Where You Are 29.01.14

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Visual Editions, the graphically-inclined publishers (Icon 122) commissioned 16 writers and artists to sketch out in words or pictures their ideas for a map close to their lives. Here is a collection of pieces, both fictional and essayistic, presented in the mode of "visual writing" – the synchrony of form and content that characterises the publisher's output.

Where You Are is not a book in the conventional sense, but a brick-sized box of pamphlets to be navigated or to become lost in. Each paper pamphlet is pleated and stapled to its own idiosyncratic design (by Bibliothèque), which often requires the dexterity of a frequent fondler of Ordnance Surveys to fold away.

A website complements the physical version, (www.where-you-are.com, designed by The Workers), a flat but spacious counterpart that despite its online situation feels enclosed and communal; readers are made aware of who else is reading their page. Some tales are integrated with Google Maps, while others explore how technology aids our mapping, such as James Bridle's piece on the Global Positioning System with diagrams that represent the satellites' first configurations.

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Each "map" plots a select number of co-ordinates, rather than a comprehensive plan; most deal with the microscopic scale of daily life more than a macroscopic overview. Yet many of these personal plans reach out to communal concerns: the places where childhood experiences were unlocked (Geoff Dyer's The Boy out of Cheltenham); the topography of the work space (Leanne Shapton's painted Tablescapes); or the lines traced by writing itself, as Joe Dunthorne tells of New York poet Bill Kushner: "He writes a line of poetry for each block of Manhattan he walks."

A few actual and beautiful maps are included: images of The Nelson Universal Hand-Atlas, the starting point for Will Wiles' essay, which delves into the wonder of lands made legible by paper; Giovanni Contarini's 16th-century Planisphere accompanies Alain de Botton's otherwise banal essay The Pleasure of Maps. Some of the contributions by big names are too far-out to hit home: Tao Lin's yarn about the routes of lunar hamsters, and Olafur Eliasson's oval diagrams accompanied by semi-spiritual texts. My preference is for the more marginal voices: Chloe Aridjis' Map of a Lost Soul, which follows a homeless woman across Mexico City benches, and Valeria Luiselli's polaroid poetry, Swings of Harlem, charting moments with her daughter on various NYC playgrounds.

"Visual writing" may be a misleading label: here it means excellent design that pairs words with maps, rather than formal experiments, in the manner of, say, concrete poetry or Christine Brooke-Rose. Still, this collection of wayfaring pieces reminds us that maps make the world decipherable.

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Where You Are by 16 writers/artists/thinkers is published by Visual Editions, £35.



Visual Editions



Hannah Gregory

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This collection of wayfaring pieces reminds us that maps make the world decipherable

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