No Such Place


Old sea charts are dotted with phantom islands – that is, landforms that never existed or were lost under the ocean. Only their names hint at what their finders saw. Was Bale of Cotton named for its soft chalk cliffs? What sadness inspired the appellation Enfant Perdu (lost child)? How did the Atlantic Isle come to be in the Pacific? And who were those sailors and pirates – Ruiz, Kendrick, Gama, George – whose European names lie scattered across far-flung seas?

In 2010 Alfredo Cramerotti commissioned me to make a research project on fictional maps for Derby QUAD. This gift of a project sent me on a chase through libraries, flea markets and the Internet looking for falsehood and fantasy in what looks like factually exact cartography.

The exhibition presented 40 maps in different cartographic registers: antique prints, ephemera, photocopies, tracings on paper, hand drawn diagrams, flatscreen displays and video projection. The maps were installed in the unofficial exhibition spaces – the lobbies and staircases – of Derby QUAD. This unbounded and ambiguous mix of material and location was intended to help expose how we construct our own world, our own sense of place, by making imaginative leaps between things that don’t quite match up.

The maps were linked by a narrative of uncertainty and wonder, rather than neatly ordered by chronology or field. The wall captions, too, had a more questioning, personal voice than traditional museum displays. By making my own stance clear, I hoped to invite the visitor to join me in creating their own route through the evidence.

No Such Place was a kind of autobiographical map – it plotted the landscape of ideas inside Cathy’s head, including the routes connecting apparently distant topics” (Alfredo Cramerotti, curator).

Image: FA Cook’s ‘discovery’ of the North Pole in 1908, as reported in a newspaper of the time (from the collection of Cathy Haynes). It was later realised Cook had faked his journey.