The main event, however, consisted of two large ‘map’ paintings – both of imagined landscapes in bold blues, browns, greens and yellows. In the absence of any detail beyond the land’s contours and waterways, it was the merest of visual details that allowed us to interpret these abstracts shapes as ‘maps’ at all.
The key element of the work, however, was not immediately visible. On the artist’s website she had invited visitors to respond to the maps, providing their own geologies and histories to turn these newborn lands into real, living spaces. Very few had actually added to the maps themselves, preferring to add explanatory texts and leave it to Ruane herself to add pencil drawings to printed copies of the maps.
Perhaps inevitably, it was the points where the added texts were the most minimal that the artistic responses succeeded best. Confronted with reams of convoluted backstory there appeared to be little to do but select from the long list of potential features mentioned to add. A single request for a ‘circle line’ of boats, however, turned the more watery of the maps into a wittily imagined version of the London Underground, whereas the single word ‘watching’ populated its more landlocked counterpart with a (for some indescribable reason utterly appropriate) giant ant.
The project, which will be published online shortly, is still ongoing, and copies of the map were provided for visitors to modify themselves. While I felt inhibited by a lack of drawing talent, it was warming to see the kindergartenesque intensity with which others took hold of the opportunity. Indeed, the whole thing was a lot warmer and less forbiddingly ‘conceptual’ than its publicity seemed to imply – which was no bad thing at all.