Make a Connection: NAC’s Limited Edition Program

What does it look like when you connect more than 3,000 American cities with one line? Nothing like the political maps you see on — but probably something like Identically Named Places Connected (USA) .

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For the next two months we will be bombarded by maps of the United States. As in the last election, infographics will show the areas of Democratic and Republican control with red and blue dots, circles, and states. When you look at some of these maps of the United States, you might feel a bit estranged from the rest of America. A New Yorker (the deepest blue) might look at Houston (pretty dark red) and think — how is it that we even consider ourselves in the same country? With an interest in showing the connections among all of us, I chose Neil Freeman’s Identically Named Places Connected (USA) to kick off our limited edition series. In these divisive months leading up to the election, this work reminds us of what we have in common as Americans — maybe not much ideology, but a lot of identically named towns.

Let me back up.

Why are we selling prints? We’re a non-profit, subject to the whims of the economy like anyone else. You want more exciting content, we need the money to make that happen. We like advertising that’s helpful to our readers, but we don’t want our magazine or web site to be beholden to ad dollars. So we thought of a more fun, creative way to bring in revenue — limited editions. You buy one for a hundred bucks and that money goes directly into editorial content. You can even comment in the PayPal form how you want your money to be spent. That hundred bucks will also likely pay off better than investing in Uncle Sam. Just a young 27-year-old, Neil Freeman is certain to be an art world icon, if not tomorrow, sometime in the next decade. Mining issues of psychogeography and the built environment, Freeman is a rare exemplar of an artist who can skillfully mix urban issues with art.

Here’s a sneak peak from a Q&A with the artist:

At first glance, the image looks simple, but the more one looks at it one realizes how complex and dense the drawing is. To the uninitiated, this looks like a lot of work or the product of a smart computer program — how did you actually create this image?

The image contains roughly 35,000 lines connecting roughly 25,000 distinct points, so drawing it freehand was not a good option. That doesn’t mean that creating the image programatically was as simple as pressing a button. The details of how the image was created will probably sound like alphabet soup to laypersons (wget, GIS, FME, mySQL, Java, CS3), but I’ll try to give a rough outline.

I began with data downloaded from the US Census website. The files contained the locations and boundaries of every place (anything from a hamlet to a major city) in the US. I first manipulated these files with specialized geographic software, then in a custom database. I then wrote a small application to parse the data and generate the basic image. I did further work on the image in a Adobe Illustrator.

These art works are going to go quickly, so buy one now for your monochromatic apartment, slick office space, or your political nemesis (who might just be your parents).

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Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

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Tags: arts and culturehouston

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