Web surfing sometimes may reveal very surprising discoveries.
(This contribution (originally in Dutch language, published in July 2007) was viewed more than fifteen thousand times, in four years time)
An art piece of Alighiero Boetti
Everyone may have those creative ideas, which may differ greatly when realized. That is not new at all. I am no exception. When I was a student, I regularly kept myself busy with anything that has to do with paper, glue, paint, scissors, and pencil. Sometimes I was quite satisfied with the result, but more often such a creation ended as paper waste. It keeps yourself busy, as man might say.
It was in the Eighties when Dutch households received some folder of the Unicef. One side was printed with a world map. However, this world map looked very different of the one I was used to. Generally, the world map according the Mercator projection is used. In the magazines, the newspapers, the news bulletins. The map is created with emphasis on the meridians and longitudes. But… the sizes of the earth surface are not correct. For example, Greenland appears much larger than the real size of two million square km. While Africa, with the real size of 22 million square km, does not appear to be eleven times larger the size of Greenland.
The Unicef world map showed the world in a stretched form. Now Africa was a giant continent, and Greenland was at least ten times smaller. The continents had bright colors. Perhaps that some Dutch may remember this map. I already was interested in country maps and world maps, and I was already wondering myself why I hadn’t seen a world map yet with the flags drawn within the national borders. For me it was the start to make such a map by myself.
My creation, early Nineties
Sheet of paper
I started with two large sheets of paper, A1 size each. I glued them together. I made copies of parts of the Unicef world map. These copies were four times the original size. I used carbon paper to mark the outlines of the countries. Gradually, the contours of the world appeared on the paper. I borrowed a book about flags of the word from the local library. There was no internet available at that time, and no actualized site about flags of the world. I started with the simplest flags. I drew the designs within the country’s borders, and painted them in the correct colors. The first nations were Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Indonesia. Then the enormous area of Canada was painted, with the maple leaf in the center.
I tried to draw the fifty stars of the United States, and I found out how this pattern was built up. Coincidence or not, this basis knowledge was the basis of one scientific experiment when I was a PhD student. An experiment that used morphometry (measurement of the dimensions of cells and tissue structures). Scientific literature described rasters, with impressive mathematical formulas, which were suitable for precise and reproducible measurements of round-shaped, microscopic images. On the other hand, I did not have circular images, but rectangular digital prints of microscopic images, at A5 size. I used my knowledge of the pattern of the fifty American stars, and created my raster, that proved to be reliable and reproducible. Using this raster, I have analyzed a huge number of digital images, more than ten thousand sheets. The results have been published in a scientific magazine. In this regard, arts and science are not that different….
Art piece of Boetti in Mercator projection
With time, the world flag map made progress. More difficult flag patterns, such as those of Zaire, Angola, Australia were drawn and painted. When I started with this map, there was still the Soviet Union. The red flag with the famous hammer and sickle. And there were still the old flags of South Africa, Zaire, and East Germany.
Another art piece of Boetti
I moved from my parents’ house to a room nearby Amsterdam, where I was studying. There I made another start with the world map, because I was not very satisfied with the first version. I have destroyed that map.
I was using the same method, the same order of drawing and painting. Many flags had changed in such a short time. For instance the breakdown of the Soviet Union, which created fifteen new nations and fifteen new flags. Including some flags that were difficult to draw, like the flag of Kazakhstan. And I still had some troubles with the spinning wheel of India; I was not satisfied with the result. I had attached my map to the wall. I almost had finished this map, when a disaster happened. When I was away, two grandchildren of the landlady noticed my map and tried to help me. They used red and blue pens to improve my map. Toddler’s graffiti.
My creation, in more detail
For me, it was too much work to remove this graffiti, and I had to destroy this map, when I moved to another city in The Netherlands, to Nijmegen. But I have taken some photographs of this map.
In Nijmegen, I was introduced with internet, and I gradually became familiar with web surfing. I was searching something about art, and by accident I opened a site of an Italian artist. You cannot imagine how big my surprise was, when I noticed some of his works: they were almost similar to my amateurish world maps! Very strange, since I cannot remember that I have noticed these works before. Not in the books, not on TV, not in the museums. It is also obvious that I have made these maps in the time this artist was creating them. An artistic coincidence?
Writing with both hands.
About this Italian artist: Alighiero Boetti was born in Turin in 1940, and died 54 years later, in Rome. Boetti is considered as a conceptual artist, and is considered as a member of the Arte Povera movement. “Poor Arts”, since the artists used simple and cheap materials. Boetti was an autodidact, and started his arts career in the Sixties. Boetti had worked with a variety of materials: cement, electricity, and woven tissues, wood. One example of his Arte Povera work is The Lamp (1966). A lamp in a wooden casket, that burns eleven seconds long, each year. He later left the idea of Arte Povera, and started to call himself Alighiero e Boetti. This creation of a double personality was reflected in his later works: individual and society, perfection and imperfection, order and disorder.
Boetti generally did not work alone on his projects; he collaborated with artists as well with amateurs. He provided them much liberty, but he kept control of these projects. Without doubt, the world maps are his most famous creations; he made them together with Afghan and Pakistani craftsmen. In the margins of these works are printed his mottos: Ordine e Disordine (Order and Disorder) or Fuso Ma Non Confuso (I fuse but I do not confuse). His work ‘Mappa del Mondo, 1989’ is exhibited in the Museum of Modern Arts in New York.
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom