A New York Foundation for the Arts-fiscally sponsored project


The term mapping best describes both the theory and practices of mapmaking and survey during the Enlightenment, as well as the period's figurative sense of how to locate the peoples of the world. This combination of metaphor on the one hand and mathematical accuracy and scientific representation on the other makes mapping historically more apt in the context of the Enlightenment than cartography, a term that was not used until 1839, and then only to signify the professionalization of mapmaking by specialists. Although the idea of mapping as a metaphor appeared throughout the Enlightenment—in their prefatory Discours, for example, Diderot and d'Alembert referred to their monumental Encyclopédie as a “map of the world”—the term is most widely understood in the second sense above, in association with the advance of geographical knowledge about Earth and with its representation in graphical and textual form.

Nevertheless, maps do not straightforwardly depict the real world. Most cartographic historians now recognize two broad and basically conflicting assumptions underlying our interpretations of how maps function [...]. The first assumes a direct structural relationship between the map and the territory the map depicts—the map as a mirror of the world—and thus is concerned more with notions of accuracy and map-world correspondence. The second assumes that maps never can represent the world mimetically: indeed, far from mirroring the world, maps actively constitute it. Thus, the map is less a document of spatial accuracy and more an ideological artifact and symbol of political power.

--Charles W. J. Withers "Mapping" Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Ed. Alan Charles Kors. Oxford University Press 2003.

It has been an idea for many years to create mappings of cities that I have lived in. And by a mapping I mean the creation of a body of objects (works/installation) that is open to manifold interpretation. This becomes simultaneously an exploration of the process of how each of us comes to our personal understanding of our reality and an analysis of how we "groundtruth" our maps, attempt to "square them" with those of others especially more "official" maps, and how this influences our world view.

Since the Enlightenment, modern mathematics has developed tremendous tools for describing and modelling physical reality. These tools are predominantly (and extensively) used by scientists and mathematicians but seem to have little more than vague cultural associations in other disciplines and for the general public. It is my intention to use these powerful modern mathematical notions in the study of non-physical reality; to experiment with their application to and their interpretation of our human environment, i.e., the understanding of our human experience, in particular with the quintessential modern experience of living in a metropolis.

The Mapping Cities in Transition Project is a huge visionary undertaking to create alternative open maps of metropolises around the world. The first part of this would be to accomplish this for cities that I have personally spent an extended period of time; these include Beijing, Berlin, Chongqing, Miami, New York, Paris, and Seattle. The second part would be to accomplish this for cities including those in India, Africa, South America, and the Middle East.

Our first city is Miami. Mapping Miami in Transition is a New York Foundation for the Arts-fiscally sponsored project. My collaborator Berlin filmmaker Maya Schweizer and I will interview multigenerational families in Miami neighborhoods and create a film about their stories. We want to know how they arrived, what they left behind, and how a family’s story is remembered, changed and retold. The interviews will be recorded with video, photographs, drawing, and notes to show the various ways memories are stored. We will also have a site-specific installation at a Miami exhibition venue that will feature our film, drawings and notes in display cases and boards. The installation will represent the continual process of making sense of the experience of a place in flux--Miami in Transition. It will be a work-in-progress to which visitors contribute their own stories, photos, and things. The room might feel like a CSI headquarters with large maps, pinned photos, arrows linking places and people. There will also be a workshop space that will host public dialogs.

Lun-Yi London Tsai

Atlas Reconstructed
(a quadric reparameterization)

welded curved sheet metal and paper map
16 x 13 x 13 in

Tangent Space IV
Charcoal on paper
21 x 24 in

Transition Mapping
acrylic on panel
24 x 24 in