New York

Lordy Rodriguez

Clementine

Imagine Texas situated on the eastern seaboard, New Mexico boasting the charms of Eau Claire, Little Rock, and New Haven, Oklahoma forming the southern border of Canada, and Kansas with many ports. This is the United States of America according to twenty-four-year-old artist Lordy Rodriguez, who for three years has been involved in an ongoing project to reconfigure the nation according to his own imagination. Submitting geography to a process of declassification, Rodriguez recently completed the overall map of his new country, whose outline no longer conforms to the nation’s real contours: Not only have states moved from one coast to the other, but the entire land mass has been exploded and reshaped. Five new states have been added: Disney, The Internet, Hollywood, Monopoly, and Territory State (an amalgam of Samoa, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, perhaps in reference to the artist’s Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, and French heritage), bringing the total number to fifty-five, equal to the national speed limit when he started the series—an explicit reference to the impact of driving on urban planning.

Along with the national map, Rodriguez igtends to make an individual drawing of each state, in no particular order but saving Texas, his home state, for last. So far he’s finished about one-third of them (eleven were on view in this show), including Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, New York, and Disney. Each state is treated lovingIy in this long-term undertaking. When Rodriguez began these projects, he
included copious detail. His map of the Dakotas, for example, is dense with grids of roads, rural routes, and interstates and filled with the names of towns and villages (some written upside down or backward). But his drawing has progressively become more concerned with formal issues, particularly color relationships: smooth patches of gray, blue, and green ink, orange highways cutting across purple state lines.

Representational but not pictographic in the usual sense, maps constitute a singular visual domain. Rodriguez takes the inherent formlessness of cartographic practices to an extreme. The result is a fantasy country in which, for instance, the residents of Jersey City, Roswell, and Del Boca Vista would form a single constituency. Civil harmony or total anarchy? What would CNN’s red-and-blue electoral map have looked like back on November 7? Shifting boundaries and cities as Rodriguez does forces reflection on the varied and often polarized character of this “indivisible” nation, but his enterprise is less entropic and more the product of egalitarian fantasy and optimism. His map gives the smaller, less populous, or “forgotten” states a moment of importance; Rhode Island, for example, is now enormous. In fact, this project, triggered by homesickness, is a highly personal geography. Here, nearly every state has major ports, like all the places Rodriguez has lived: New York, Texas, Louisiana. There is an affecting earnestness to his self-contained undertaking. It’s not inconceivable that after he finishes the US, he could reconfigure every country on the globe, inventing countless new friendly territories as he goes. Meanwhile, I’m hoping he’ll keep his promise to make Los Angeles the capital of West Virginia.

Meghan Dailey