Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Convention of Cartography - by W. David Hancock

The Convention of Cartography
is a play for one person, with video and environmental elements. The first stage direction:

(Audience members stumble upon a very old Airstream trailer, sitting in the middle of an overgrown parking lot. A hand-painted sign above the door of the trailer reads: MUSEUM)
There are seats facing a video monitor, several objects with the label "SOME OF MIKE'S THINGS" and a woman selling concessions. She is the curator's wife, and takes part in the performance as well, helping with tours and taking over at set points.

The curator appears and begins his lecture about a man he knew. A poet and artist and drifter who left poems in random places for people find and made boxes - described like Joseph Cornell type objects - that he installed at various places - underpasses, in people's attic's, highway restrooms. A picture of the man emerges through the lecture - how he worked and his effect on the curator's life. Then we are told that when Mike was dying the curator traveled to be with him.

Video tapes of the curator and Mike's conversations from this time are shared. These are interrupted by the curator - occasionally adding context, or sharing Mike's art, describing his efforts to locate and retrieve some of the work scattered across the USA. There are moments that will be fast-forwarded unless the audience protests to see it. Other stories emerge, the story of Ida, the great-aunt of the curator - how he met Mike when he was living with her, UFOs, a man dying in the back of a greyhound bus. Mike does not often cooperate with the curator, setting his own terms for many of the sections. Objects are referred to in the stories and are then seen in the collections and available for the audience to handle.

Audience is invited inside the museum. Displays of work are described, as is the nature of interaction the curator and his wife will have with the visitors. A video plays, a close up of Mike talking about Ida. There are cards described that should be placed with the exhibits.

At finish, a box with a peephole and a penlight is available for the audience to look at one by one. It is "Ida's Wing" and they are told it was found in a retirement home in their town. The curator tells about the discovery and exits. Leaving his wife to share it and resume the tour.

The play has a distinct mood in it. A feeling of loss and the attempt to collect and locate the inexplicable. As a script for an installation/play it is so clear. I've often wondered when attending other similar-type events how do you record it? and this script feels like one answer to that question. Or just for reading and gleaning the potential experience that way.

I wish I could go visit this museum in an over-grown parking lot, outside of some mid-western town... and I highly recommend reading this.


  1. Where did you get your copy? I've been trying to find it.

  2. I read it in "PLAY A JOURNAL OF PLAYS" - and here is a link: