ART FORUM March 2012

Matthew Picton

Christopher Henry Gallery, New York

by Emily Hall

A map, reductive by definition, is full of ghosts. Matthew Picton engages these specters with paper sculptures that add a third dimension to the map and in various ways give from to imaginary cartographies of history. Indeed, he renders his maps four-dimensionsal by referring to the passage of time.

For his recent show at Christopher Henry, Picton presented a selection of these works. Some begin with a specific historical episode: A map of London comprises only the area of the city affected by the cholera outbreak of 1854. The map appears blank when looked at head-on, but from the side one sees red dots blooming here and there, marking buildings in which a fatality occurred, as if the city were a body riddled with disease. For a map of Lower Manhattan, headlines from the newspapers of September 12, 2001, among other items, are folded around each building, so that the words ATTACK, TERROR, and BASTARDS repeat here and there, like leitmotifs in the narrative that sprang up quickly in the aftermath of the disaster. Picton smoked the map with taper candles, turning it gray, with the site of the World Trade Center charred black. Few people can look at a map of Lower Manhattan without mentally conjuring this sort of symbolic overlay; but here it is made plain.

Other maps take as their starting point a general perception about a place, or fantasy. Picton’s map of Hollywood, Hollywood Crushed and Burnt, 2010, is constructed from DVD covers for the sensational 1974 disaster movie “Earthquake” and the 1994 NOVA Documentary “Killer Quake.” With a neat joke about the ways in which our perception of Hollywood is mediated by various types of cinematic representation, the work captures a certain unreality often associated with the city. The map appears trampled, devastated, itself a jittery victim of physical and metaphorical instability. A Dallas map, with images of John F. Kennedy’s fatal procession pasted along its route—an oddly bright splash of colour on an otherwise pristine document—indicates that one historical event can colonize an urban environment. Florence, Italy, is rendered in spotless off-white archival paper,perhaps corresponding with a sense of the city as a relic preserved for study. At these crossings of culture and history, Picton’s maps suggest a place’s significance while at the same time emphasizing the constructed nature of that significance, a built idea in a built environment.

What animates these maps is not simply the inspired fusion of form and content but also their simultaneous engagement with order and chaos. A map is a diagram—an abstraction, a simplification of reality. Picton’s maps struggle in the opposite direction: to tell us more, to remind usm to provoke and contradict, with the result that they are both more and less than the thing they represent.