Mind the Map

Where would we be without maps? Lost, probably – particularly when it comes to navigating the labyrinthine London transport system.

Beck Pocket Underground map 1933
Beck Pocket Underground map 1933

An exhibition opening in May at the London Transport Museum will prove that way-finding can be beautiful as well as functional, in the cleverly titled Mind the Map show.

Pocket Underground map 1913.
Pocket Underground map 1913.

The show aims to explore the inspiration, history and oft-ignored wealth of creativity behind creating London’s iconic transport maps, drawing on the Transport Museums vast cartographical collections.

By Paying Us Your Pennies by MacDonald Gill 1914
By Paying Us Your Pennies by MacDonald Gill 1914

Alongside Harry Beck’s much- appropriated 1931 diagrammatic London Tube Map, the exhibition will display previously unseen historic material and artworks by artists including Simon Patterson, Stephen Walter, Susan Stockwell, Jeremy Wood, Claire Brewster, and Agnes Poitevin-Navarre.

The central narrative to the show is the idea of metaphorical – as well as literal – joinerys, exploring the relationship between identity and place, and how maps can shape our own senses of self, and our awareness of the places we travel to and inhabit.

 H C Becks spoof map diagram
H C Becks spoof map diagram

This relationship between our inner selves and the rigid organisation of physical maps is taken to a new level by artist Agnes Poitevin-Navarre, who has previously created a number of works based on Marcel Proust’s personality questionnaire. For the unfamiliar, the questionnaire features queries ranging from the banal (your favourite colour’) to the personal (‘your idea of misery’) to the salacious (‘your favourite qualities in a  man or women.’)

Poster Design For Playgoers by O'Keeffe 1935
Poster Design For Playgoers by O’Keeffe 1935

Proust’s answers to these – if you’re interested – were ‘The beauty is not in the colours, but in their harmony’, something of a cop-out, we think; ‘Not to have known my mother or my grandmother’; and ‘Feminine charms’ for a man and ‘Manly virtues, and frankness in friendship’. Oh Proust, you clever so and so.

Your Guide to Theatreland by Reginald Percy Gossop 1926
Your Guide to Theatreland by Reginald Percy Gossop 1926

To return to the maps, the questionnaire has been appropriated by Poitevin-Navarre to create a new work for the upcoming show. The artist is working with the London Transport Museum to create a new map of London, based on hundreds of Londoners’ responses to the question: ‘Where do you hope to be?’. Using the answers and the respondendents’ postcode, Poitevin-Navarre will plot the responses on the final work. They’re still looking for answers, so visit the website www.ltmuseum.co.uk/landofhopefulcommuters to add your two-pence and make your hopes become art too.

Mind the Map runs from 18 May – 28 October at London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London, WC2E

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