds. And nothing sounds the way it looks.” You can listen to some of these far-out found sounds on the Cabinet Magazine website.  Also, check out Cabinet’s interview with the artist.  Disclaimer: Make sure to install the newest version of Real Player to hear the samples.

D.I.Y. Sensory Cartography
Inspired to undertake your own expedition of the senses?  Here are a few ideas for the amateur senso-cartographer:

image_turgeon_2.JPG1)   For the localvore in you, how about creating a map of all the edible plants/fruits in your neighborhood? Take example from these “Fallen Fruit Maps” and learn how to create your own!

2)   Intrigued by the patterns and shapes of what you see around you?  Take a page from Denis Wood, cartographer and author of The Power of Maps.  He has mapped everything from the night sky to Halloween pumpkins in his neighborhood of Boylan Heights in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Take a look at some examples. Wood was featured in an episode of This American Life – my main inspiration for this blog.

3)   Want to get all your senses involved in a mapping exercise? Try a psychogeography map!  Use your feet, nostrils, fingers and ears to register what you experience on a walk through your neighborhood or favorite place, making sure to also note how you feel along the way.  Check out this website for a great example and for more detailed directions on how to make your own psychogeography map.

Leave a Reply