The art installation in the above photo is perhaps the most accurate map in the world.

It may not look like much — almost a complete abstraction — but this piece, titled “Study for the Westminster Series with Pavement Light, Hardboard and Cobbles” by the Boyle Family is an exact replica of one five metre squared portion of the surface of the earth, and thus, the most precise map that could ever be created.

More typical maps are inevitably abstractions of reality — they have to be in order to convey meaning clearly to their users. Choosing one element to highlight, such as say, the road network, the subway system, or downtown Burrito restaurants, inevitably means that most of the rest of the world goes unrepresented. If one were to try to represent everything in the world on a map, you’d just get a life-size duplicate of the world.

The Boyle Family’s initially confounding-Cartography does just that. It is a cut of the surface of the world, a map of one portion of the planet that is at scale with the world around it and is thus wholly accurate.


It’s funny that, in its very literal-ness and accuracy, the Boyle maps become completely abstract. They lose all meaning as a map of any use, and its precisely their accuracy that does their utility in. Hanging in the walls of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern art, these Earth Pieces are out of context and incomprehensible.