Meet the Man Trying to Save the Lost Art of Hand-Drawn Maps

Conceptual artist Nobutaka Aozaki asks New York tourists for directions scribbled on a napkin, receipt, or stray piece of paper.

Nobutaka Aozaki

Nobutaka Aozaki is looking for directions.

No, don’t pull out your iPhone.

For the last two years, the Japanese-born, New York-based conceptual artist has been working on a partial map of Manhattan compiled of individual, hand-drawn maps he’s collected from strangers. The ongoing project, “From Here to There,” is part of Aozaki’s exploration of the process of giving and receiving directions.

Dressed as a tourist, armed  with a baseball cap and a shopping bag from tourist-mecca Century 21 department store, Aozaki walks up to passersby on the street and asks for directions. He's focused on both major tourist destinations and places where he goes out to eat or to meet friends.

He was inspired, he says, by a time he asked for directions twice in one day and received small, hand-drawn maps to help guide him. Realizing that he could put the two together and create a larger picture of the area, he saw an opportunity for the kind of collaborative art he's most interested in. "I always think about how the process of making art can be integrated into everyday life," he explains.

When he heads out on the street to ask pedestrians for directions, Aozaki's found more and more that people are likely to rely on GPS mapping apps to give directions. Mapping, he told the blog Spoon & Tamago, is becoming "a lost form of communication." Instead, Aozaki insists on a hand-drawn map for reference, scribbled on a napkin, receipt, or stray piece of paper. He's overlaid the results into a patchwork of Manhattan.

Aozaki says he's noticed particular trouble-spots throughout Manhattan. In the West Village, the dense network of streets often confuses pedestrians when they try to put pen to paper. But even further uptown, the grid doesn't help much if the direction-giver finds fewer major landmarks to reference.

Aozaki, who moved to New York seven years ago, has focused much of his work on the way he lives in the city. Other projects include a video imagining post-apocalyptic New York subway, and a series of drink cups from his local Starbucks, all with his name misspelled.

All images courtesy of Nobutaka Aozaki.

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