Som Vilaysack is an artsy engineer who has perhaps accidentally stumbled upon his greatest creation yet. He made an updatable map of the art world that shows the global scene at a glance.
Vilaysack’s map—Hello Art World—scrapes Facebook for dates everywhere, and changes based on event postings…and cancelations. Users can also submit events directly, putting them on the map, literally, for all the world to see (this was a feature the engineer added by request). The map doesn’t list every artsy occurrence around the world, but Vilaysack believes it’s the most comprehensive global listing in existence.
The cartographical calendar began as a practical project. It was borne of Vilaysack’s desire to see the Los Angeles art scene, easily. “At first it was simply to find and organize local art events,” he says.
Now, it covers the globe. Sometimes it’s almost overwhelming. “I knew that my view of the art world was incomplete even before completing this project,” Vilaysack says, “but now I realize I know even less than I previously thought. There is just so much going on out there.”
The work is both a service to people who go places, and a shifting visualization of the art world. It’s an art project unto itself, changing daily while also revealing certain consistencies, for better or worse, in what is marked and what is absent.
For example, most events that show up take place in the US and Europe. The reason for the disparity isn’t because Americans and Europeans are the only ones making or viewing art, of course. Stark geographical distinctions also reflect different cultural definitions for creative production around the world, according to the cartographer, how we define art and engage with it.
The map also reflects who in the world uses Facebook. Vilaysack says the unpopulated spots on the map—places where few things seem to be happening—sometimes just indicate local internet preferences. The map’s reliance on Facebook, an admitted limitation, reveals more about Russian social media use than cultural consumption, for example, as Russians prefer VK, so Russian art events are not well represented.
Meanwhile, China is a void on the map because Facebook is blocked there. The mechanical engineer, whose family is originally from China, explains that making the map made him realize the extent to which a social network that is not in governmental control represents a threat. “But the map also gives me hope because the global momentum is towards more open and free information,” he says.
Although the artist doesn’t say this himself, it can’t be missed that to some extent the global art world map also reflects wealth distribution, country conditions, and the extent to which different nations can afford formalized artistic preoccupation. Museums and gallery shows may not be the best way to see art in much of the world, based on the cartographical calendar, but cultural production is not the domain of any one culture.
Vilaysack was trained as a mechanical engineer but his last job was in the aerospace industry in 2010 and he now focuses on personal projects, like photography, writing, and algorithmic art. He’s interested in visualizations and what they reveal, explaining:
I used to write code to display fractals on an old Mac with one of those monochrome screens. These programs took several hours to run, but I wanted to do it to see what it looked like. That desire to see what something will look like has driven me in a lot of my work. I like the mystery in random, chaotic, ambivalent things. A lot of my photographic work has been about seeing into shadows and seeing things out of focus.
In any case, Vilaysack’s work on the map is done now and he’s just getting the word out. So far, responses to the project from artists and cultural consumers alike are enthusiastic. “I think it goes to show that we’re all hungry and searching for something that gets to us and a lot of us are expecting to find it in art,” he says.