art on the underground

I'm celebrating the joy of finally having the internet at home* with a quick post about something else that frequently makes my day better: Art on the Underground.

The London Underground has been commissioning and displaying works by artists for over a century, from Man Ray and Edward McKnight Kauffer right up to Yoshimoto Nara, Mark Titchner and David Shrigley; however, since 2000, Art on the Underground has been working to extend this tradition, working with artists on a contemporary art programme that takes in everything from station-sized installations to community projects to artwork for the Tube map (the current map cover was designed by Richard Long), with the aim of improving the daily journeys of millions of London commuters.

Some of my favourites amongst the recent artworks they have commissioned include Underground Heroes - a project bringing together artist David Blandy and young people and staff from Fairbridge in London's Kennington Centre. Inspired by Blandy's interest in Japanese movies, manga and gaming, as well as the notion of the alter-ego, this project enabled each young person involved to create their own comic book superhero persona for a series of portrait photographs at the entrance to Charing Cross station, as seen in the images above. The young people also came up with a series of heroic adventures, transformed into a trail of comic strips at Embankment station by illustrator Inko.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Deller has created a work of art for Tube drivers: a booklet of quotes entitled What is the city but the people? was given to operational staff on the Piccadilly line in February 2009. Staff were encouraged to use the quotes in their daily communication with customers, with the idea of building a more positive atmosphere during the rush hour and enlivening millions of journeys with an element of unexpected humour. Deller said: "I often wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a big city. I think the travelling public enjoys some humour and unexpected insight during their journey." The quotations have also been transformed into posters: one of my favourites, which I used to see daily at Kings Cross station, is Gandhi's observation "There is more to life than simply increasing its speed".

As artist-in-residence at Southwark Underground station, Peter McDonald brings vibrant colour to the urban environment. Paintings on billboards transform the public space into an everyday art gallery, whilst staff and customers are offered badges to wear that represent the daily life and work of the station.

Finally, writer Sarah Butler has recently been commissioned to undertake a six-month residency on the Central Line, engaging and collaborating with London Underground staff to create new writing. Staff in Central Line stations from West Ruislip to Epping worked closely with Sarah, telling stories, introducing colleagues and sharing memories. The result is Central Line Stories: a glimpse into the intriguing unseen aspects of a journey on the Central Line which I certainly enjoyed - perhaps especially because of its connections to my recent piece, A Northern Line, in Flax's Mostly Truthful anthology.

Whatever you make of the individual works themselves, there's no doubt that these interventions certainly brighten and break the monotony of the oh-so tedious daily commute. Keep your eyes open for new artworks across the London Underground or find out more about what's coming soon the Art on the Underground website here.

*The internet at last works but the unfortunately the wireless does not, so I can only go online if I lie down on the living room floor... convenient!

[Photograph by Aaron Bikari used under a Creative Commons License; Artworks by David Blandy and Peter McDonald via Art on the Underground]