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Empty maps

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
without the least vestige of land.
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
a map they could all understand.

"What's the good of Mercator's
North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?"
so the Bellman would cry,
and the crew would reply:
"They are merely conventional signs!"

"Other maps are such shapes,
with their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank,"
(so the crew would protest)
"that he's bought us the best –
a perfect and absolute blank!"



Henry Holiday: Illustration of "The Bellman's Speech"

Terry Atkinson & Michael Baldwin

Map of the Sahara Desert after Lewis Carroll, 1967


Terry Atkinson & Michael Baldwin

Map of a thirty-six square mile surface area of the Pacific Ocean west of Oahu, 1967

An empty map is a physically uniform surface which depicts a conceptually uniform surface through an explicitly defined isomorphism. Empty maps are thus related to (as well as distinct from) the "pictorial" monochromes of the "Salon des Incohérents" which employ the conventions of realist painting to depict visually uniform (but conceptually differentiated) scenes. The empty map signifies "nothing" (the absence of things) because it is a statement of a pictorial "language"; it signifies in virtue of its (empty) structure. (In contrast, most twentieth-century monochrome painting signifies in virtue of visual similarity (Yves Klein, Anish Kapoor) or exemplification (Rodchenko, Rauschenberg).)


1. Elaborate the above paragraph into a complete publishable essay. Articulate the allusions to C.S. Peirce (symbol vs. icon) and to Nelson Goodman"s Languages of Art (exemplification). Take into account the relevant parts of Dreher (2000).
2. Discuss the empty map in the context of Engelhardt's (2002) "Language of Graphics". Pay special attention to the notion of "meaningful space".
3. Atkinson & Baldwin explicitly acknowledge that their empty maps are derived from the Bellman's Map in Lewis Carroll's epic poem. Nevertheless, Baldwin (1967) claims there is a profound difference. ("It can't be said that we are relying on old-fashioned logical postulates.") Find out what he might mean.

[Note: all 3 exercises may be combined in one essay.]



Art and Language: "Title equals text n° 12" (1967). [About ambiguity and vagueness.]

Michael Baldwin: "Remarks on Air-Conditioning." In: Arts Magazine, November 1967.

Michael Baldwin, Charles Harrison and Mel Ramsden: Art & Language in Practice. Vol. 1. Illustrated Handbook. Catalogue Fundacion Antoni Tapies. Barcelona, 1999.

Thomas Dreher: "Art & Language UK (1966-72): Maps and Models." In: Oliver Jahraus, Nina Ort and Benjamin Marius Schmidt (eds.): Beobachtungen des Unbeobachtbaren. Konzepte radikaler Theoriebildung in den Geisteswissenschaften. Weilerswist: Velbrück Verlag, 2000, pp. 169-198.

Jörg von Engelhardt: The Language of Graphics. A framework for the analysis of syntax and meaning in maps, charts and diagrams. University of Amsterdam, 2002. (ILLC Dissertation Series 2002-03.)

Robert Smithson: "A Museum of Language and the Vicinity of Art" (1968). In: Writings of Robert Smithson, New York, 1979.