The Chicago Network of Art in the Surreal Era of Covid-19 by Jane Zheng

COURSE: Geography 572: Graphic Design in Cartography


This slippy map project chronicles a visual, virtual journey starting from Earth orbit and incrementally zooming in, until reaching enough granular resolution that one can see individual art venues in Downtown Chicago. It generates a unique sense of place in the context of the ongoing pandemic. This experience is represented through an intensive focus on four phases of landscape, represented at multiple scales through zooming in.

During the pandemic, most art venue visits became virtual. The challenge of this project was to represent a virtual site visitation experience, that combines visitors’ psychology and perceptions, with the actual sites. Each scene should be a blend of reality and hallucination, the latter represented through the momentary appearance of surreal objects. I creatively utilized Mapbox’s zoom level changes to create dramatic effects and apply surrealism for the purpose of artistic representation.

Surrealism is an art movement that was prevalent in the 1930s. It features everyday objects depicted through juxtaposing contrasting colors and layouts in a surprising manner. Surrealism arouses a feeling of the absurd through a realistic form of representation known as “distant realities,” which activates our unconscious minds through the use of imagery. The outcome is to unify the contradictory conditions of dream and reality in an “absolute reality.”

My icon design for downtown Chicago art venues was inspired by the work of a contemporary Chinese artist, Xu Bing. Though different from Western Surrealism, Xu Bing’s works are definitely surreal. He transmogrifies English words into Chinese square characters. Xu’s creatures look like Chinese characters at the first glance, however they can actually be read as English words. He creates illusions. Are these words Chinese or English? Will you believe your eyes or your mind?

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