Sep 04 - Oct 06
by Alex Bigman
Lordy Rodriguez has been disturbing the language of cartography for over a decade now. Maps, he has found, are richly but precariously coded. With a well-positioned injection of ambiguity, they collapse into many open-ended possibilities.
In his Postcards 3/11 (2012) series, maps of what look vaguely like Pacific islands occupy a middle ground between bold, colorful patterns and stylized text in one of several East Asian languages: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or Thai. The conjunction is certainly enigmatic, bordering on impenetrable, but an accompanying installation of Asian product packages—beer bottles, soda cans, cigarette cartons, McDonald’s bags and the like—offers something of a key. The typography on one postcard resolves into the familiar curvature of the Coca-Cola logo. The color scheme of another evokes that of Mild Seven cigarettes. What we have is evidently the language of advertising, though it is initially unclear how this language relates to topographies.
In fact, the conceptual crux of Postcards 3/11 is a floating island of trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an ever-expanding accumulation of detritus that received an additional heap after last year’s devastating series of earthquakes. In this literal vortex of consumer goods, Rodriguez saw a grotesque, earth-scale echo of his own artistic process: unmooring visual languages—advertising and packaging design, for instance—from their native domains and recalibrating them, typically on an ambiguous plane of cartography.
What is interesting about Rodriguez’s postcards is not the prominent tension between the codes they employ but the extent to which they are compatible, even overlapping. “As I’ve continued to work with this [cartographic] language, I’ve started to examine other visual languages as coded systems that could possibly share fundamental visual elements that underlay all modes of communications,” said Rodriguez. “It’s similar to frequency analysis, where patterns are found in the frequency of words and letters in any selected text or language.”1
Undoubtedly, the global nature of advertising is what renders these postcards intelligible, to some extent. Perhaps, Rodriguez suggests, there is a still deeper structure at work as well.