Tuesday, February 08, 2005

mapping personal experience

Stagger on by and forward; glance back and see how your blog (journal, diary, passage through life) leaves a shape behind you, an empty you-shaped space surrounded by a thin patina of effect-on-the-world, like a slug trail, or (drawing on a memory which is probably very specific to me) the tube of a caddis fly larva*.

As well as located in history, experiences also have a geographical location. Paul Chadwick visited it in an experimental edition of his comic Concrete, where he attempted to draw an image first of the hero's home, then america, and eventually the world, criscrossed by the stone image of his passage through time. Which is all very well when you're a unique being like Concrete, but we're speaking from out of a crowd; every day, I wade to work through other people's stories, moments of despair and happiness, the echoes of fights and kisses, accidents and encounters.

Some of them leave marks; blood in the gutter, scribbles on a busstop, fag-but scatter of someone waiting, sequin sparkles from a party home stagger. More often than not, it's just the feeling; this is an old town, a street worn deep by generations of feet; when I walk here, I'm hip deep in other peoples' stories.

It'd be good to be able to tap them up from the stones, as you navigate the tarmac with your feet; you'd never be short of contact then, always be someone new to meet.

I first saw Mr Beller's Neighbourhood a few years ago. It's a bit old now, the story-tellers' birds-eye view of New York, but still in use; and still very close to this idea about stories located, mapped, put in their context. Some of the stories are photo stories; each time I find it I go for a photo-story about defaced Britney Spears photos on the subway which caught the blogwinds briefly with a googlejuice-boosting mass of derisive links. Because there's no way I'm ever going to remember its name.

I'm never going to have time myself, but I wish that someone should do one of these for London or for Oxford. There's already some nicely folksy Oxford mapping stuff, but it's all one person's vision. What interests me is the multitude. Views of Oxford (and I'm as guilty of this as anyone else) always seem to end up giving a singular perspective. That's the Flickr Oxford group, by the way. It's funny.

I'd make a few changes, of course; offer alternative navigation via streetmap or arial photo, open but filtered submission via a click on the maps or arial photos (you'd have to be able to review that, check you got the right place), sortable also by contributor, new comments, latest ...

But this is pie-in-the-sky, I don't have time right now to build a story-filled world inside a computer. But I might do something half-arsed, maybe. Put up a map somewhere and start putting links on it like Niznoz and the rest of the arial taggers do on Flickr -- but not just for photographs, images on their own aren't really enough for me. I need the stories.

* When I was growing up we were encouraged to take an interest in nature. One of the activities involved being rather nasty to caddis fly larvae. Caddis worms have no natural protection against predators, so make little cases for themselves out of sand and tiny stones stuck together with secretions. With a pin and a little care, this tube could be removed; you could then put the caddis into a jam jar containing glitter, sequins and tiny beads. In a day or so, it would have built a new and very sparkly home. You could then pop it back into the pond, where its shiny arse would be quickly spotted by predators, or do the whole thing over with dirt and stones this time. Other entertaining games included feeding tadpoles slivers of gizzard and then watching them eat each other. Yay for nature.


kc said...

Do you know about this:


The problem with systems like that one is possibly evoked in the reading of your first paragraph: your description is so much more compelling, richer, and generously true to the experience of the city-as-palimpsest than they manage to be. Seemingly, although I never played with Urban Tapestries when I had the chance. -kris

Jeremy Dennis said...

"map" and "mark" -- what an aggressive attitude to the environment ... the idea strikes me as something (like graffiti) which might rapidly suffer a signal-to-noise ratio problem unless they employed professional walkers. Now, there's a job that sounds interesting ...