Blind Navigations - Phantom Islands

John Descarfino

The series of mixed-media renderings of St. Brendan's Island, Thule, Taprobana, Hy-Brasil, Frisland and St. Matheus Island pertains to a subject that entails fact as well as fiction, and that embodies a process of orientating and familiarizing an unknown, perhaps unknowable territory through mark-making, touch and chance. The islands referenced in the series are just a handful of the dozens of 'lands' known as 'phantom islands'—those that appear on old maps, and that sometimes continued to appear for hundreds of years, but that never existed or can no longer be found. The stories behind their repeated cartographic documentation tell of things ranging from navigational accidents, misidentified objects and the Fata Morgana phenomenon, to clever attempts by shrewd explorers to entice potential funders to back their expeditions. Since navigation and travel are intricately connected to storytelling, it’s no surprise that tales of mythic proportions developed around some of these 'phantom islands.' Intrigued by questions related to searching for, mapping and defining things that cannot necessarily be seen, the artist set out to find relevant drawing processes to turn these 'invisible islands' into subject matter. Each 'cartographic' rendering begins with a blind circumnavigation of a particular ‘phantom island,' using pencil and slowly orientating with an uninterrupted mark-making through touch - by feeling the paper’s edges, - rather than sight. The drawing is covered awash with watercolor, followed by variable layers of repeated attempts at blind navigation.

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Issue 14
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