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Digesting Information on Aotearoa

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While the expected cartography is there, and the cover (a faithful imitation of the style of Leonard C. Mitchell's tourism posters) is very attractive, I am very much drawn to the conceptual graphics. For example, a ghostly impressionistic silhouette of the three main islands are revealed in a dusting of the 1.1 million lightning strikes recorded between 2005 and 2014.

Chris McDowall and Tim Denee

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa


Massey University Press, 2019

 


ISBN: 978-0-9941415-3-8
RRP: $70.00

You might think Chris McDowall and Tim Denee’s We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa is an odd thing for an art website to be reviewing, but in fact it makes perfect sense. The book as a whole, thanks to designer Denee, is a masterful visualisation of McDowall’s data. I’m pretty comfortable calling the book a work of art that ultimately falls within a tradition of conceptual documentary art from Billy Apple to Ruth Watson.

While the expected cartography is there, and the cover (a faithful imitation of the style of Leonard C. Mitchell’s tourism posters) is very attractive, I am very much drawn to the conceptual graphics. For example, a ghostly impressionistic silhouette of the three main islands are revealed in a dusting of the 1.1 million lightning strikes recorded between 2005 and 2014.

That information may not, strictly speaking, be all that useful, but it certainly is beautiful, and isn’t that one of the defining characteristics of l’art pour art?

Other topics are more pragmatic. The North and South Island sketched out in lakes and rivers, or watercolour-like in wet and dry climates, are as exquisite as they are informative.

When it comes to raw data, textual explanations tend to run secondary to easily digestible infographics, and deliberate nods to modernist abstraction—as in the minimalist grid illustrating child poverty.

Artists who are interested in social or environmental issues will certainly find a lot of useful ideas here.

Andrew Paul Wood

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