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Herman Melville, who chased real and imaginary whales, once said, “True places are never’’ found on any map. That might help explain Ilana Manolson’s fragmented chart composed of scraps of old maps and plaster, clumps of earth and ivy roots that covers two gallery walls in the Danforth Museum and School of Art.
“As we move from place to place in our fast-paced existence,’’ the Concord artist said, “we bring the places we have known with us, and, thus the places are connected.’’
Her visceral “Fragile Navigation’’ is on display as the largest part of an ongoing exhibition by herself and three other artists, Thaddeus Beal, Adrienne Der Marderosian and Rhonda Smith, who are variously exploring the psychic and mythic meaning of maps.
Originally scheduled to close early this month, the exhibition has been extended to Dec. 4, due to popular interest, said Executive Director Katherine French.
“It’s an eye catching show and, we felt, an important show that incorporates maps, map-making and the interest in place,’’ she said.
French explained the title of Manolson’s installation and the exhibit were inspired by Katherine Harmon’s book, “The Map As Art, Fragile Navigation’’ that examines how different artists use visual references to maps to consider how people process “information and illusion.’’
In their varied work, the four area artists of “Fragile Navigation’’ use actual maps as springboards to pursue their personal interests.
Like Melville, the author of “Moby Dick,’’ they seem intent on following actual maps into the uncharted depths of imagination.
They’re on journeys worth taking.
In striking oil paintings like “Dido Moves Carthage to Another Ocean,’’ Smith creates a colorful map of an imagined world in which “disruption elicits the creative response.’’
While Beal didn’t set out to draw maps, his charcoal on paper works such as “Carbon Hypostases 56,’’ share the worn and weathered look of aging charts of a long ago sea voyage.
In several mixed media pieces from her series “Tattoo Trails,’’ Der Marderosian juxtaposes human figures on maps as if tracking them through their uncertain migrations.
Previously known for her luminous paintings of lush organic life, Manolson has made a large, multi-part installation that looks like it might have been constructed in an ancient cartographer’s root cellar rather than in the former botanist’s Concord studio. Covering parts of two walls, it initially resembles an archipelago, a chain of fragmented islands and bits of land. Taking another look, it might be a Google Earth’s eye view of the evolving globe as tectonic plates shift beneath the surface.
Looking closely, visitors will see Manolson incorporated into it scraps of actual historic maps she printed from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library where she recently displayed some work as part of a show "Rethink: Ink.'' For that show, she exhibited a work titled "Terra Flow'' which covered part of a library wall with a seeming chain of islands that combined actual maps, plaster and roots and earth from her garden.
After French saw that work and invited her to exhibit in the Danforth, Manolson created the site specific piece that now covers two walls.
At the Danforth, Manolson has added figures called a compass rose, which are lines and nautical markings stretching across the gallery walls like a ship's rigging to suggest the orientation of the cardinal directions of the compass.
Maps have played a large part in Manolson's life.
Her late grandparents immigrated from Minsk, Russia, to Canada where she was raised. A former botanist, Manolson formerly worked in Elk Island National Park, establishing a herbarium and establishing grazing land for bison. She came to the U.S. and became a citizen four years ago.
For Manolson, being "rooted in the garden of her Concord home helps establish her in a more global way.''
"We are connected to the places that are meaningful to us by deep veins of history, heritage, experience and inspiration,'' she said. "...Thus what we glean from our more global view helps us bring a new perspective back to the specifics of the places we know well.''