Fifty years ago, Jerry Gretzinger began to draw a map. He’s still drawing it, having let it grow in the intervening decades to an astounding 2,600 panels covering 2,000 square feet. Each panel is drawn and redrawn in an aleatoric fashion reminiscent of composers like John Cage — every morning, Gretzinger draws from a deck of cards that directs the day’s amendment to the map. Cities spring up or die out, new civil services are needed, farmland is cultivated or left fallow. Should he draw the Three of Spades, the Void might grow, swallowing up towns and inhabitants (of which he keeps meticulous track in an Excel spreadsheet — current population: 16,304,885 in 27 parishes and 416 cities).
Gretzinger talks about his work in an excellent short documentary. His process is as much one of discovery as of creation, and correlates surprisingly well with much of what’s so interesting about contemporary interactive entertainment, and the way that things like video games are as much acts of creation as they are acts of consumption. Gretzinger is essentially telling himself the story of the world of the map, even as that story unfolds before his eyes and, to a very real extent, out of his control. “There’s a reality in there,” he says. We couldn’t agree more.
More information: The image above is a detail from map panel North 1 West 16, and is used on Gretzinger’s blog to flag a new show of panels going up in Vermont at the end of this year. (See below for the full panel, and click to embiggen.) I don’t know that Gretzinger works on any other pieces — at least part of his income is derived from selling prints and originals of map panels, which are retired from time to time by dictate of the cards. I first discovered Gretzinger via the Facebook page for Katharine Harmon’s book, The Map As Art. The full map was exhibited recently at the very fine Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. There are some good shots of the exhibit in this Flickr set, including the one at the end of this post.
Detail of the full map:ART