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The Routes of Civilization

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Digital Light Art

From stained glass diagrams of undersea life to underground metro maps, a dramatic technical leap in my work occurred when, in the mid-1980s, my father bought the first CAD (computer assist design) system on the market, which he used to revolutionize architectural interior restaurant kitchen facilities design. Plotted plans on a computer monitor reminded me of neon colors on a black background, and the first thought that came to mind was that this would be perfect for further exploring the potential of using subway maps by way of employing the new technology as a means of inventing a new ‘light art’ form. With a computer that was intended solely to design and plot architectural plans, I found beauty in the reproduction of graphs, diagrams and linear maps, particularly when working with a multicolored light – emitting surface.

Thus, the next stage of my ongoing project, The Underground Cathedral, entailed exact reproductions of ten public transportation maps from around the world, all but one of them subway systems. The exception is the map of a surface transportation system of Munich, which I chose because of it’s unusual form based on concentric circles.

From left to right, top to bottom are Moscow, Barcelona, Tokyo, Munich, Mexico City, London, Washington D.C., Stockholm and Paris. The tenth map, below, is the part of the New York subway that covers Manhattan.

Manhattan Underground

Once the ten maps were plotted, I continued to play with them as a group, experimenting with them individually, superimposing one over another or reproducing the same map several times in various ways. Below is one example, of the Paris Metro, reproduced 12 times on a single axis resulting in a mandala-like effect.

Paris Rose Mandala 1989

More than two decades later, as demonstrated in the background slideshow, this evolutionary exploration of these digitally-plotted maps with computer graphics effects continued. Below are several examples of the same Paris Metro map rotated 12 times around a single axis:

Below are further examples of the various experiments conducted with each of the ten plotted maps. Every effect is the result of precise mathematical processes:

After experimenting with the ten maps as seen on a computer monitor, I made a series of ink-plotted drawings on sheets of translucent Mylar. The fascinatingly complicated process of the mechanically intricate ink-plotting machine – which today is a dinosaur – involved the automatic in-and-out movement of the Mylar material on a flatbed. Simultaneously, individual ink pens, each of a distinct color, fitted vertically into holes on a round horizontal disk that moved with very sharp, quick motions on a horizontal track, with the Mylar perpendicularly pulled back and forth below. In other words, as the Mylar moved back and forth, the pens above it would move left and right in creating a reproduction of the image on the computer’s monitor. I played with the process by changing the order of the pens and even sometimes tugging on the Mylar as it moved to cause intentional “errors” in the plotting process. No two reproductions of the same image were exactly the same; and today no such plotting mechanism is still in existence – these pieces can never be recreated. As such, each of these drawings were printed in the early days of computer graphics art on a machine not intended for artistic expression:

What I did with them many years later opened still new doors in this evolutionary process that I have been exploring for so long. The following are among numerous such examples:

The last of this series combines photographs, digitized maps and computer graphic effects: