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A map of a different color

August 30, 2010


People map joy and pain with colored pencils.

Kathy Kapsner, left, adds some color to the U hospital where she had open-heart surgery as a 7-year-old. Kapsner says she marked the spot as a place of both pain and joy. Rebecca Krinke looks on.

Photo: Rick Moore

U professor’s interactive map of joy and pain elicits strong emotions

By Rick Moore

On the surface (both literally and figuratively) Rebecca Krinke’s latest public art piece is simply a giant laser-cut map of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But once she added in two types of colored pencils—gold and gray—and let local citizens color in their personal places of joy and pain, it became something much more. 

The map has turned into a sociology experiment of sorts and a sounding board for people’s emotions: hope and despair, contentment and anger, love and hate.

Krinke, an associate professor in landscape architecture at the U, created the map this summer with the help of students, including three funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Etched into maple veneer over a thick hunk of plywood, it rests atop a “table” filled with gold and gray sculpture pieces.

Beginning in late July, Krinke started taking the map to public spaces in Minneapolis and St. Paul and inviting passersby to use the colored pencil of their choice—gold for joy and gray for pain (or both)—to express their memories of places.

“We’re surprised; we didn’t know what would happen,” says Krinke. “That’s the beauty of this being a public art project and not a scientific investigation.

Shades of gray … and golden memories

Even though the map abounds with gold lines, arrows, splotches, and blocks, one can’t help but notice the patches of gray—a stark reminder of the pain that surfaces in all of our lives.

The Minneapolis impound lot, by no stretch of the imagination a place of good cheer, is gray going on black. Ditto for large sections of the freeway system in the Twin Cities and for the Hennepin County Medical Center. One person even drew gray lines depicting flight patterns across south Minneapolis.

Many of those painful places have sparked heartfelt stories shared with Krinke. Like that of the boy who lost his father at Regions Hospital in downtown St. Paul. Or from the man who was ready to leave St. Paul behind and wanted to color the whole city gray.

One man was sharing his tale of overdosing on heroin in Minneapolis when another chimed in and said, “Yeah, that happened to me, too,” Krinke says. “And they looked at each other like, ‘Well, we made it.’”

Fortunately, the map still radiates more than its share of good times and golden memories. Of fish caught in Minneapolis lakes. Of trails hiked and biked over and over again. Of sports venues old and new. (The Metrodome, in case you were wondering, registers more gold than gray.) And of new connections to person and place.

One man mapped his whole block in St. Paul gold “because he adores his neighbors,” Krinke says. “He said that when [one neighbor] first met him she said to him, ‘You are complete now,’ because he bought this house after a divorce. And he said, ‘When she said that, I just felt like I had found the perfect place. It was such a moment of completion.’

“I said, ‘That’s beautiful. It’s interesting you didn’t pick up the gray pencil to map pain at the old place. He said, ‘I thought about it, but then I felt I’ve moved past that.’”

A need to be heard

Krinke figures the physical map may be at the end of its life, but she’s looking at a way to put it online and make it more broadly interactive, possibly with “a national or international day of mapping joy and pain.”

“I guess I’m really surprised at what kind of chord this is striking,” she says, pausing for a moment. “I don’t know, is there some kind of deep hunger in our society for a place to share beauty and fear, joy and pain? Do we never think about it, acknowledge it?”

As artists and designers, “there’s a lot of potential here,” she adds. “Maybe we’re the witnesses. Maybe that’s why they like talking. It’s like testifying in a way. I guess [it’s] a deep fundamental human need to be heard.”

Read more about “Unseen/Seen: The Mapping Joy and Pain” at Rebecca Krinke’s blog, which has many comments and photos related to each of the places the artwork has traveled.

Close-up of part of joy and pain map.Memories of pain permeate this part of the map, from places including the Minneapolis impound lot (upper left), Hennepin County Medical Center (bottom center, next to the Metrodome) and the interstate freeway system, presumably at rush hour. At least the river runs through it.

Tags: College of Design

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Read more about “Unseen/Seen: The Mapping Joy and Pain” at Rebecca Krinke’s blog.