The Silk Road
The Typography of Place
This map was inspired by Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. At the performance, Yo Yo spoke about the ensemble and its inspiration, the ancient Silk Road. To imagine the Silk Road you have to stop thinking about countries. They did not exist at the time. This made me curious to find out what defined the routes of the Silk Road as it made its way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Yangtze River in today's China. As I traced the routes in an atlas it became clear that the routes were defined by geography... primarily mountain, deserts, and the occasional oasis. The geography becomes particularly clear in the mountain ranges surrounding the Hindu Kush. There the Silk Road traces its way through a knot of mountains and passes, including the infamous Khyber Pass.
The Silk Road was not one route but many. One of the reasons for this is that certain routes were prone to bandits and crime. As word of this spread among travellers, they would switch to alternate routes.
Yo Yo Ma referred to the Silk Road as the Internet of the ancient world. It fostered a vast exchange of ideas, goods and culture. The Stradivarius cello that he plays is itself a product of the Silk Road with the materials and then the instrument itself having made it’s away across the Silk Road. The bold warm red of the map is a reference to the boldly colored silks that gave the Silk Road it’s name.
While working on the map, I researched some of the Silk Road towns online. Many of the thriving trading and oasis towns of the Silk Road are shadows of their former selves. Some no longer exist. But on the Internet they have a special existence. Not only do they exist in the form of thousands of pages describing their history but many are un-corrupted by the commercial side of the Internet. Interest in the towns is dominated by historians and not companies so you can explore the town without fear of being sold something.
Typography as geography and the politics of place are recurrent themes in my work.