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About Map Jacket

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Map Jacket is a jacket made from paper maps, with objects relating to walks and journeys stowed in its pockets. It is an ongoing artwork, with no final finished state in mind; it will continue to accrete and change for as long as I'm able to go out for walks. Conceptually, it will continue to change as well. I began the piece in Spring 2016. My initial idea was to make a wearable jacket out of Ordnance Survey maps, patterned on an old corduroy jacket of mine, and perhaps use it in some kind of performance. It quickly became apparent that the jacket was much too fragile and inflexible to wear. I wore it once before I added the sleeves, but once the sleeves were on it became impossible to wear it without destroying it. The jacket took about three years to complete, because I abandoned it as hopeless for long periods of time.

Some time in 2019 I revived the piece and conceived of the idea of using it as a repository for objects found on walks. The jacket would stay at home, but conceptually travel with me. Since then, I have secreted objects in the jacket, adding a new pocket for each object, or group of objects. Some objects and natural materials are attached directly to the jacket. The objects function as mementos of particular walks or places, but most of them are artworks in their own rights, being altered from the form in which they were when found. Sometimes, things found at one place and time are combined with those found at other places and times (nothing is wasted), but each object has one principal associated place.

Finding things for Map Jacket is a gentle art, which I’m not sure I have come close to perfecting. It requires walking with the right sort of attentiveness. I usually bring back more things than I can use. Sometimes I make the object shortly after the walk; sometimes it takes weeks, months or years for an idea to form itself of what to do with the assortment of things I've collected. Many of the objects I make involve words - they often have words written or inscribed on them - and collecting words is also a part of my walking practice. I carry a notebook and more often write than draw (though I do both). Both practices (collecting objects and words) are about treasuring and memory.

Most of the walks commemorated in Map Jacket took place on the North York Moors, Yorkshire coast, Cheviot Hills and a small number of other places. These are the places that have been accessible to me, particularly in the years of the pandemic. They are places that I go to find solitude and often have associations with landmarks of one sort or another (churches, stone crosses, standing stones, tumuli, crossroads etc.) They are also often places where death is close to the surface, where bones lie to be picked up. The walks themselves are a kind of melancholy ritual, because they are fragments pointing to an elusive wholeness snatched from a life embedded in routines which, while not devoid of their own meaning or rewards, are nevertheless characterised by frenetic striving.

In 2021 I turned my attention to the back of the jacket and noticed that it contained the word ‘Rannoch’ (a place on the map making up the back) truncated to ‘noch’. I added an ‘E’ to make it up to ‘Enoch’, the name of a figure from ancient Jewish tradition who became an intercessor between the fallen ‘Watcher’ angels and God, and was later granted a tour of the whole cosmos before being received into heaven. In one version of the tradition, he is commanded by God to write 365 books dictated by an angel in order to teach knowledge to mankind to counter the twisted knowledge taught by the Watchers. The story has links to the ancient Sumerian King List and to stories in the Bible about the lines of Cain and Seth and the Nephilim. The journeying figure, both part of and set apart from mankind, more a part of the landscape than of mankind, has long had a hold on my imagination. I began to add references to this story onto the back of the Jacket, including bones collected on walks which are inscribed with names from the Sumerian King List and Biblical genealogies. I also added pieces of twisted, corroded aluminium picked up on the beach at Kilnsea on the Yorkshire coast. It's possible that these are from aircraft which crashed into the sea during the Second World War (fragments of which do regularly wash up). The Enoch story is prescient because of its concern with how knowledge (and technology) can lead to both good and evil. I think of the aluminium fragments as the stumps of shorn wings.

I have the feeling that Map Jacket is a work that is only in its infancy and that its strength will lie in telling different stories. It has evolved without any initial plan and continues to accrete meanings and objects.

(An earlier version of this text was posted on my blog)

Matthew Herring, July 2023