Subjective City: Massive Wall Map of NYC Assembled from Handwritten Directions

A few years back, artist Nobutaka Aozaki started asking directions from strangers on the streets of Manhattan, then collecting those maps (hand-drawn from memory) to assemble into a huge and growing work of geographic wall art.

To aid his work, the artist pretends to be a tourist, donning souvenir apparel and carrying around a shopping bag from a popular tourist destination. He then asks New York pedestrians how to get from one location to the next, all in ways designed to fill in the gaps of his larger composition.

From Here to There, he explains, is a “map of Manhattan composed of hand-drawn maps by various pedestrians whom I asked for directions. I have collected and aggregated together small individual maps provided by strangers that constitute a contiguous map of the island of Manhattan.” Like a pre-digital version of now-popular subjective maps (like the one below, the result of this art project is a patchwork quilt made up of slips of paper ripped out of notebooks, even paper plates from street vendors — whatever is handy to draw on, scribbled upon with whatever is handy to write with, in whatever style and format is favored by the individual creators.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch evolve, and it may never be complete, but that isn’t really the point of the project. These days, few people rely on paper maps anymore, so it becomes a reflection of what people still know, or think they know, about the city around them. It also turns out to be a handy way to gauge the helpfulness of strangers on the streets of a big metropolis, showing how they respond when asked for a simple kindness from a stranger.