The Quarantine atlas

The Commission on Art & Cartography’s online workshop from the summer of 2020, called A Sense of Impending Doom: A Strata-Walk for Turbulent Times, caught the eye of editor Laura Bliss at Bloomberg’s CityLab. As a result, some of the maps from the Impending Doom workshop are featured in the new publication The Quarantine Atlas: Mapping Global Life Under COVID-19, along with an essay by Commission Chair Taien Ng-Chan about her own experiences dealing with the pandemic, the subsequent rise of anti-Asian hate, and the value found in mapping one’s own room. The book was published in April 2022 and can be found here:

ArtCarto Maps in The Quarantine Atlas

Borrowing from (Xavier) de Maistre’s voyage around his room, we carried out a virtual workshop that took 30 walkers from around the world on a tour of their own lockdown spaces. They brought no luggage but two sheets of paper, a writing implement, and instructions to look at everything with the rambling curiosity of a traveler. The first task, as a sort of barometer of feeling, was for everyone to write down their fears and anxieties, which included everything from dictators, militarization and climate change to “loss of emotional connection” and “overwhelming online work.” On the back of that paper, we asked for their sources of comfort: protest, gardening, nature, reading, art, and alcohol. They then tore a small hole in a fresh sheet of paper to represent their locations in space, walked slowly around their rooms to draw their routes and objects that shaped their surrounding emotional landscapes. “Where are the anxieties located?” we asked. “Where do you find comfort? Reframe your view. Share with us the ground under your feet, the sky outside your window.”

The rough, hand-drawn maps that resulted hint at the rich emotions that fill our own interior spaces. In these maps, I can glimpse the lives of others through the squiggly black lines and rough edges that indicate where their bodies were located, where the windows and quiet spaces are for each. One map details a ceiling stain that speaks to worry, while another map confesses a love of the cardinals who hang out by the cornstalks in the backyard. The last task was for each person to fold, scrunch, rip and crunch their maps –  a transformation of their intangible emotions into 3D paper sculptures, an act of catharsis. Some of them ended up a sharp jumble of edges like mine, others meticulously folded like irregular fans or energetically crushed into tight, crinkled-up balls. The maps were then smoothed out again and displayed by their makers onscreen, the shared act connecting us all in the virtual space of Zoom. (Excerpt from Taien Ng-Chan’s “Finding Home in a Locked-Down World” in The Quarantine Atlas, edited by Laura Bliss)

A big thank you to all who took part in the Impending Doom workshop, and especially to Jorn Seemann, Judith Franke, and Jennifer Coates, whose maps are featured.