January 16, 2021

By ANDREW OMRAN

PHOTOS BY ANDREW OMRAN Jefferson Campbell-Cooper was at City Hall in Kitchener with his piece of art, asking people to add their key locations to the map.

Waterloo Region residents had the opportunity to leave their mark on their hometowns in March.  Visitors to Kitchener City Hall and Jefferson Campbell-Cooper’s unique, creative piece of artwork could add their own personal touch.
His artwork consists of a room-size map on the floor.
Some people see a map as a form of direction … nothing more than a way to get around the city. Campbell-Cooper sees it differently and that’s what has allowed his recent creation to have such a philosophical impact on the community.
“We hope to highlight Kitchener’s diverse community by focusing on the amazing stories of the area’s geologic history, the development of its human history, the personalities and experiences of its people,” Cooper said.
He added that the map gives people an opportunity to look at their city from a perspective they may not be used to.
“The map gives us a larger perspective of the Grand River and how it kind of flows through Kitchener and the railways and highways; people get really thrown back by it. Like ‘oh, I had no idea the highway had so many curves and went in this direction,’” he said.
When it comes to trends or interests people have in the map, Campbell-Cooper said  they are often interested in figuring out the same thing.
“I’ve been accumulating stuff, from what people tell me about the map, from their experiences walking on it and where they come from so I’ve been able to label areas, neighbourhoods, parks and creeks but right away, people want to figure out where they live and where they work; that’s always exciting for people.”
When it comes to actually getting people to draw on his creation, that’s a whole other story as some people are still getting used to the idea of drawing on art.
“People really open up, they engage because they’re really excited … but to get them to get the marker on the map is definitely a bit of a struggle.
“The more outgoing, younger people have been more inclined to pick up a marker and help participate but people are reluctant like, ‘oh, I’m going to make a mistake … it’s not going to look nice;’ it’s these types of things.”
Luckily, Cooper understands their hesitation and has figured out a way that they can still get their memories and favourite places on the map.
“People love dictating and telling me stories so I just kind of follow them around and I will add stuff as they’re telling me their stories.
“If there’s any frustration in the program, it’s that I can’t keep up with (all the) information. I can’t digest it fast enough and get it on the map.”
Campbell-Cooper’s fascination with maps, geography and location goes back to his childhood. He has always enjoyed finding a way to connect with rest of the world.
“I’ve always been fascinated with maps … it’s probably more of a fascination with orienting myself within the rest of the world whether it’s within a province or country even as a little child.
“To do these maps at a larger scale and I can walk on them, it’s enjoyable. But the information, seeing how a two-dimensional view can depict a landscape so accurately amazes me,” he said.
The map, currently at Kitchener’s City Hall, may be the first that this community has had an opportunity to see but Campbell-Cooper has done similar projects on even bigger scales.
“The idea of a large-scale map that people can walk on as an art exhibit … I did it for Nuit Blanche in Toronto in 2009; I did a 44-x34-foot map with acrylic wooded areas and rivers.”
There are normally about 500,000 people who attend the annual Toronto art event, which gave Campbell-Cooper an opportunity to get creative.
“Now, I didn’t seal the graphite as part of my intention … I wanted the people and pedestrians participating at Nuit Blanche to walk over the map and distort it, thus letting the downtown core of graphite distort out into Lake Ontario and the rural areas farther up north. Which it did. They really muddied up the crisp, clean areas. In a sense, they finished the work.”
The Kitchener piece of art is on display at City Hall until the end of the year.