“Experimental Geography” exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum 2009

Last Sunday we had a chance to visit the new “Experimental Geography” exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.  It’s where geographical study and artistic experience meet, in displays by 19 different artists from six countries.  The description of the exhibit says that “every estuary, landfill, and cul-de-sac has a story to tell.” 

I’ve heard that artists believe everything in the world is art; since geography covers everything in the world, then geography = art.  For example, somebody put this sign along the road and took a photo, and now it’s art.  An empty field or a vacant lot may not draw much attention, but the same vacant lot with a parking attendant booth suddenly becomes a parking lot.  Put the booth in unexpected places and watch the reactions of people passing by.  The booth now stands on the sidewalk in front of the museum, and we commented about it as we walked by, unaware that it was part of the exhibit.  Experiment, indeed.

Some of the interpretations were unusual.  I prefer more traditional art, but it’s always good to stretch your mind and gain a new perspective.  One exhibit showed a car trip taken twice through a part of Israel, once by a Palestinian and once by an Israeli.  I didn’t know that the area is divided into a patchwork of areas or zones, and nationality determines which roads a person may take or zones through which he may not pass.  In this case, the Israeli traveled on modern, well-paved roads with stop signals, and the journey took an hour.  However, the Palestinian was required to detour onto winding unpaved roads, stop numerous times for identity and security checks, and at one point get out and walk; his trip from the same starting point to the same ending point took five hours.

I’ve always been a map reader, so it was interesting to see how different maps look depending on what they convey–subway routes, public utility lines, coal mines, Native American reservations, national parks and campgrounds, or the concentrations of different ethnic populations.

There are so many man-made elements in our landscape that we don’t really even think about them.  As I was driving down Rio Grande Boulevard the other day, I noticed the mailboxes along the sidewalk and road signs everywhere and tried to envision what the street would look like without them.  Then I imagined the chaos that would ensue if they weren’t there.  One of the exhibits talked about entropy:  the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system.  That would certainly be one word for it.

Go visit this exhibit if you can.  If you can’t, take a look around your own world and really “see” the things around you.

Albuquerque Museum of Art & History

1000 Mountain Road NW

Albuquerque, NM   87104

www.cabq.gov/museum

open Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.