Map Quest

Written by Melissa Stern on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

The current exhibition at Hebrew Union College Gallery seems particularly apt for 2008. Envisioning Maps is a giddy investigation of maps and more interestingly, the underlying concept of “mapping;” getting lost, getting found and staking out a place to belong in the world. Whether it’s a historical scarf mapping the invasion of Normandy or Paula Sher’s staggering, insanely wordy map of Israel and its neighbors, the desire to know where one is resonates loudly in a world where we don’t seem to know where we are going.


This is an exhaustive and surprisingly edgy exhibit. Thirty-three artists from a variety of backgrounds and geographies have each contributed artwork in a wide range of media. It all makes for an exhilarating and challenging show. The minute you walk in you are hit by Mike Howard’s giant (9’ x 14’) painting, “Leon Trotsky Murder Scene in Mexico City.” Boom! Curator Laura Kruger has just informed you that she intends this exhibition to examine the map as both political and personal animal. Nothing is neutral in this exhibition, and I like it like that. Many, but not all of the pieces refer to some aspect of the place of Jews in the world—a loaded subject if ever there was one. Kruger has managed to walk the line between disparate politics, preferring to work with artists who approach the subject in a very personal and emotional way, rather than throw down an ideological gauntlet.

Karen Gunderson’s poetic portrait of the night sky takes on a deeper resonance when we read that she has recreated the constellations of Oct. 1, 1943, the night that the Jews of Denmark were due to be rounded up and deported to concentration camps. She depicts the sky looking north, towards Sweden, which is where 95 % of the Danish Jews were smuggled to safety. It’s a work that succeeds at once as painting, as conceptual art and as a souvenir of history.

Imperialism, pollution and racism are addressed in various works, but always in a way that emphasizes their personal impact. Doug Beubhas studded a globe with matches; the world is literally ready to catch on fire. Paul Weisman’s woodcut of the toxic cloud that drifted from Chernobyl over Europe is at once formally beautiful and chilling. William Kentridge’s map entitled “Budapest/Soweto” connects the expulsion of one set of undesirables with the treatment of another.

One of the most chilling maps in the exhibition is “Neu-York” as envisioned by Melissa Gould. A lithograph map of New York City has been altered, painted over and renamed as if the city, having been taken over by the Germans, is now a mini-Berlin. It hits home when you try and find your home and realize that you now live on Adolph Hitler Plaatz.

Some of the most interesting works in the show are the historical novelty maps. The aforementioned scarf depicting the invasion of Normandy, “Our Way,” a board game for 1945’s immigrants to Palestine and an intricately detailed woodcut from 1581 entitled “The Entire World in a Cloverleaf” are each fascinating examples of how maps have been used by artists, politicians and visionaries to help us find our way in the world.

Through June 26, Jewish Institute of Religion Museum at Hebrew Union College, 1 W. 4th St. (at Broadway), 212-824-2205; times vary, FREE.

Map Quest

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Posts.

James Chapman’s impeccable musical compass has guided him in devising Maps, a heavenly solo project of kaleidoscopic sonic tapestries and unending optimism.

Wielding layers of guitar, piano, synthesizer, violin, mandolin, harmonium, samples and drums, this native of Northampton, England, saturates his work with the lush drone of shoegaze. On “So Low, So High,” the initial track on the debut full-length from Maps, We Can Create, Chapman sings, “We can create I say/so why destroy our time?” He follows this line of thinking throughout the disc, not wasting a second on anything less than brilliant.

“The album is a collection of tracks I’ve written over the past few years and which worked together to create a euphoric-sounding record,” he explains via email.

Each song swells with Chapman’s effervescent vocals, and gorgeous reverb dominates, especially on the intoxicating “Elouise.” In this soon-to-be-classic track, Chapman breathily croons an anthem that repeats endlessly in your head after the first listen. And he never loses his sense of direction on the record, sounding equally comfortable with lavish arrangements and the stripped-down balladry of songs like “Glory Verse,” with its minimalistic beats, spare piano and floating synths.

Chapman’s ability to seamlessly fuse pop songwriting and electronics has emerged after only a few years of going it alone. “Initially it was just on a beat-up old four-track cassette recorder, but over the years, I picked up more and more pieces of equipment and built a kind of home studio in my bedroom.”

Over the course of several years, he graduated from four tracks to 16, and chose to stick with what he knew for We Can Create instead of attempting to make the leap to digital: “If I’d have used a computer it would have probably sounded a bit rubbish, because I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was doing!”

His exuberance while he’s discussing his music, even when he’s happily revealing his lack of knowledge about certain technologies, seems boundless. Channeling this energy into his record as he plotted its coordinates often meant nonstop nights.

“Basically I just keep working and working until I feel like the puzzle is solved,” he explains. “I normally work throughout the night; I sometimes find it hard to stop!”

To translate the majestic beauty of We Can Create to a live setting, Chapman performs with a full band, handling guitar and sequencer himself, and then enlisting help from two keyboardists (who also sing backup), a drummer and a bassist. The group’s bound for its first U.S. tour, and since We Can Create was nominated for the U.K.’s prestigious Mercury Prize, Chapman’s been riding high.

“I honestly never dreamt any of this would happen,” he says. “I had no idea the record would connect with so many people: It’s overwhelming.”

Sept. 28, Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (at Ave. A), 212-260-4700; 7, $10. (Sept. 29, Luna Lounge)