Is there anything better than losing yourself in a fascinating map? Yeah, we know, that’s as ironic as finding ten thousand spoons when all you need is another platinum album. But the excitement of poring over the contours and strange names of some old Bartholomew’s three miles to one inch is, somehow, even better than being there. Saves on petrol, anyway.

Still, some maps are better than others – some maps actually reveal the soul of a place. Not content with scrawling the legend ‘Here Be Dragons’ in their margins, some actually tell us where the Dragon lives, and who he toasted for breakfast.

Mixing myth and milestones, history and personality, Stephen Walter’s pen and ink excursions into the real world lead him to Liverpool, and the creation of our very own Mappa Mundi. And he’s here on Tuesday, giving a workshop in the Bluecoat, where his complex cartography hangs.

The workshop and Q&A is free as part of the Diesel School of Island Life programme, and co-curated by the fine people at Mercy. Anyone can attend by picking up a passport for free at any Diesel store in the Met Quarter.

In a world of Sat Nav and Streetview, Stephen Walter’s microscopic manoeuvres across the surface of our great cities offer a myriad possibilities to trace out a route through the history, personality, imagination and myth of place: revealing far more than any tripod mounted Google camera ever could.

Is it important for you to visit a place before you embark on creating a map? Or do you prefer to visit it only in your imagination?

It depends – I am currently working on a map of Utopia that is a ‘non-place’, based on Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia’ (1516). It uses the map outline of Abraham Ortelius’s version (1596) and tells the story of the Island described in More’s book but 500 years on.

My maps of actual places do require a certain amount of passion and knowledge for a place. ‘The Island’ (my map of London) came with an innate understanding of my hometown and having organically traversed around the city all my life. My Map of Liverpool was more anecdotal as I was unfamiliar with the place beforehand. I had to rely on the input of others.

Over the centuries, maps have been propaganda tools, powerful symbols of oppression, and works of great beauty. What are they to you?

They are statements of intellectual ownership.

Mercator or Bartholomew – when did maps have their golden age?

The time is now…

Sat Nav. Devil incarnate?

Yes. But the Devil is within us all. Will we ever evolve at the same rate as our technology? We are basically apes carrying around iPhones.

Just as long as we educate ourselves and remain aware, we will be OK. I am not going to make excuses, either for Ludites or for those who just follow the Sat Nav whist remaining unaware of where they are actually going!

Your maps, to us, seem more psycho-geography than cartography – would you agree?

I hope so. I think they are influenced by a psycho-geographical tradition. Whether they do or not is not up to me. The likes of Will Self and Iain Sinclair are always in my thoughts.

What did you unearth that you think had remained off-the-grid in Merseyside, when you created your map of our region?

I revived the memory of Litherland’s ‘Renny on the Moron’, Alison’s and the Whisper (sticky carpets), floating turds in the Heatwave’s pool, and much more…

How can we use your map to better explore our city?

Visually speaking – more for the imagination. It’s like a talisman for further investigations. I also hope it inspires people to walk their city more…

After Berlin (Walter’s current mapping project), where do you see your journey taking you?

South America, France (always) and more inside my own head and imagination…

Stephen Walter’s Island Map Q&A
The Bluecoat, 31 May

David Lloyd

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