By Deborah Weisgall
Uncharted Series, Basin (and detail)
2009, adhesive, paper, 20”x20”
Shannon Rankin was born in California. When she was 9, she moved to Vermont. After high school, she moved to Florida, then returned to New England to attend the Maine College of Art, where she earned a degree in graphic design before heading west again to San Francisco. Today she lives in Rangeley. She made her first map piece from an old map her grandfather gave her. “I loved the colors and the texture of the paper and the intricate lines and details,” she says. Her works chart her travels: geographical, psychological, across time and space. Rankin manipulates maps—her raw material—into precise patterns that order experience. Now these imagined visual journeys are taking her to real places: to a gallery in Germany, to residencies in Vermont and Nebraska. In Maine, she has just brought home the 2010 Center for Maine Contemporary Art Bienniel Jurors’ Prize.
Maps record all kinds of information: natural—mountains, plains, rivers, oceans, and human—boundaries, roads, names. They read like mysteries, laden with clues to the past, to what happened. Rankin is, herself, consumed with recording. She says: “I am in the habit of documenting everything I do, constantly posting life images and work images.”
She photographs details of her constructions, mimicking the way viewers scrutinize them. There is a three- dimensional quality to her work; each installation achieves its own topography. They become landscapes, views of Rankin’s personal geography.
Rankin turns the maps she uses upside down to make them difficult to read. Though they don’t refer to specific places, sometimes she makes geological connections. Basin is made from the Eurasian steppe, flat and colored blue like an ancient sea. She cut shapes, like topographical contour lines from maps and stacked them one on top of another, building from paper a body of water.
“I love cutting paper into thin slices with an X-Acto blade,” she says. “I geek out over that. All of my work comes down to process, the love of process, its meditative quality.” Rankin charts the connections between physical and emotional territory, between evolution and personal experience. In the process, she achieves her own place.