In Off the Map, he explores unmapped places, from a Ballardian excursion onto a traffic island in the interstices of a motorway system to North Korea’s uninhabited city of Kijong-dong, built to lure defectors from its neighbour by showcasing the technological advancements achieved under Communism.
Kijong-dong’s eerie twin can be found in the shape of Zheleznogorsk, one of the former Soviet Union’s ‘closed cities’. Built for nuclear research, it was only formally admitted to exist in 1992, and four years later its inhabitants voted to return to its locked-away status – a post-Communist gated community, less ‘an echo from history than a contemporary reflection of urban distrust and consumer choice’.
Other places are haunted by earlier identities. Cities are palimpsests whose forgotten versions lie beneath the surface – Leningrad remains ‘more troublesome … and sometimes more alive’ than Saint Petersburg – and can contain labyrinthine cellar systems, awaiting rediscovery by urban explorers.
A mesmerising study of ambiguous, temporary places.
OFF THE MAP: Lost Places, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Lands, Feral Places by Alastair Bonnett, Aurum Press, £16.99