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Book Review: London Unfurled by Matteo Pericoli

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Some books are for reading–for lovingly turning the pages, inhaling the scent of each one along with the words. Some are for looking, as their gorgeous illustrations and colors stun the eyes. And then there are books which aren’t really books but objects. That’s the case with Matteo Pericoli’s London Unfurled–it’s somewhere in that indefinable space between coffee-table book, a work of art to hang on the wall, or a map to explore. Automatically, the question of its use, its purpose, and therefore the criteria according to which one must evaluate it, rears its head. It’s really, really cool, but what the hell do you do with it?

Then again, we might take a bit of advice from Oscar Wilde: “all art is quite useless.” And in that case, this book is truly a work of art, for the artist, according to the aforementioned Wilde, is the “creator of beautiful things,” and Matteo Pericoli is certainly one of those.

Pericoli seems to have made it his artistic mission to document architecture. From his black and white outlines of Manhattan’s skyscrapers to his futuristic, colorful, bizarre, even Escher-esque edifices, he creates whole worlds, majestic worlds, evidence of humanity’s ability to create even if they depict no people. After having undertaken depicting his familiar New York City, he follows up on Manhattan Unfurled with London Unfurled, this time depicting a city to which he was a stranger.

London Unfurled is an accordion-style book whose black and white pages stretch out endlessly, each side depicting the city as it’s seen from the north and south banks of the Thames. London, as Pericoli tells us, is a city divided by a river, its two banks forever at odds–and what better divide than a page? A world can be changed in the turn of a page. 

There’s a couple ways to enjoy this minute depiction of 30 kilometers of riverside structures–either flipping through each side of the book, examining the hundreds of windows in each building and the plethora of supports on the bridges, or by stretching it out across your entire home, the folds of the pages winding through many rooms that only hint at the length of the banks of the Thames and London’s huge size.

But however you enjoy it, London Unfurled seems to be a book made more for a Londoner than for a visitor. It’s for someone who can find familiar structures among the meters upon meters of black and white lines. There are a few edifices recognizable to all, of course–the London eye, the Houses of Parliament (strangely small when compared to everything else), even MI6 headquarters–but mostly the pages seem to be a record for the purpose of fond reminiscences, a record of many miles walked past structures of iron, brick, and everything in between.

Nevertheless, this book is original and intricate, perfect for giving the impression of London, of the miles of it–something difficult to imagine if one has never walked thousands of footsteps along the banks of a river, from the interesting and pretty buildings to the boring ones stretching off into the dusty industrial regions. It’s not just the art that matters, it’s the format, that other oh-so-debatable aspect of the book. The black lines on white paper only go halfway to replicating London–the other half’s the miles of the Thames itself, in paper format. As I myself get ready to embark on a trip to London, coincidentally happening in but a couple of days, I look forward to discovering whether the banks of the Thames are really that endless. Something tells me that they are.

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About Anastasia Klimchynskaya

My mind rebels at stagnation. Find the rebellious thoughts of that constantly racing mind at my blog, Monitoring the Media.