The chorographic vision: an investigation into the historical and contemporary visual literacy of chorography

O'Sullivan, Jill (2011) The chorographic vision: an investigation into the historical and contemporary visual literacy of chorography. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This research spans the origins of chorography in Greek classical cosmographical and geographical philosophies to contemporary interpretation by visual artists. Chorography is a pictorial map-like descriptor that visually codes the physical and metaphysical constituents of specified place. The art of chorography can be perceived and applied as a visual literacy of place to map and signify the inherent attributes and experience of place. This research investigates the history of chorography through two millenniums of creative imagery and the symbolism of mapped place in visual arts to examine and realise the actuality of a chorographic visual literacy in twenty-first century art praxis.

In the Geographike Hyphegesis c.149 AD, Ptolemy clearly defined the concept, method and purpose of chorography; a qualitative descriptor and interpreter that mapped the tangible and intangible elements of unmeasured place, and which was wholly dependent on artistic skills. By this definition, Ptolemy positioned chorography to be a visual language that communicated and mapped the nuances of place. This research argues that the language remained well recognised in artistic endeavour up to and including the medieval, Renaissance periods and seventeenth century in western art. Over the centuries and by artistic designation, the chorographic map, as a narrative of place and visual codes, has been a medium used to reflect on and elucidate the pertinent theology, humanist thought, politics and culture of each era.

Today, chorography is a named and valid visual language of place, acknowledged, and practiced within fields of archaeology, philosophies of place, new media and humanist geographies. However, within twenty-first century visual art theory and practice, the role of chorography by name is almost unrecognised and forgotten.

This research recognises the gap in knowledge and argues that the essence of chorographic intent remains very evident in current practice. In addition, this thesis argues that creative works where conceptual forms of coded maps relate to place can demonstrate chorographic attributes and continue to evoke Ptolemy’s premise. To position chorography as a valid visual literacy of place in theory and praxis within twenty-first century creative arts, key arguments are brought through interdisciplinary investigations to determine purposes and methods of chorography as a signifier of place.

Created in either traditional media or the multimedia of today’s technological world, these qualitative mappings, albeit either real or allegorical, remain linked to place as visual interpreters of its values and issues. Moreover, the argument references artists who map place and appropriate and re-constitute the medieval, Renaissance and early modern chorographic semantics, symbols and iconic descriptors of place to visualise concerns related to modern culture and society. Additionally, this researcher viewed and considered medieval and Renaissance chorographs and mappings from contemporary studio practices on site in international and Australian repositories.

This investigation begins with the examination of chorography’s evolvement through classical Greek philosophies of cosmographies. The study charts and discusses the symbolic authority of chorography as a visual literacy constructed for and conditioned by the changing beliefs, culture and political overtones of ancient to contemporary society. The discourse appraises the quite sophisticated and semiotic abstractions of place that reflect beliefs mapped by theological chorographs, the metaphysical T-O and mappaemundi. The research then explores and assesses the ways Renaissance chorographers, deeply influenced by Ptolemy’s Geographia, brought overt secular and political symbolism to this art of place. Discussed within this context too are chorography's affiliation with the invention of the printing press and reasons for chorography’s displacement as a descriptor of place within visual arts that began at the end of the early modern period.

Results from this analysis provide a clear understanding of the visual literacy of chorography and the methods of symbolism used to delineate place and its intricate elements, both tangible and intangible. This determination allows for the selection of criteria to assess selected contemporary art works that well may be read as chorographic. In addition, this understanding underpins the researcher’s creation of chorographic artwork, an important correlation to the research. The researcher’s qualitative mappings present a particular region and its elements of North West Queensland by the use of chorographic principles and language, shaped by personal knowledge and experience. In this way, the practice-based component of the research, as a case study, argues for a way forward for the recognition of chorography as a contemporary language of place within contemporary art.

Item ID: 29155
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: chorography; visual literacy; Ptolemy; place mapping; visual art; conceptual communications
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Appendix: O'Sullivan, Jill (2010) The contemporary visual literacy of mapped place: chorographic directions, links and analogies. At the Interface: cutting-edge research: mapping minds 4th Global Conference: visual literacies - exploring critical issues, 7-9 July 2010, Oxford, UK.

Appendix: O'Sullivan, Jill (2009) Chorography: reflections on its place in visual literacy and creative arts. Proceedings of 3rd Global Conference Visual Literacies 3rd Global Conference Visual Literacies, 14-16th July 2009, Mansfield College, Oxford, UK.

Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2013 22:39
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1901 Art Theory and Criticism > 190102 Art History @ 50%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1901 Art Theory and Criticism > 190103 Art Theory @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 100%
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