Imaginary Cities

v1.0 by: Michael Takeo Magruder, 2019

A visual art exhibition transforming the British Library’s online collection of historic urban maps into fictional cityscapes for the Information Age.

Exhibition Documentation (v1.0):

About the Project:

Imaginary Cities is an arts-research project and exhibition that transforms the British Library’s online collection of historic urban maps into fictional cityscapes for the Information Age. The work explores how large repositories of digitised cultural materials can give rise to unique born-digital artefacts, real-time experiences and physical creations that are inspiring and relevant to contemporary audiences.

Originally conceived for the British Library’s Entrance Hall exhibition space, the project consists of technology-based art installations that have been exclusively created using images and metadata of 19th-century city maps drawn from the Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection on Flickr Commons. Each artwork remixes a famous city and blends contemporary digital technologies with historical analogue processes. Elaborate computational systems and next-generation production tools are intermixed with fine art materials and traditional craft techniques.

Displayed alongside the source digital maps and their original printed books, Imaginary Cities reveals the changing nature of archives and collections in the Digital Age. The exhibition seeks to highlight how libraries are not simply repositories of old knowledge, but storehouses of creative potential that can engender new avenues and unprecedented possibilities for generating culture.

Artworks (v1.0):

Imaginary Cities — Paris (11097701034) - A series of digital gold-gilded monoprints made from a single 19th-century map of Paris.

Imaginary Cities — NYC (11062471656) - A real-time virtual 'city' exclusively generated from an early urban map of New York City.

Imaginary Cities — London (11010962736) - An ever-changing digital 'landscape' created from a historic map of late-Georgian London.

Imaginary Cities — Chicago (11107522893) - A physical data sculpture produced from an urban street map of 1870s Chicago.

Artworks (v1.1):

Imaginary Cities — Chongqing (11233132716) - A real-time virtual 'city' exclusively generated from a Chinese map of Chongqing.

Artistic Reflection:

As I delved into the archive of one million images, searching for precious moments and unknown fragments within the vast digital collection, I began to think about how I could use not only the image data to generate objects and experiences, but also the metadata like view counts, favourites and tags. When an archive becomes digital and is opened to the world it becomes a “living” structure that is constantly changing as people connect to it, use it, and leave traces of themselves. This, from an artistic standpoint, became most interesting to me. And so, I set out to create artworks that would capture and embody this essence; creations designed by me and my collaborators, but ultimately dictated by the choices of passers-by whom we would never know or meet.

In Collaboration with:

David Steele [ server architecture & programming ] . Drew Baker [ 3D visualisation & programming ] . Martin McGrath [ exhibition & publication design ]

With Thanks to:

v1.0: Mahendra Mahey [ BL Labs: project research & development ] . Adam Farquhar [ BL: project support ] . Jamie Andrews [ BL: exhibition development ] . Geraldine Kenny [ BL: exhibition production ] . Gazelli Art House [ research & development showcase ] . Philip Hatfield [ curatorial input: map collections ] . Foteini Aravani [ curatorial input: contemporary art ] . Emma Puente [ media production ] . Urša Čuk [ 3D exhibition title production ] . FabLab Coventry [ laser engraving services ] . Type Creative Ltd [ digital printing services ]

v1.1: Kai-Chuan Chapman [ BL Cultural Partnerships, China: project organisation & development ] . Jamie Andrews [ BL: cultural events & exchanges ] . Dani Chen [ UK Department for International Trade: installation production ]

Supported by:

Imaginary Cities v1.0 was commissioned and produced by the British Library for its St Pancras, London site (5 April - 1 September 2019). The project was generously supported by British Library Labs (research and development) with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Eccles Centre for American Studies (exhibition and publication) at the British Library. Imaginary Cities — Chongqing (11233132716) v1.1 was co-commissioned by the British Library in partnership with the UK Department for International Trade for the UK Pavilion at the Smart China Expo 2019, Chongqing.

Online Resources and Reviews:

© TAKEO 2019