Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified

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Dant, Adam. Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified.  San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2018. $35.00.  LC:  2017058270.   ISBN: 978-1-4521-4952-3 

Living MapsAdam Dent has released another creative cartographic work in Living Maps building on his reputation following the publication of Allan Dant’s Maps of London and Beyond (2018), The People of East London (2013) and The Map of Spitafields Life: Showing the People, Culture and Industry of this Historic Place (2011) and other volumes.  Dant is a contemporary British artist who has used his talents to chronicle London life and that of other locales with his elaborate and intricate pen-and-ink drawings.  As an artist, he has shown how satire and fantasy contribute to a whimsical appreciation of how life is lived across the globe. 

In Living Maps, we see how a collection of fantastical maps demonstrate the different and unique elements of local history and culture and capture an artistic appreciation for these 28 cities included in this volume. The cities chosen are major destination spots with which most people are familiar.  Trying to “visualize cities as virtual persons, embodying the physical presence of a place,” we see how the imagery of both human and animal forms identify how we think of and reflect upon the cities that we hold in high esteem because of what historically has taken place there and the way they were built out.  The cartographic and geographic aspects that we associate with each city are embodied or flirted with in the artistic visualization used to depict those memories.  If iconography is defined as a collection of illustrations using images and symbols to represent certain imagery, then this book is that visual representation of both conventional and unexpected symbolism.  It captures the aesthetic qualities associated with each city and reminds the reader of famous residents and their cultural contributions.   

Referred to as “metropolitan iconography” the preface of the book suggests it is in the tradition of early mapmakers who also added imaginary elements and stretched the real environments mapped into exotic and speculative settings.  Maps of the nineteenth century showed great liberties with extended realities grossly exaggerating context and obviously influenced Dant so that he emphasizes those elements in his art.  The mystifying links to what stimulated the creative aspects of each map are assumed to be what influenced the imaginary collection of Dr. London, described as almost a patron saint for the author- artist of this volume.  Many ideas of what is contained and is legendary in the “largely lost cartographic library” of Dr. London is what consumes these pages.  The adventurous spirit of a well-travelled guru such as this enlightened character is chronicled with details and hints of bygone eras with contemporary flairs.   

The geographic journey begins historically, in Jerusalem, off to Mecca, through Italy, across the Bosphorus to Istanbul, zigzagging back through Europe, the UK, Monaco and jumping to Nigeria, on to India, Asia, South America before landing in America with seven stops before going on to Dubai.  Individualize urban histories are pasted together artistically bringing together the humanities with the obvious geographies and weaving in how personal the reflections of each city are.   

The format of each city’s display is standardized with a page of four drawn images posing and answering questions readers or viewers may have of that locale, identifying common impressions evoked from the natural landscape, geography, artistic hallmarks, architectural landmarks, iconographic imagery, anecdotal information or speculation, and overall historical and cultural memorabilia.  There is a one page vertical image for each city done in brown tones.  Art work is underappreciated due to the rather banal color or tone of the work.  The printing did not do the images justice or allow one to fully appreciate the drawing as the shading is difficult to absorb.  There is also a uniform double page, usually horizontal map of the city drawn in color highlighting many common features stretching one’s imagination to recall the realities.  Street names and buildings help define the central area with overlapping artistic imagery bringing out the fantastical qualities of human and animal forms.  These double page maps are the essence of the volume and if those reproducible qualities matched all of the maps, the book would be more valuable to readers and would demonstrate what previous followers of Allan Dant have come to expect.  These specific maps are truly fantastical and special.   

One’s curiosity about the book is greater than the satisfaction from actual page turning.  The book had great potential but did not deliver on all levels.  However, the concept of trying to personalize and personify global city maps is very creative and remains challenging.  This attempt showcases Adam Dent’s artistry but could have been more successful in the attempt to “incarnate…and achieve a certain life, hope, and vitality by being caricatured as the very citizenry who do not merely find a place to live but create life from that place.” 

Julia Gelfand
Applied Sciences & 
Engineeriing Librarian
University of California, Irvine, CA, USA 

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