For some New Haven residents, a photograph of a pizza or a spray-painted dinosaur can represent the Elm City as accurately as a conventional map.
“I Map New Haven,” a community project started by local artists Alyson Fox and Eric Epstein, challenges New Haven residents to create maps that represent the ways they experience their city. Some of the maps were on display earlier this month in the Crown Street Window and Project Room — a venue owned by Artspace, a New Haven studio, exhibition space and gallery. The exhibit is part of Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios festival, which has been showcasing local art during the month of October.
Epstein and Fox launched the project in May by distributing self-addressed squares of cardstock bearing a blank map of New Haven on one side, and a poem instructing local residents to customize the map on the other. The artists have been scanning the maps they have received and uploading them to the project’s blog. Prospective participants can also view the poem and download blank maps electronically.
Most of the submissions they received were anonymous, though about a quarter included the name or neighborhood of the map’s creator.
The “I Map New Haven” exhibit featured the map submissions Fox and Epstein received before the middle of September. The artists have received a total of 92 maps since May, almost all of which are posted on the project’s blog.
One participant turned his or her map into a “New Haven Monopoly” board, featuring properties like “Barcelona Wine Bar” and utilities like “IKEA: Furnish entire apartment,” as well as a “Go to Yale” square where a “Go to jail” square would appear on a standard monopoly board.
One abstract submission depicts the underlying geology of New Haven. In another, a participant wrote about a memory involving a horse in the margins of the map, marked the spot where the memory was formed and drew a horse’s head into the map’s outline.
The submissions display the wide range of participants’ ages and artistic abilities. Epstein, a New Haven architect and product designer, said that some residents told him they have hesitated about participating because they do not consider themselves artistic, but insisted that the project is not about showcasing artistic talent.
“Some people see it as a canvas; some see it as a map,” he said. “Some [participants] are artists, and some are cartographers.”
Epstein said that the idea for the project grew out of a conversation he and Fox had about new technologies that have caused hand-drawn maps to disappear from use.
In May last year, Fox and Epstein collaborated on another project in which they and a third artist posted large planks covered with chalkboard paint on a brick wall. On the planks, they repeatedly copied the words “Before I die I want to,” and passers-by wrote their responses on the boards. As a part of this year’s City-Wide Open Studios, Epstein worked on a similar project in which he posted boards bearing the words “New mayor, remember to.”
“We like to engage people in playful dialogue,” Epstein said.
Epstein said that “I Map New Haven” will likely continue until its one-year anniversary in May.
The “I Map New Haven” exhibit at Artspace’s Crown Street Window and Project Room closed last Sunday.