Cartography 17 Artist Q & A
Daniel Rotsztain, Map Animator
Daniel Rotsztain is an artist, writer and cartographer who goes by @theurbangeog on social media. He is the Map Animator for Cartography 17 and the person in charge of leading the Cartography 17 activations.
You can find his personal portfolio at www.theurbangeographer.ca
Can you introduce yourself and give me a background on who you are and what it is that you do?
My name is Daniel Rotsztain – I call myself The Urban Geographer – and I’m an artist, writer and cartographer and I really love geography. It inspires me and I really love Toronto. It’s such a big mysterious place…I feel other cities really know who they are, but Toronto is constantly in an identity crisis; but I think that there’s lots of opportunity for storytelling in Toronto as a result. It’s not a perfect place, but there are lots of things here that are inspiring, like the multiculturalism and the natural landscape which I think a lot of Torontonians forget about sometimes. We get lost in the concrete, but I think that our identity can be found in the nature, and the combination of the nature and the culture, and all my work seeks to weave those two things together.
As part of the Cartography 17 artist team, what is your medium and your contribution?
Well my medium, I write, and I like to write poetic stuff inspired by technical stuff like geography and geology and infrastructure but I want to make it as accessible as possible. In terms of my visual art, I do really simple pen-and-ink drawings often, and I’m inspired by architectural drawings, the technical part of those, but I don’t use a ruler so I try to make these somewhat technical drawings have a bit of life to them. So when I draw buildings, I am trying to simplify as much as possible. I don’t want to draw photo realistic buildings, I want to capture the essence of a building and, you know, reduce it so when you look at it you know what building it is but it also has a bit of a life to it. And then map making! I am a cartographer and I love making maps and I think because everyone has a Google map in their pocket, maps can become really effective storytelling devices. So in contributing to the arts world, I want to contribute to Toronto’s sense of itself. I want to hold the mirror to Toronto and be like “look how pretty you are!”.
For those who don’t know a lot about Cartography 17 or don’t know what cartography is at all, can you explain it?
Cartography is the art of mapmaking. Like I just said, a lot of us have maps in our pockets these days. Everyone is kind of thinking spatially and so as a result, I think if you look at really old maps you can see that people drew pictures in the margins and they kind of drew where the dragons were, and there was a lot more flourishing of what the map is. So I think with my cartography, I’m trying to reconnect with that practice. In another sense, I am a geographer of European descent in North America and, as a result, I have to take up the colonial legacy of cartography…and maps were used as a tool of power by the British and the French. I want to take away the power of the map and the power of the map as an objective tool but [also ask]“What else can we map?” We can map what’s meaningful to us that’s not to scale. We can map our emotions. We can map things that aren’t there but are there, you know?
What are you excited to see come out of this project?
I’m so excited about this project because it’s Canada 150, and then there’s the other side to that which is the resistance 150 and the Colonialism 150 and I think it’s just a moment where we’re all thinking about what Canada means. I want to acknowledge that the mapping I do and geography I do is in a colonial landscape. I’m working with Lindsey Lickers from the Native Canadian Center of Toronto to create the foundation of the map. We want to create a visualization of Toronto that Torontonians will recognize, but will inspire within them different ways to relate to the land that they live on. So it will look like Toronto, but it won’t look like Toronto! It will ask questions about how you get around Toronto, what’s your relationship with the city? Through this community mapping, it’s an opportunity for people to tell their own stories and to complicate these simplified notions of what Toronto is. Lawrence Heights is going to have this dazzling visualization of these community maps there. I think a lot of people haven’t been to Lawrence Heights or had only heard certain things about Lawrence Heights, and I wanted to [explore] what’s actually going on.
So, how did you get involved with Cartography 17?
Julian [Art Starts’ Special Projects Manager, and the project lead] emailed me the application. The project is amazing because it aligns with all my values as an artist and I really appreciate Art Starts in the work they do and it just seems to be like a match made in geography art heaven. It’s like this is the project I’ve been preparing for.
What does Cartography 17 mean to you?
It’s a fun, fantastic opportunity to continue work I’ve been doing of exploring Toronto and making connections with the good organizations and people out there. Doing these workshops is another layer; a few summers ago I visited all the libraries and made friends with the people in the libraries and librarians and then there was the historic sites the next summer and then this summer, it’s Cartography 17. The idea that place matters and our lives matter and the places that we inhabit are important is something I strongly believe in. When you look at the big scale map of Toronto, everywhere is small and tiny and there’s roads everywhere but this is going to be these huge maps of meaningful places to people and so Cartography 17 is, it’s a new kind of map – it’s not a two scale ‘how to get places’ map. It’s a map of meaning.
I heard that you use a moon analogy, or something along those lines to describe Cartography 17?
So the moon analogy, that’s my magic trick to get people to listen. When you’re looking over a night sky and you see the full moon and [you think] ‘Wow, that’s so beautiful and it’s so big and the sky…the moon is so big right now…Then you take out your phone to take a photo of it, and when you try and take a photo of it it’s so tiny!! Your phone is like the ‘to scale’ map. Actually the moon is quite small compared to the vastness of the night sky, the moon is actually small, but when you’re looking at the sky you’re putting so much meaning onto the moon and you’re making it big in your eyes. So that’s the kind of mapping we’re doing. It’s not the ‘to scale’ this is how big this thing is, it’s like how big is it and how meaningful is it to us.
What impact are you hoping to see with the project?
I want to reorient people’s ideas of what the land that we’re on is. The foundation is going to be this First Nations way of knowing, and thanks to Lindsey and a lot of the people she’s introducing me to, it’s not going to be a survey map. It’s not going to be a road map; it’s going to be this map of how we relate to the city. Also we’re going to put the Wampum Belts, which are the agreements that continue to be the covenants that this land is on, and the blueprints for harmonious sustainability. The fact that this is going to be in City Hall and we’re going to put the Wampum Belts on it and be able to explain what is going on, it’s really an exciting opportunity. I think my number one goal is for when somebody looks at this map that they don’t see Toronto the same after.