"Vectors" by Ward Shelley
When you think of maps and diagrams, you probably think of finding your way through space. Finding your way through history, especially the history of individual people and large social movements, is usually more difficult. For the next couple of weeks, you can visit Wells Library and see a display of intricate drawings by the artist Ward Shelley and see how a map of time would work, and how diagrams can become art.
Part timeline, part mind map, part family trees of the world, these drawings show the meandering paths and multiple factors that lead to everything from Frank Zappa’s career to the end of the world. Some of the maps look familiar– a history of the wars of the United States tracks its way across the body of a snake cut into several pieces, reminiscent of the famous “Join, or Die” political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin. The aforementioned Frank Zappa piece looks like a diagram of a strange factory filled with pipes and ooze. In my favorite piece, two purple and red branches split apart and interweave to show world-ending disasters coming primarily from the purple “Anthropogenic” branch rather than the red “Natural” branch. The detail on this one captivated me. On its side, the web of tragedies reminded me both of lungs and of a tree.
These drawings feel interactive in a way that most paintings don’t accomplish. As one viewer told me as I was taking pictures, “I could miss my bus looking at these.” Every inch has a new detail that draws you in. The connections between artists, religions, and the world seem more vibrant and exciting here. It looks like a diagram, but ends up feeling like a puzzle.
To find the exhibit, simply go to the main lobby of Wells Library. There, you’ll find some temporary grey walls holding these captivating maps. Get here quickly; the exhibit will only be up until February 16th.