This iteration of
features the large-scale drawing by Emma Kay (England, born 1961). Kay made this work by drawing a map of the world from memory, including place names.
Below is the featured commentary by University of Washington faculty that accompanies the installation.
Losing and Finding Yourself in a Map
-Luke Bergmann, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography
When you look at
, what do you see? Do you see a world as a whole? Or do you look for familiar details? Do you focus on where the elements are dense? Or do you focus on expanses where the labels are fewer and the territories hazily monotonous? Do you ponder the careful fixity of certain lines—even as state borders change and as arctic ice retreats and advances? Do you wonder what year this is? Is this a map of a single year?
Did you find a mistake, and then search for others? Do you see countries labeled incorrectly? Regions marked as dots? Boundaries that you were sure are not national borders were drawn to be so? Huge islands somehow lost in the ocean? Territories brought into contact, sharing unexpected land borders?
Do you see memory and its failures? Do you see perspective and its judgments? Do you yearn to learn about the artist's purpose and process? Do you compare this map to one in your memory? Do you wish for a map to be a faithful reflection of the world? Or do you wonder to what relationships the map is faithful? When you look at
, can you see yourself through your own questions?
-Susan Joslyn, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
As this piece illustrates, the strength of human memory is not in retaining a literal representation of what we encounter but rather its "gist." Our memories—informed by prior knowledge and experience—summarize, emphasizing the aspects that are important to us and ignoring those that are not. The artist's memory for globes and maps is clearly augmented here by her memory for specific experiences in particular locations. Notice the detail in her native Great Britain and places she has probably visited such as Los Angeles and the Caribbean. Other locations, however, are barren of detail and subject to serious distortions (notice the distance between San Diego and Los Angeles). You can also see the influence of generic knowledge in this piece. Notice the jagged coastlines throughout. The artist knows that coastlines are rarely smooth although it is unlikely that specific memory informs the majority of dips and points. It is likely the prototypical coastline that is being remembered, just as we "remember" that we had breakfast on a particular date last year, simply because we usually do. This is clearly an amazing feat of memory, but not more amazing than vast and varied memories that serve each one of us in our daily lives.
The Making of Memory
-Deborah McCutchen, Professor of Learning Sciences and Human Development, College of Education
Intentional or not, Emma Kay's
provides a vivid illustration that human memory is not an exact representation of experience. Rather, research in psychology and education reveals that memories are reconstructions of experiences, which themselves derive from individual perspectives. Note, for example, the detail Kay provides in the depiction of the United Kingdom, where she was born, as well as the exaggerated size of the neighboring European continent. Compare those representations with the relatively barren and distorted sketch of the Americas, lacking even such prominent features as the Great Lakes and the Central American isthmus. Many of us might share a similar distorted memory of "home," revealed when we return to a house from our childhood only to find it much smaller than we recall.
Such construction and reconstruction of memories are, in fact, the essence of human learning. Useful, productive knowledge is not a collection of isolated facts or experiences (regardless of their "accuracy"). Productive learning reflects an integration of new with existing knowledge; such is the stuff of insight and innovation. In this piece, Kay reminds us that memories are what we make them, as well as what we make of them.