London, that is. Today I finally got to the London: A Life in Maps exhibition at the British Library. The prospect of looking at the city I love through lots of ephemera just sounded right up my street.
Maps of London; through time; showing the development of the city, from the first known depiction on a Roman medal, to Google Earth. Cool.
Equally fascinating was the behaviour of the people visiting the exhibition. There's just something about maps that draws you right in. If a map depicts familiar territory, you're compelled to connect. To isolate somewhere you recognise and to pin it with an imaginary marker before navigating away or spanning out. All around the exhibition, people had their noses up to the displays, often tracing with their fingers and muttering imagined journeys or locations to themselves.
I swear the bigger scale maps sorted North Londoners from their Southern counterparts. Northerners would stand on tiptoe and use their hands to shield their eyes from the ceiling lights, while Southerners like me could often be found crouched to the floor, looking to see if our patch had made it onto this map or not.
Video installations explored the undrawn London maps inside aspiring black cab-driver's heads - these are available online here. There's also a film, My London, where six Londoners talk about their personal London geography. The title of this post is a quote made by artist Gavin Turk in this film, though my favourite quote is made by Arthur Smith:
"The cranky underground tube. You can't help but be a little bit in love with the dirty old underground. Bastard."
I would have liked to see a time-line film, where all the different maps in the exhibition were digitally superimposed over each other. Letting you see the city building up, burning down, then rebuilding and growing over time. I suppose it would have been very difficult and expensive to do - would have been cool though.
P.S. More wonderful and creative cartography can be found at Strangemaps a blog dedicated to the lovely-sounding pursuit of 'collecting cartographic curiosa' (I think I originally found this blog via Zero Influence, but could be wrong). Also I've only had a sneaky little peek at it so far but my colleague Lucy showed me her copy of The Atlas Of Experience and I'm desperate to pour over it some more (or perhaps even buy my own copy). I need to know what roads lead to the Swamps of Boredom and ponder which lands surround the Sea of Possibilities.
Oh and beeker has also been feeling cartographically inclined, directing us to this archive of antique African maps. Looking at these reminded me of something that tickled me at the London exhibition -the way cartographers in the past often felt compelled to label their maps "new and accurate". That assertion of accuracy that somehow seeds an immediate sense of doubt.