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Terrains of the Imaginary

Finding escape in survey maps

Geoff Manaugh
Terrestrial Astronomy (Nevada),

2021. All images courtesy Geoff Manaugh.

During pandemic confinement, Geoff Manaugh found escape online in the Library of Congress’s U.S. Geological Survey map archive. The dimensionality and texture of the historical topographic maps inspired Manaugh to “impose my own grid on the maps and thus create my own images, turning strategically important documents into mere patterns and shapes. What does a slice of mountain ridges look like, geometrically? What happens when volcanic islands are trimmed down to fit inside neat squares?”

He continues, “The colors and forms in those original documents are already extraordinary—bayous and canyons, mountains and coasts, borders and industrial infrastructure, between density and emptiness—and can be made all the more so when they’ve been cut and collaged together. The results are aesthetic and narrative, like maps from a fantasy novel.”
—eugenia bell

Bayou (Louisiana), 2021.
Swamp Typography (Louisiana), 2020.
Groundwater Grids (North Dakota), 2020.
Volcanology (Hawaii), 2021.
Morse Landscape II (Louisiana), 2021.
The Empty Quarter (Nevada), 2021.
Color Code II (Pennsylvania), 2021.
Terrestrial Astronomy (Nevada), 2021.
Geoff Manaugh is a writer and artist focused on architecture and urban spaces. He is the author of BLDGBLOG and the book Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine, with Nicola Twilley.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021

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