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‘Off the Charts’ maps the process artists use to document and manipulate

Scroll west on the conservative map of the world to northern California to find the word “AIDS” scrawled where San Francisco should be.

Move to the same area on its liberal counterpart to discover “Berkeley” and “The Haight.”

Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet manage to skewer both political points of view simultaneously in “Off the Charts” at Albuquerque’s 516 ARTS, opening Saturday, Aug. 29.

Curated by Rhiannon Mercer and Claude Smith, the exhibition explores the visual language artists use to document, process, map and manipulate a world that changes with the click of a mouse. The show is part of the gallery’s project “Habitat: Exploring Climate Change Through the Arts.”

“We were very interested in maps to locate us, to help us find our way,” Smith said, “using the language of mapping and diary as the foundation for tallying data and imagining it visually.”

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Several of the artists base their practice in scientific data and field recordings, placing their work on a nebulous borderline between science and art.

“It’s a way to allow people who aren’t professors … to express and understand and walk around this,” Mercer said.

Boston-based sculptor Nathalie Miebach researches and gathers information about cycling weather dramatics: hurricanes, cyclones and tornados. Her “A Duet of Blizzards” resembles a horizontal DNA helix. In this case, the color-coded atoms are actually notes on a fractured musical scale. The artist measured barometric pressure, dewpoint and wind and translated it into a kind of sculptured staff.

“It’s chaotic but very ordered,” Mercer said. “She considers these 3-D musical scales.”

“Jerry’s Map,” 1963, is mixed-media on paper by Jerry Gretzinger.

“Jerry’s Map,” 1963, is mixed-media on paper by Jerry Gretzinger.

Michigan artist Jerry Gretzinger began working on an obsessive project in 1963 when he began doodling carefully cross-hatched squares to represent imaginary streets, buildings, rivers and train stations.

As the images swallowed one page, he continued on another, then taped the two together. His map of this invented community sprawled until he put the project down in 1983.

Dormant for 20 years, his grandson discovered it in an attic. Gretzinger has been adding to it ever since.

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“He has become completely immersed in it,” Mercer said.

The process spiraled across 50 years. Gretzinger documents its ever-evolving growth on a computer, creating a quilt of grid lines, swirling waters, retaining walls, farms, cities and suburban squares. He calls it “Ukrania.”

Seattle’s Mary Iverson pairs the skills of a landscape painter in the theatrical vein of Albert Bierstadt with images of shattered ships and their discarded cargo boxes.

"A Liberal Map of the World" by Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, collaborating printer Alex Kirillov of Tamarind Institute.

“A Liberal Map of the World” by Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, collaborating printer Alex Kirillov of Tamarind Institute.

“Shipbreaking” refers to the pulling apart of old ships deemed past their use, as well as the large containers used to carry cargo.

“Very often they get lost at sea,” Mercer said, containing everything “from Nike shoes to cars. Nobody goes back to get them.”

“It’s this clash of industry and nature, in some ways a necessary evil in providing people with what they want, but also a detrimental outcome of consumerism,” Mercer said.

Iverson’s paintings show sweeping vistas of Mount Ranier and the Yosemite Valley dotted with multicolored rogue shipping containers, the detritus of “shipbreaking” invading national treasures. In warning us of a dystopic future, she demonstrates that the apocalypse is happening now.


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