Layla Curtis, "Great Britain", 1999 TATE Modern

Layla Curtis, United Kingdom, 1999


‘Travelling has always been an integral part of my life. Like most people I rely on and trust maps to find my way, locate myself and plan journeys. By dissecting, dismembering and collaging maps to create new, hybrid maps, I aim to explore the effects of disturbing this trusted system of mapping.’
Layla Curtis, The Map is Not the Territory, p.9

Layla Curtis graduated in England in 1998. Then she went to Japan, she began working on maps and collages: her work during this period involved cutting up, reassembling and collaging Japanese and English road maps.

Her work United Kingdom had been researched in Edinburgh, during the recent period of Scottish political devolution from England, and was completed in Japan. It is the first of several works based on the contours of the United Kingdom and other countries such as European and American states.

In this manner, by cutting up and reassembling maps to create believable new entities, Curtis demonstrates the artificiality of political boundaries and the national identities created by them.

“United Kingdom”

United Kingdom is a large collage consisting of an altered version of the road map of the United Kingdom. It is made up of small squares, cut from commercially produced road atlases, and stuck onto two abutting rectangular panels. The larger panel, on the right, contains the outline of England. The outline of Scotland, cut away from England, has been shifted to the position normally occupied by Ireland, to the left of England and Wales. It is on a smaller panel which is inserted into an area cut out of the left side of the larger panel. The panels are protected by sheets of Perspex, which are attached to the backing with visible steel screws. Curtis has exchanged the Scottish, English, Northern Irish and Welsh road systems, so that Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh roads, cities and towns are redistributed within the English border and English, Northern Irish and Welsh roads, cities and towns now appear within the Scottish landmass.

Through her transformation, formerly coastal towns have become landlocked, cities far from the sea have become coastal destinations and some names designate more than one location. The collage has been carefully designed so that roads appear continuous and navigable, conferring authority on the map. Plausible at first glance, its disorientating systems question the logic of geographic infrastructures, place names and political unions.