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the boxed map

a project by David Colosi for Cool Ranch, 1998
Photo credits: Rex Ravenelle, Catherine Sullivan, and David Colosi


The city — a bounded infinity.  A labyrinth where you are never lost.  Your private map where every block bears exactly the same number.  Even if you lose your way, you cannot go wrong.

The Ruined Map - Kobo Abe

Boxed Map - Large MapUNIT 2

This is the record of a box man.  I am beginning this account in a box.  A cardboard box that reaches just to my hips when I put it on over my head…To construct your box...the greatest care must be taken when making the observation window.  First decide on the size and location; since there are individual variations the following figures are purely for the sake of reference.  Ideally, the upper edge of the window will be six inches from the top of the box, and the lower edge eleven inches below that; the width will be seventeen inches... the upper edge of the window comes to the eyebrows.  You may perhaps consider this to be too low, but one seldom gets the opportunity to look up, while the lower edge is used frequently.  When you are in an upright position, it will be difficult to walk if a stretch of at least five feet is not visible in front.

The Box Man - Kobo Abe


Note on Graphic Conventions

Single slashes indicate something intended as an expression or a sign-vehicle, while guillemets indicate something intended as content.  Therefore /xxxx/ means, expresses or refers to <<xxxx>>.  Where there is no question of phonology, verbal expressions will be written in their alphabetic form.  However, since this book is concerned not only with verbal signs but also with objects, images or behavior intended as signs, these phenomena must be expressed through verbal expressions:  in order to distinguish, for instance, the object automobile from the word automobile, the former is written between double slashes and in italics.  Therefore //automobile// is the object corresponding to the verbal expression /automobile/, and both refer to the content unit <<automobile>>.  Single quotation marks serve to emphasize a certain word; double marks are used for quotations.  Italic denotes terms used in a technical sense.

A Theory of Semiotics - Umberto Eco


Now we move UNIT 2 to a plot of barren land and provide UNIT 1 to be followed by means of UNIT 3.

The Boxed Map — David Colosi


Print full map as PDF


Boxed Map - Ranch MapI came to understand the site of Cool Ranch by way of maps. Land equaled map for me, so, naturally, I constructed a work taking map to be land. In seeing this way, I had to rely on lines. But in order for map lines to guide properly, one must understand how to read them. What distinguishes one line from another, and how do we tell the difference between their functions?

On the map I received of Cool Ranch and the surrounding areas, some lines function as demarcators of geographical presence on the land while others act as vectors, pointing out sites on the land (Fig. 1). For example, the //curved broken blue line// that represents <<creek>> lies down on the map as the actual //creek// lies down on the land. Yet the //orange line// that points from the word /Creek/ to the //curved broken blue line// lies down on the map but has no equivalent to a physical presence on the land.

In looking at only the map, without having seen the land, one knows only lines. In Fig. 1 we understand that the orange line's function is to connect /Creek/ to the //curved broken blue line// and then to <<creek>> which finally leads to //creek//. The //curved broken blue line// then represents mass. It functions on a scale with the map — the size of the line matches an equivalent size of the //creek// — as does the rectangle representing 20 acres which coincides by ratio to the actual 20 acres (the rectangle under the blueBoxed Map - Ranch Map detail border functions in this way but the blue border, which was drawn on top of the map, does not). In order to explain the land, the map depends on this ratio.

By contrast, the //orange line//, along with the vectorial blue, pink, green, and brown, does not represent mass. It does represent distance, but a distance from the word /Creek/ to the //curved broken blue line//. This is an immeasurable distance that has no cartographic ratio. But when laid on the map, because we understand the other lines to have a ratio and relationship to physical presences on the land, this //orange line//, also a line on a map, feigns a similar mass. Its presence on the map posits its presence on the land.

Because we see /Creek/, /Windmill and Water Pump/, /House/, /Barn/, and /Honeymoon Suite Stagecoach Stop/ written in Fig. 1, we understand these lines to be different. But if we study the isolated 20 acres, Boxed Map - Orange Two Signsas a site, that difference is more difficult to see (Fig. 2). By removing the word from the thing it names, we are left with only the vector. That vector is no longer the invisible route from A to B, but it takes on mass. Without having seen the map in Fig. 1 before seeing Fig. 2, we see, and think to read, these lines, as we do the others. Although we still recognize these lines as different — the orange, blue, pink, green, and brown lines are straight, and they and their colors cross over all other lines, hovering somewhere above — without their <<word>> we don't know of a corresponding reading which differentiates Boxed Map - Brown Two Signsthem. Therefore we tend toward the way of reading we know and assume these lines coincide with a ratio that leads back to a referent on the land.
The signs I made for this exhibition serve to indicate the presence of those lines on the land. My signs, as vectors, point with the actual line they create. Even though I have removed their direction, or at least made it more difficult to read, these signs maintain their function as vectors. And, still recognizable as signs, they stand as objects defining themselves.

An example may make this more clear: a street sign, like one with an arrow which points to the right, tells the reader which way to turn (Fig. 3). The arrow seems to indicates a general direction. But when studied more carefully we see that the arrow begins, from the back, to indicate a general direction, but by the time we reach its point, the information it conveys is very specific, and limited.

Boxed Map - Right TurnFor example, Fig. 3 does not tell the reader to proceed forward at a 30° angle off his\her straight course. It clearly states that one should make a 90° turn. If one were to, instead of turning right, continue along a course 30° off his\her straight line s\he would not only begin driving over grass, or possibly through a guardrail, but more importantly, for our purposes, s\he would disobey the sign. If the sign had meant for the reader to proceed forward 30° off hisBoxed Map - Green Sign 2\her course it would have said so by using an arrow that indicated that angle.

Yet how specific is the direction a sign indicates? If our driver were a mathematician and had discovered that s\he had actually, according to the road, made a 95° turn, not one at 90°, s\he will not have disobeyed the sign. S\he will have simply obeyed the collaboration of the sign and the road, which together guide the driver's interpretation. The arrow equals the road, asking the driver to go in its direction along the road. It never asks the driver to pull off the road (the point of the arrow tells the driver to continue and specifically states in which direction s\he should do so). Later we will see what happens when we break this collaboration by removing either the sign from the road or vice versa.

Before that, we might ask, "What are the boundaries of a sign, and when is a reading incorrect?" The specific meaning of a sign is contained within it, Boxed Map - Green Sign 1therefore any misreading is the fault of the reader, not the sign (although this depends on the construction of the sign). The sign even defines the boundaries of flexibility giving the reader no freedom of interpretation.

In order to narrow our range, let's continue with our example. We could imagine an intersection where the road one is traveling splits giving the options to, designated by street signs, 1. continue straight, 2. take the road which veers 30° off the course of the original road, 3. take the road which veers 60° off the course of the original road, or 4. take the road which forces the driver to make a 90° turn. In this situation the four signs point in general directions Boxed Map - Foward Signbut their meanings are specific. If one reads the sign pointing to the 30° road but takes the 90° degree road, s\he will have misread the sign. If the driver reads any of the signs and turns off the road onto the grass, say at 45°, or even 32°, s\he will have misread all the signs. But if s\he continues at 2° off course, turns at 32°, 59°, or 96° 'in order to' stay on the road the sign works with, the driver will have obeyed the sign, by reading it within the boundaries of flexibility it defined.

One last example should clarify that an arrow does not simply imply a general direction but is very specific. In other words, its interpretation is predetermined, and the viewer must find only it.

Boxed Map - Pink Sign 1If we take the hands of a clock to be arrows, vectors, pointing to a designated mark, we see this specificity. Because of the way a clock is divided, the difference, if we compare to our street sign, between 30°, 60° , and 90°, is great. For a skydiver, the difference between 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes matters if determining when to open a parachute. And for an Olympic athlete, the difference of a tenth of a second could change his\her future.

So if we say that a sign suggests a general direction but very specifically states which direction, what happens when we remove the road from the street sign, remove the markers on the clock, or actually remove the clock and leave only one isolated hand? We Boxed Map - Orange Sign 1are left with the sign or the vector without its assistant. It then becomes an object, simply itself.

A street sign without its street is still recognizable as a sign, if we find one in a junk yard for example. The arrow still points and still offers direction. The sign hasn't lost its function, it is only out of order. In this case, the viewer may recognize the object as a sign, but will not trust his\her interpretation and will therefore disregard its instruction. On the other hand, we could imagine an individual who sees the sign lying on the ground and walks in the direction that it points. S\he will not have misinterpreted the sign, nor disobeyed it. S\he will have simply misunderstood that the sign was out of order. By obeying the sign, the individual was mis—taken.

By contrast, what happens when we remove the arrow from the sign, how do we read it, and how do we know it is still a sign?

Boxed Map - Forward DotFor this we will use the example of the street sign that tells the reader to continue along the road s\he is driving, one which gives the content <<straight ahead>>. This is usually indicated by an arrow pointing upward (Fig. 4). The driver knows to interpret this pictorial expression as <<straight ahead>> and is not confused as to how to drive upward. One needs to only try once to know it can't be done. S\he understands the sign to mean <<go in the general direction 'straight' not in the specific direction 'up', but also stay on the specific route of 'straight' that the arrow and the road indicate together>>.

The reason for this upward arrow to indicate <<straight ahead>> is simply that we cannot — yet — make a three-dimensional arrow that would correctly instruct us toward <<straight ahead>>. But whatBoxed Map - Straight Sign happens if we draw <<straight ahead>> as an arrow in two dimensions? The poster of Uncle Sam pointing, calling, "I want You for US Army," comes to mind. Although this finger, as pointer\vector, foreshortened, (minus Uncle Sam) on a street sign might effectively instruct us to <<turn around>>, if we drew the reverse, the meaning of the severed wrist would certainly confuse most drivers (unless they were instructed of its meaning beforehand).

Since our foreshortened finger will not work, what happens if we foreshorten the arrow, thus drawing it in two dimensions? We end up with a black dot (Fig. 5), that could, actually, indicate both <<straight ahead>> and\or <<turn around>>. Here, only if the driver knows to interpret the black dot as <<arrow>> s\he is confused by the double meaning. But if the driver doesn't understand the black dot as <<arrow>>, his\her confusion will be greater.

In this case, Boxed Map - Corner Signwe end up with a street sign we recognize as a sign but do not know how to read. We are left with a sign as an object. Like the sign we found earlier in the junk yard, we have not erased the meaning, we have only changed its context. The difference is that in the case of Fig. 5 we have not taken the road away from the sign, nor have we changed its meaning, but we have redrawn the sign's Sign.

So why are we so concerned with making signs objects as opposed to indicator Boxed Map - Blue Signs leading from A to B? Essentially we have made the vehicle of meaning, the sign, visible and the meaning invisible. We have also indicated that a sign not only communicates, but does so specifically. Possibly, I've tried to posit that it is not only important that we understand meanings, but that we understand the source or the vehicles from which that meaning is delivered. In the case of a street sign, the source from which we come to meaning is usually not suspect, but if we expand our discussion, in simply a sentence, to the sources or vehicles from which we come to ideologies, politics, opinions, judgements, etc. we may find more to be suspect of.

Many lines point to the work I've created.

My signs utilize the idea of an arrow redrawn in two dimensions to better utilize its range of function as if it were in three-dimensions. All of my signs use the same eight-inch line. This line is an arrow. This arrow, rather than pointing in a specific direction, sweeps a range of area. This arrow, in the corner signs (Fig. 6), for example, allows for the direction of the full range from 0° to 90°. But because of where the eight-inch line ends on the sign, it does not allow or instruct the reader to go below 0° or Boxed Map - Pink Sign 2above 90°. In that way it restricts the view to the mass of the line the sign creates.

All signs have a determined meaning or power. Therefore I have given each sign a designated range: each arrow has the power to extend to a maximum of 2.5 acres. So by placing the signs a maximum of 5 acres apart, this will allow for two signs with their combined power to create a 5-acre line.

In order to define and limit the range of the signs to the width of the vectorial lines they seek to draw, I put signs in pairs facing each other. While the corner signs are built at a right angle with an arrow that sweeps 90°, the signs along the edges have flat backs with an arrow that Boxed Map - Vectorssweeps 180° (Fig. 7). By putting two signs of equal power facing each other, the collision of opposing vectorial pressure will allow the range of the signs to only define the width of the lines as the map indicates. All opposing lines will refract against each other to color in the line (Fig. 8). Each color corresponds with the color of the line on the map, so each set of signs will create a line of that color. In this way two signs, each with a range of 2.5 acres, will span a maximum distance of 5 acres and a width of 19 ft., according to the measured ratio taken from the map.

The space within the signs, created by the curve, as well as allowing for the sweeping arrow, welcomes the viewer to look through the arrow to view its full range (Fig. 9). Boxed Map - Orange Sign with PersonTherefore the sightline can be witnessed and the power of vision can mimic the power of the signs. Boxed Map - View From SignEven though the viewer may not always be able to see from one sign to the next, the distance of the ray of one person's vision when met by that of another's will combine to fill in the line. In the case where two people can see each other from inside respective signs, the opposing pressure of their vision, well under its maximum potential, will mimic the refraction of the power of the signs. Therefore the lines of vision and the lines emitted from the signs perform a similar function in Crayoning, or coloring-in the line.

By understanding the map as <<land>>, in the same way I understand //curved broken blue line// as <<creek>>, I have made signs to work in collaboration with the vectorial lines indicated on the map. But when I put the signs on the land, where the vectorial lines are not present, I have essentially planted signs that exist as objects in themselves. I have given those objects, as signs, the power to create a ribbon of color over the //land//, transcribing the line indicated on the map. This line is both present and invisible. The signs create its presence, yet its existence hovers above all other lines, as well as the land.



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