Think of Nottingham: a Mental Mapping Workshop

Think of Nottingham.
Your brain will bring up images and memories associated with the word. Maybe not many. Maybe just it's Robin Hood.

Think of getting around in Nottingham.
Now the image will be a big blur if you've never been there. If you have, a few landmarks might come to mind. The way to get from the station to the square, or to the castle. Maybe you cannot remember where things are, but know how to get there. You have got a mental picture of Nottingham, your own map of the city. Nothing compare to the Ordinance & Survey. No grid lines, no set proportions, no miles to the inch. Mental maps are a fluid collection of areas, paths and landmarks. Many gaps and blurs.
This is the system of orientation we use daily to get around. It's a subjective image of the city, the sum of our personal experiences of it, built up through time, layer after layer, its thickness directly proportional to the sense of familiarity we have with the place.
The overlapping of each citizen's mental map is the public image of the city.

Set in the inner city area of Sneinton, the Salvation Army charity shop doubles up as a drop-in centre for local people of all ages and walks of life. We asked them to sit down and draw their own map of Nottingham out of memory alone. A lot of them spoke as much as they were drawing and we collected some very interesting conversations. The added dimension of time came through a lot of the elderly people maps: theirs was an historical journey through Nottingham as much as a geographical one. A sad journey for most as for years they helplessly watched their hometown being systematically destroyed and rebuilt. Nottingham came out pretty scarred from our society latest building madness: its old medieval quarter flattened to make way for a 4 lane circular road (tastelessly baptised Maid Marian Way, adding insults to the injury), its ornate Victorian station replaced by an horrid concrete skyscraper & shopping mall ('The Victoria Centre', insult number two). Disorientated by the un-humanly fast demolition of a familiar landscape, they took refuge around the Salvation Army shop and Sneinton (currently on the line for 'development' itself). From the maps it also transpired the importance of what we might call the emotional value of a particular building. The sum of each individual emotion felt towards a particular building. It is a charge that grows with time. All new buildings are bland and soulless for the simple fact that they are new. They have yet to be lived in. Emotional value is something that can only exist with history. The Sneinton windmill is one of such charged building. Sitting on one of the town few hilltops, it appeared as a focal point on more than one map and converstaions.

At dusk, I wandered around for an hour following the mental maps we collected. People were also able to blindly guide me through the internet. Aimlessly strolling around the waking city I found myself making my way towards Sneinton windmill. I reached it as the sun rose, a rage for building sites building up inside me.

The mental mapping workshops and dusk derive were performed as part of the NOW '97 festival by D. Fasic and Minky Harry of the Nottingham Psychogeographical Unit.

This text was written for (sub)urban magazine and formed the backbone for our intervention at the Living in a Material World Conference in Coventry, June 1999.

See the maps produced in the workshop.



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