Infinite City & Other Books

July 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

And now on to much less controversial topics (hopefully), maybe a few book reviews? And then next I want to talk about economics. And housing.


A few weeks ago I attended a book launch for Rebecca Solnit’s forthcoming Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (UC Press, Nov 2010). Now, I know Rebecca, and I’ve known about this project for a long time, but rarely have I been to a book launch or release event where there were audible exclamations of “Wow!” from the audience during the presentation.  OK, yes, the event was held at the SF MOMA and the audience was made up of artsy SF types, so that may not be saying much, but the presentation was so engaging, and the project itself is really just brilliant.

This atlas, a series of 20+ maps, depict San Francisco from many perspective. Several of the maps are being released as broadsheets by the SF MOMA as part of its 75th Anniversary celebration, and each map is paired with an essay. It was an enormous undertaking of artists, cartographers, designers, writers, and activists.

Many of the maps juxtapose two interesting concepts, and the first map to be released is no exception. “Monarchs and Queens,” beautifully illustrated by Mona Caron,  maps both butterfly habitat and gay public spaces in San Francisco. While seemingly unrelated aside from geography, poet Aaron Shurin wrote the accompanying essay and spoke at the event. His moving talk unquestioningly linked the two by putting in to perspective the location of San Francisco in gay culture, particularly of past decades, and its role in helping countless gay men (and women) emerge into and embrace their public lives, as a butterfly emerges from its cocoon.

Also at the talk was cartographer David Rumsey, whose map library was instrumental in helping those who worked on this project. David gave a truly amazing presentation, showing a series of about twenty maps of San Francisco, in chronological order, going back to the earliest known maps of the Bay Area. He talked about the elements of maps (like the decorative titles (called cartouches)), how maps can illustrate concepts aside from geography, how maps have changed over the centuries, and how technology is influence the art and science.

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