Elizabeth McTernan is a cartographer. Not in the traditional sense, but her artistic practice consists of intricate mappings of everything from the patterns of waves at the Baltic Sea, to the intensity of sunlight, to the ‘Death Zone’ in the Himalayas. At once scientific and diaristic, her solo show Altitude Sickness at Horse and Pony Fine Arts approaches the study of territory and terrain through the lens of a storyteller – collapsing, reinterpreting and reimagining what a map can be.
For Elizabeth, documenting terrain is inherently problematic, especially in terms of what traditional mapping leaves out: “I think that there is a lot of erasure, that it eliminates the story, portends it to be just an objective image that is timeless as opposed to the reality of it which is that it’s a snapshot: a political, historical, technological snapshot.
“This idea of mapping and territory has everything to do with subjective and objective perception or this rationalistic goal of attaining something objective that is successfully outside, whether it’s units of measure or a map, or perception and how that’s at odds with the empirical subjectivity of embodied experience.”
It used to be that people would trek out into the desert and make drawings to develop images that helped travelers find their way, and now Google trucks simply drive around taking photos, and satellites prevent us from getting lost. Elizabeth wants to insert the body and its narratives back into mapmaking, by way of art.
The process of creating narrative, visual or otherwise, is fundamental to her practice: “That’s part of the task, I think, of an artist, to make connections between things that aren’t obviously connected.” For her, landscape is as humbling as it is inspiring, and is ripe with new material: “It’s like a net that I have out and I just have to catch stuff,” she says. “All these ideas already exist, they’re like found footage, I just have to be sensitive enough to put them together.”