25 March 2010

Mental Map of Lurgan

If you’re out and about you might come across a free once-off publication called The Floorsucker. It has been produced by young people living in different parts of Northern Ireland. The Floorsucker is a disparate collection of words and images but has an overall theme of promoting mental health awareness amongst the youth. It features maps of Lurgan and Bangor drawn by young residents. They say; “Maps often present an image of a place that doesn’t fit with our experience. For an alternative to Google Earth, Ordnance Survey and the rest, try these …”

Map of Lurgan, detail.

In artistic or academic circles these maps might be called mental maps. It is a fashionable term used to discuss the charting of inner experience as opposed to the outer topography. At least I hope these are mental maps, could there really be so many skulls littering Lurgan?

Map of Lurgan, detail.

I think applying “mental” to “maps” is fine activity. I do it myself. However in a brilliant short essay in The Floorsucker Fionola Merideth suggests that we should take care when applying “mental,” and words like it, to people casually. “… every time we call someone a ‘looper’ or ‘nutter’ – however lightly and jokingly – we’re buying into a discourse which ghettoises and ridicules the people who struggle with the horrible reality of mental illness on a daily basis.”

The Floorsucker is colourful and thoughtful. I was glad to see the young people involved were introduced to the idea of using maps for creative expression. The democratisation of cartography is important. We need alternatives to Google Earth, the Ordnance Survey and the rest.

2 March 2010

Mourne Not

When the managers of the Mourne Scenic Heritage Trail wanted a new map of the area they put out a call for submissions. I jumped to it, it was an opportunity to make a pretty map and get paid. All the graphic designers who expressed an interest were sent a copy of the rather drab map they were using at the time. The new map was to cover the entire Mourne region but as part of our submission we only had to remap the area marked out by the black square.

The test area to redesign as part of a tender for the job.

I do not know if the winner was the best submission but it is probably better than mine. My proposal was perhaps avant garde in painting sites of historical interest in a narrow range of reds and browns. I like the look of all the fields but it would be a big job to make them true to the landscape.

My effort.

My design is illustrative without losing its utility as a navigational roadmap. This is in contrast to the winning design, which is very attractive but has to bear the note: “This map is for illustrative purposes only. To get the best from this route we recommend you use a good road map.”

The map that went into print. This is only a section.

But the winning design is a very appealing map and appeal is, presumably, what the commissioners were after. I’m sure copies of this map are pinned on walls and on the backs of doors all over the Mournes. Copies have probably made their way to far off parts of the world. I can imagine members of the Mourne diaspora getting misty-eyed over them. The map might not tell you exactly how to get to sites like Maghera Round Tower but it does make you want to go there and this might be the major part of the battle. It is at once a map and an advertisement poster calling you to walk the land.