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Review: Talking Maps

Kate Whittington takes to the Weston to navigate her way through the Bodleian’s latest exhibition.

The first wall of this Weston Library exhibition focuses on Oxford, offering the visitor visions of Oxfords which could have been, where a Merton Mall ran through Christ Church, and those which remain in the past, where the Cutteslowe walls separated Council tenants and a private housing development.

There are several works questioning what it means to map a post-Brexit Britain, cutting up and painting over the British Isles. Grayson Perry’s Red Carpet maps through words more than images, demarcating ‘us’ and ‘them’ and surrounding the ‘Westminster bubble’ with ‘pay per view’ and ‘Uber’. ‘Tax evasion’ floats off land. Brexitland (Stephen Walter) submerges areas which voted for Remain beneath water. Boris Johnson’s Water Bus floats through Oxford, which is bordered by ‘substantial reforms’. Surely when these pieces were created several years ago, the artists would not have imagined that a post-Brexit Britain would still be a landscape realised only in our imaginations.

The exhibition is structured and compact, covering fields from military maps to C.S.Lewis’s cartography. I would have enjoyed more maps relating to literary texts, but perhaps after putting on a whole exhibition about Tolkien the curators wanted to explore other avenues. The exploration of maps in which artistic or tactical concerns superseded geographical accuracy was particularly interesting.

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