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Meet the Curator: Yulia Tikhonova

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Something MAPnificent is happening at Mulberry Street Library through August 27, 2012. MAPnificent features paintings, works on paper and sculpture that reflect the artists' concerns for the current state of our society, conveyed though charts and diagrams, and their admiration of the map as a symbol of longing and the unknown. Includes works by Elaine Angelopoulos, Joseph Burwell, Marie Christine Katz, Paul Fabozzi, Peter J. Hoffmeister, Alastair Nobel, and Amy Pryor.

The mastermind behind this exhibit is Brooklyn-based independent curator, Yulia Tikhonova. Born in Russia, Yulia received her BFA in Moscow. Since graduating from Bard Center for Curatorial Studies two years ago, she has concentrated her efforts on community based curating, and founded the Brooklyn House of Kulture as a platform to pursue these goals. She has curated fourteen exhibitions in outlying neighborhoods of Brooklyn — Coney Island, Flatbush and Midwood, as well as exhibits in community spaces in Manhattan and the Bronx.

During the past year, BHK has collaborated on projects that employ the arts as a stimulus for public dialogue about civic issues. Here are some questions we had for the maverick curator.

Yulia Tikhonova, curator and Julia Kostova, publisherYulia Tikhonova, curator and Julia Kostova, publisher

What motivated you to organize a show based on artists' interpretations of maps?

Library visitors often view maps as a source of geographic information. In contrast, the artists presented here look at maps as an endless source of inspiration and creative reasoning. While people search maps for a tangible and useful data, the artists chase obscure meanings and metaphors. Maps attract, challenge, hide and reveal. The artists are able to visualize the allusive significance of maps. In a world guided by digital technology, maps have lost their traditional role. But for the artists, maps retain their currency. Maps are physical objects, which can be used as a medium of art making. The artists cut, distort, and paint over maps. They are also collage and stitch maps together. Artists give maps a second life.

The role of maps is not unlike that of the library. Like books, maps represent knowledge, geographical control and political power. Artists can challenge this power by using maps, in the same way they use paper or canvas. They cut and paste images into maps, creating new borders, and new political alignments. In so doing, they document their own imaginative powers. The title of this exhibition borrows from the name of the internet application, MAPNIFICENT - Dynamic Public Transport Travel Time Maps, which calculates the time/distance between locations within a city, by public transport.

The artists use a range of materials and techniques, which create unique "conversations" between their pieces. What qualities were you looking for as you chose the work for this show?

In this exhibition the artists treat maps in several ways. They either deconstruct maps to serve their creative reasons, or they use the language of maps to articulate ideas that are only tangentially related to the initial purpose of the maps – cartography.

In his artist book Alastair Noble uses maps to express his concerns with the environment of a unique constellation of islands off the coast of Scotland. In 2009, Noble planted three hundred Rowan trees on the island of Martin, to form a labyrinthine map plotting its topographical contours. This art intervention will develop awareness of the environment and natural heritage of Isle Martin. This project alludes to a short story by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges "On Exactitude in Science." Borges' tale addresses the idea of mapping an empire and how this map progressively grows over time to embrace the whole of the land. Noble presents a banner, which features a map of the island and its marked sites of Gaelic settlements. In his exhibition Noble uses direct references to maps.

Peter Fend creates drawings about Jamaica Bay that are concerned with its disappearing marshlands, and, as a result, the extinction of hundreds of species of birds that visit the bay as they traverse the Eastern Flyway migration route. In his oversized (4 x 6 foot) paper panels, Fend details maps of Jamaica Bay and New York, including silhouettes of ocean currents and bioproductivity. Fend sketches cursorily on big sheets of heavy paper with little regard for graphic design or even coherence. Hastily handwritten maps, sketched in colored pencil, remind us of high-school science-fair posters, and highlight that the artist feels no constraints on his imagination. For him, maps are merely the starting point of creativity.

Aga Ousseinov created beautiful Kite II using ink, pencil, collage and bamboo stripes on hand made Kozo paper (70"x 32"). This work is an enlarged version of his recent entry in this year's Baku Biennale. The kite features the subway maps ­of Berlin and Tokyo; two cities that the artist considers major capitals of West and East. The artist is fascinated by the similarity of both systems, their grid of intersections (subway stations). Futuristic predictions in the late 19th and early 20th century considered flying machines the most hopeful transportation system for the future metropolis. As it turned out, underground transport is today's fastest, cheapest, and safest transportation method.

Ousseinov's sculpture Impossible Globe presents a globe shaped as a cube. Its surface covered by a paper collage of subway maps and various fragments of utopian imagery. Both objects reflect Ousseinov's attraction to cartography, which originated in his childhood in the Soviet Union. The Communist Government's restrictions on travel abroad prompted artists to imagine the rest of the world in a fanciful and fantastic manner. For them, maps were a vehicle of imaginative escape from the Soviet reality.

In his beautifully rendered drawings Proposed Reconstruction of the Serpent Pool and Gravity Concentrate, Joseph Burwell references maps of one of several ancient reservoirs that supplied water to the inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. Drawn in color pencil on tracing paper, the works feature stylized aqueducts, water harvesting pools and irrigation channels. To cope with seismic events, and prolonged foreign occupations, ancient water engineers and architects applied innovative construction methods for the erection of water pools. The Serpent Pool has been destroyed and longer exists; here, the artist proposes its renovation. As a creative mind, Burwell does not concern himself with the pool's actual reconstruction – his drawings are neither architectural plans, nor urban blue prints. The artist presents a map of his fascination with long history and overlapping cultures of Jerusalem.

Unlike Burwell, Paul Fabozzi references the contemporary urban experience of New York City. His paintings Astoria #3 and Fifth Avenue #1, both oil on canvas, are compositions of lines that reference the pulsating pace of Queens and Manhattan. Fabozzi said that these works are distillations of his walks through the city. The artist calculates the time, distance, and the number of steps from one destination point to anther. He then decodes this information into a combination of zigzags, geometric shapes and erratic connections. By mapping his personal and emotional concept of topology, Fabozzi is a cartographer who is boldly venturing into new territory.

In his collage, Six Hundred Sixty-One (knots), Peter J Hoffmeister layers elaborately hand cut road maps from the various US states. "Six hundred sixty-one" is the speed of sound (in knots) at sea level. Hoffmeister uses the nautical unit of measurement — knot — rather than miles per hour, to emphasize NYC's proximity to the ocean. Hoffmeister's prime interest is the formation of histories, identities, and other systems that map and define our realities. The artist is fascinated by the breaking down and re-ordering of information.

Through her painting, collage, and installation Amy Pryor exposes the overabundance of consumer culture in contemporary society. The artist uses elements of advertizing: barcodes, advertisements, or packages to create her work. Pryor clips, saves, and re-uses printed matter to build up her heavily surfaces. Sometimes she uses hundreds of small "99 cents" labels to cover a space equivalent to a page from a drawing pad. In her The Known Universe, 2008, Pryor arranges stickers such as "New and Improved" in a way of stars and connects them to follow an outline of the Milky Way constellations. For Pryor, consumer culture is both subject and medium, which she archives and critiques through maps and charts.

Marie-Christine Katz's work deals with issues of displacement experienced after 9/11. Drawings "Maps of Displacement" presented in this exhibition are based on interviews Katz did with displaced New Yorkers who lost their homes after 9/11. A map charts the route of their journeys until they were permitted to return home. This map is sewn onto silk gauze. "Knitting...I need you." Is inspired her grandmother's stories of wartime recession, a time when women drew lines on their legs to simulate the seams of stockings they couldn't afford. While narrating her story, Katz prompts the audience to share their stories in response. At the same time, she knits the colorful yarn and passes it to the audience, "knitting" them into the conversation. For her, the stories are maps of people's lives.

Sergio Coyote and Marie-Christine KatzSergio Coyote and Marie-Christine Katz

Sergio Coyote is most painterly and mystically inventive of all the artists included in MAPnificent. Coyote glues large maps over canvas, and applies swirling brushstrokes, letting his paint drip and run over the surface. We recognize facial characteristics of dragons, lions and bears, with fire coming out of their lips. Historically, these animals represent power; but the artist renders these monsters in a humorous way. Coyote mocks these countries' political power by putting on a show as if in masquerade. The countries' outlines inspire him to turn them into the Chinese dragons displayed during festive processions. Coyote uses maps to comment on the politics of our volatile world.

Elaine Angelopoulos utilizes mapping in a different way, when she takes her walks around the Mulberry Library.  For the duration of the exhibition, Angelopoulos will make weekly visits to this library. She will record the results of her searches, by photographing and taking notes of books of interest.

She will map the places that she adopts to settle in and read. She will invite people to interact with her by offering their selection of best sections in the library.  Her installation titled  My Derive at the Mulberry St Library borrows from the concept derive. Derive is a French concept meaning an aimless walk, a drift through landscape. The artists use derive to express their personal interpretations of geography, and environment.

Angelopoulos displays her maps from each visit on individual sheet of paper, already adding on to a set of diagrams, text and a photo of my last documented Library Derive the Waxman Library at Maine College of Art, in Portland, Maine from the summer of 2008. For over twenty years, Angelopoulos has had a dynamic practice as an exhibiting artist. Two of her current projects, “Where the Ground Breaks” and “Walk Abouts” are now on view in Amplify Action a group show at the Skylight Gallery in Brooklyn.

The artists use a range of materials and techniques, which create unique "conversations" between their pieces. What qualities were you looking for as you chose the work for this show?

During my curatorial process I was looking for artists who use maps as as their mediums: either deconstructive or constructive, strictly as documents or as stimulus for free-association

What in your view are the characteristics shared between cartographers or GIS specialists and artists who create maps? What can they learn from one another?

Cartographers should be more aware of the visual presentation of their maps. Sometimes their data presentation looks rather dull and is incomprehensible to their intended audience. Artists may need to remember to treat maps with a greater respect, and with an understanding of their history and effort.

Will the show be seen in other venues?

I am planning to address the subject of maps in another venue. The Jefferson Market Library staff has already expressed interest in hosting an exhibition about maps. In this venue, I would like to present an extensive group exhibition that investigates connections among maps, art and libraries.

What is your next curatorial project?

I have been curating group exhibitions within the Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan public libraries network for the past two years. This series, titled Boro to Boro: Artists in Libraries, is organized by Brooklyn House of Kulture, founded in 2010 to support community based curating. I have taken particular inspiration from the writings by of Paolo Freire. Based on this two year-long experience, I will present an exhibition Brother Can You Spare… a Stack at the Center for Book Arts, opening on January 16th, 2013, that surveys the innovative libraries created by several artists, individually, and in collectives. I am also planning group exhibition at the Bronx Library Center reflecting the interests and concerns of the local community.

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