Friday, May 9, 2008

Places To Visit

Primrose Hill, Staten Island, Chalk Farm, Massif Central, Gospel Oak, Sao Paolo, Boston Manor, Costa Rica, Arnos Grove, San Clemente, Tufnell Park……..(St Etienne, Girl Vii)

After the hectoring and bad humour comes something a little more…..positive.

I came across a short article in this week’s Time Out where artist Richard Dedomenici proposes a new London tube line based on places of cultural interest in South London. The idea of an underground line that describes a personal journey reminded me both of St Etienne’s song Girl vii and Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear.

Both subvert the over-familiarity of the tube map with unexpected associations. Girl vii conflates a series of exotic destinations with quotidian London tube stops. Patterson’s work completely erases the names of tube stops and replaces them with those of famous people – philosophers, engineers, Saints - giving each line its own genre so that the Northern line becomes Film Actors, the Victorian line Italian painters and the Jubliee line footballers. The seeming flippancy of this gesture slowly gives way to a deeper appreciation both of its inherent humour and of its taxonomic randomness. Green Park station for instance represents a convergence of all three lines mentioned above and becomes renamed, somewhat surreally, Gary Lineker.

In a larger sense the relationship of personal experience to maps is interesting because it calls into question the maps claims to impartiality and ultimately truth. Maps always seek authority and claim to be correct although, like the Tube map, they may only be ‘right’ in a graphic rather than geo-graphic sense. They are always partial, seen from one perspective, or one view. The Culture Tube is only slightly more partial than, say, the East London Line extension currently being built, but in a sense the whole tube map can be personalised to reflect our experience of London. There are some stations I may never go to while others are overloaded with sentimental value. If I were to draw the tube map from memory it would be grossly impartial and inaccurate, leaving off numerous stops and emphasising others, making strange connections between places and collapsing distances between different areas of London.

St Etienne’s song suggests that, like the Situationists map of Paris or Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, we remake the city in our head every day. Walking, travelling and using the city are creative acts. To take the tube to Marble Arch to work is different than to take it to walk through Hyde Park on a summers day. Peter Cook once asked: “If it’s raining on Oxford Street do you notice the buildings or the rain?”. Sometime experience is more cultural than physical, more about interpretation than infrastructure.

More than that it might be a way to design infrastructure, utilising the undermining of authorial intent - Barthe's Death of the Author - or the claims to authority of technocratic processes, to create something more more arbitrary, stranger, less known.


sam said...

great post, I really like that tube map!

I found this (below) recently, and its a version of what you are talking about. The person has reimagined his town according to his 'nascent sexuality': what he has done, with whom, and where.

The main problem that I envisage regarding what you propose, though, would be that infrastructure, surely, must be designed according to public need, or at least concerns beyond the individual subject. Yet how places are experienced is highly subjective, so how do you accomodate that into a more public domain?

I suppose one answer may be to design blank spaces in some way, spaces free to be transcribed by the individual.

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