The up-and-coming artist Matthew Picton tackles the evolutionary trajectory of civilization in his latest exhibition
Text by Felicity Shaw | Published 30 March 2010
Contemporary artist Matthew Picton is mad about maps. His work seeks to address the evolution of civilization by re-creating the aesthetic and historical changes of the developing city, and his latest show at Sumarria Lunn provides a skewed take on the exponential growth of cities and the meaning of documentation. In explanation of his work he says: “Cartography has long held a fascination for me. Apart from the obvious opportunity for imagination of place and origin, there is the actual physical beauty of the cartographic document, a document that in itself invites sculptural interpretation.”
Dazed Digital: Where do you think your passion for cartography stems from?
Matthew Picton: Cartography is something that I have always incorporated into my work one way or another. I have often had extensive collections of maps and I think my interest in them was born out of walking, the imagination of place that maps create in the mind and a long term fascination with travel, landscape and geography. There is some intrinsic quality to cartography that goes beyond the scientific document – a beauty of form and detail, a record of past times and places, something that lives as a world in which imagination can flow; places to re-visit, places to re-imagine, a world to re-make itself in the imagination
DD: Your work is rich in geographical history. Do you aim to address political or social problems, such as the contest between metropolitan development and the inevitability of nature?
MP: Sometimes. I’m planning a piece about New Orleans that will definitely address these two issues. I think many cities are built in the face of nature, or in spite of natural hazards. Witness the many cities built in places prone to earthquakes, floods and fires. I am in the process of creating sculptures of cities that specifically face, or have faced, these challenges.
DD: In your statement you quote work by Joel Kotkin. He also believed that we should nurture the growth of the suburbs. Do you agree with this? Or do you feel that urban development is key for the positive evolution of geography?
MP: I personally believe that the relentless expansion of the suburbs into agricultural land is very detrimental, resulting in the creation of lengthy, fuel heavy commutes, pollution and the taking up of valuable land mass. I also feel from my experience of living in the United States that there has been a loss of community due to suburban segregation and the rise of personal transportation. Just look at photographs of small American towns from the first half of the 20th century is to witness a thriving and busy downtown core and now no one is there.
DD: How do you think the rise of the city throughout the centuries has been manipulated by over-crowding and urban power? Do you think that the development is something to celebrate?
MP: I think this is something city specific – how much has any given city grown due to organic and economic growth and how much due to planned centralization of power? London for example, in contrast to those on the continent, grew almost entirely in an organic fashion – commerce and economics were the engines and overcrowding became a by-product of unfettered capitalism. As to whether development is something to celebrate, this depends as to how it has been done. The rise of urban squalor and the vast shanty towns the world over can hardly be viewed as something to feel greatly positive about. On the other hand, the modern, diverse city can have the possibility of being inclusive and providing a diversity to life that is perhaps unrivaled elsewhere.
DD: You have used a variety of mediums to explore the cartographic theme. How do you see your artwork developing in the future?
MP: I see my work moving toward a greater inclusion of historical references, literary references and those from contemporary media, such as film. The works will grow in complexity and scale; I have more floor installations planned. I also imagine expanding the range of mediums I use. There are a great number of cities I am interested in, some for reasons of their history, some for their inherent vulnerability, either from nature or those that pertain to political instability.
DD: Is there any particular order in which you choose the cities you document? Is it determined by the aesthetic structure of the aerial landscape, or do you have specific reasoning behind your choices?
MP: There is no particular order – some cities hold greater fascination for me than others, some have clear patterns of structure that are intrinsically more interesting than others. Some cities have such iconic status that they cannot be ignored. Some, such as Haussmann’s re-design of Paris, have had such a far reaching impact, forming almost a template for other cities, that I felt it was a necessity for me to create a sculpture.