The Bowery Artist Tribute explores the presence of artists and art production in the Bowery. The project’s goal is to reveal the Bowery as an artists enclave, despite it being widely known as a commercial manufacturing center. The map, produced by the New Museum illustrates the artists and art production in the Bowery by mapping the locations of artist studios. The BAT is a thematic map, which aims at communicating more abstract observations, such as the relationships between artists which stemmed from living in close proximity to one another. The BAT map aims at uncovering realties previously unseen or unimagined (Corner 213). The addresses alone do not make this a good map, it is the story told and the argument made through the addresses which makes this a good map. Mapping the location of artist studios encourages the BAT’s project, which extends beyond an interactive map. The BAT has in addition developed a print publication and a series of public programs dedicated to the artists living and working in the Bowery. A spatial representation of the artist’s studios in the Bowery allows for the audience to fully grasp the magnitude of the cultural hothouse that emerged out of skid-row.
The visual and interactive design encourages the user to explore the project. The BAT has been overall successful in their attempt to portray their historically driven data. However, I found that even though the flash interface was user friendly and inviting, there were challenges I faced as a user. The first challenge, I faced was in determining how many locations were mapped. The initial screen shot presents the audience with eighteen pink dots (which indicate the location of the artist’s studios), but when you scroll east, west, north and south an additional twenty-five appear. The map does not allow for one to zoom in or out, so you are limited, as a user to viewing only a couple of dots at a time. The second challenge I faced, was in the choice of code itself. The map has been coded with a mouseClick, rather than mouseOver. Granted, both options work and some might argue mouseClick works better. I prefer mouseOver over mouseClick, because my experience remains uninterrupted while navigating through the map. I propose that the best option would be to incorporate mouseOver in conjunction with mouseClick. Another benefit of incorporating both mouseOver and mouseClick is that it saves the user the trouble of clicking on multiple dots in order to find what they are looking for. The third challenge I faced came when I attempted to open a location close to the edge of the screen. The location’s caption opens off screen, which requires the user to scroll up, down or left to right in order to read the caption. An alternative solution, would be having the caption open on screen. Designing the location’s caption to open up on screen will prevent the user from being disrupted while navigating through the map.
The BAT map, provides the user with a toolbar which features the list of artists part of the project, a short summary about the project, resources, and a timeline. The user has the choice of navigating through the map to collect information or to navigate using the toolbar to collect the same information. Both are two separate components of the project, but do not work in conjunction of one another. For example, the user can scroll through the artists featured in the project, click on the names and gather information regarding the artist and studio location. The artist index, located in the toolbar operates more like an electronic rolodex rather than a component of an interactive online map.
Aside of from facing a couple challenges, I found the map to be innovative and informative. I was in no way overwhelmed and comfortable with the interface. I found URT to be simple to use and fairly simple in design as well. Simplicity and ease of use attracted me to the BAT map. My project, like the BAT project greatly relies on historical data. I liked how the BAT map revealed which artists clustered together and which areas of the Bowery were occupied in greater amounts by artists. Artists draw inspiration from one another, and art making becomes a collective experience. Robert Rauschenberg lived in the same building as Jasper Johns, both of their art is a reflection of that. Artists that lived at 80 Wooster in George Maciunas’ art cooperative resisted traditional forms of art, and attempted to create a new hybrid form of intermedia – which resulted in a “new” kind of art, known as anti-art.
The BAT map is successful in its attempt to show the Bowery as an urban oasis for artists. The map, is only a component to their entire project, but provides the audience with a clearer understanding of the Bowery itself. The BAT project inspired my project, which will trace art and art production of SoHo. This past summer, I discovered the project while visiting the New Museum. The New Museum is known for innovative projects, that challenges traditional notions of art. The BAT project takes the history of art and art production in the Bowery, and illustrates it through an interactive map. What message is the New Museum sending, by providing their audience with an interactive online map as a component to a greater project which includes print publications and public programs? The New Museum, founded in 1977 is a leading destination for those who seek new art and new ideas. Using mapping, as a means to make an argument is a new way of scholarship. The map functions as a research tool examining art production in the Bowery.
James Corner, Excerpts (Intro, “The Agency of Mapping,” “Maps and Reality” & “Mapping Operations”) from “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention” In Denis Cosgrove, Ed., Mappings (London: Reaktion, 1999): 213-217, 221-225, 229-231.