Part renegade cartographer, part D.C. political activist, Nikolas Schiller has a proclivity for creating maps of the D.C area. Based on aerial photography and satellite images from the United States Geological Survey , and then edited on his computer to create mirrored repetition, Schiller’s maps blur the line between reality and fantasy. Seen from afar, his maps look like psychedelic quilts. But upon closer inspections, one starts to see famous D.C. landmarks, roads, and waterways. These altered maps highlight and celebrate the District’s grid system, established in early city plans by L’Enfant in 1791.
The Old Print Gallery was lucky enough to host both an artist talk and gallery show by Schiller on October 15th, 2010. For the exhibition, Schiller created three new limited edition maps of the Georgetown. Using what he dubs as “orthorectified aerial photography”, Schiller’s quilt-like maps focused on three Georgetown areas- Rock Creek Park(east), The Old Print Gallery(center), and the Key Bridge(west). His map Georgetown Quilt- Center features 8 lines of symmetry, radiating from the center, The Old Print Gallery. He uses the term Octagon Quilt Projection to explain this map. He uses the term Hexagon Quilt Projection to describe his other two maps, the Georgetown Quilt- East and Georgetown Quilt- West, which feature 6 lines of symmetry radiating from the center instead of 8. And while your eye dances frantically across the map’s surface, and your brain tries to make sense of it all, you can’t deny the intrinsic beauty found in these geometric abstractions. Moreover, these maps are just plain fun- try searching for the improbably- shaped buildings, your house, or for your current location, so you can figure out how you would navigate in the fantastical maze of streets his map has created.
But beyond the fun, in our current era of satellite imagery, Google maps and street view, and hyper surveillance, Schiller’s art does make a political statement. For Bush’s second inauguration, Schiller created a map of the procession route, with areas of access points and webcams marked, which was then used by protestors. And on a more recent post to his blog, The Daily Render, Schiller shared a map titled Watergate Quilt, where he had recolored the Potomac River from its normal blueish grey to a bold, inky black- a nod to the Watergate’s neighbor, the Saudi Arabian Embassy and its country’s substantial oil reserves. The GWU grad also made an interactive Google map of the U.S. Capitol, with 51 “no taxation without representation” flags, to encourage rights for what he calls “America’s last continental colony”.
Beautifully original and theoretically substantial, Schiller’s kaleidoscopic maps take cartography to a new level. The once artful medium, which had devolved into an all information, no frills piece of paper, seems to have had a revival with Nikolas’s work.
To view and purchase Schiller’s work, please click on the link below:
Old Print Gallery- Nikolas Schiller Works