Book Review: One Thing Leads to Another – Everything is Connected: Art on the Underground
26 November 2012
In public transport, even the smallest delay can trigger bouts of extreme passenger irritation. As Martha Rosler astutely observed, ‘waiting for the subway or bus is a trial not to be tolerated, only endured’ (1). What Rosler identifies here is that in all forms of transport, the currency is time. Within the world’s oldest underground transport network, London Underground, the complexities of time acquire even greater significance. Millions of people in London live their lives on the routes of Underground lines, forging different relationships with place through home, work or leisure. Through the lens of the Underground, how significant are social, technological and economic developments in forming our understanding and valuation of time and place, both from a historical and contemporary perspective?
These questions were the catalyst for One Thing Leads To Another – Everything Is Connected, an Art on the Underground publication documenting the Jubilee line series between 2010 and 2011. This is the second Art on the Underground publication dedicated to on going line-based projects. Marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Jubilee line in 1979, selected artists were invited to explore differing concepts related to the value of time in the context of the Jubilee line. Two new essays have been commissioned for the publication. David Rooney, Curator of Transport at the Science Museum, London, contributes a thoughtful and condensed work on the history of the Jubilee line. Here Rooney maps the historical context of the line, positing that it is acts as a microcosm of London itself, a complex layering of the old and the new. For Rooney, the line is a ‘time machine’ built on a multitude of ‘people, places, ideas, ambitions, pasts and futures’ and defined by contrasts.
While this is synonymous with the Underground in general, the Jubilee line is the newest line in the network. Built for purpose, it weaves a path through London’s key centres of political and economic power. On this route however, it also passes through areas of deprivation in the capitial. A vast contrast measured by a handful of stations. In this sense the line offers a unique vantage point to consider recent developments in London. Accompanying the text is a timeline also produced by Rooney that fuses key moments and notable developments in transport, science, society and the Underground from 1979-2009. Matthew Stadler has crafted a remarkable piece of fictional writing from the perspective of Reverend Samson Occom, a Mohegan who first visited London in 1766. Weaving extracts from Occom’s diary entries with his own prose, Stadler presents us with a powerful reflection on time as an entity. Stadler’s text prompts one to consider the social impact of the Tube and its ever-changing network. While the line ‘I wait 113 years for the train to arrive’ is a gentle jab at those dreaded train delays, it is also a poignant moment to reflect on those who have treaded the streets of London long before us as well as our own fleeting existence.
The majority of the publication is devoted to the seven artworks in the series. Each project is clearly articulated through research, context, images and additional supporting material. This material, such as the inclusion of surveys give to passengers and their responses for Daria Martin’s Jubilee line customer daydream survey (2011), greatly enriches the content. The section on Dryden Goodwin’s moving Linear (2010) includes engaging interview quotes with a small portion of the 60 Transport for London staff that Goodwin drew. A synopsis of the public events programme that accompanied the series closes the publication. The publication is compact and informative, crucially avoiding falling into a purely descriptive format. The quality of overall design is unmistakably London Underground, threaded together by the its signature New Johnson typeface. All images and diagrams are clear resulting in an excellent flow all the way through.
Acting as an entry point to the Jubilee line series, it is a theoretical and contextual meeting place for the artists, curators and writers involved. Acknowledging its intentions early on, the publication showcases the strength of the commissioning process and the diversity of artistic responses in the series. Perhaps the key success of the publication is the mindful collaboration with the artists in selecting material to represent each project. This has ensured that all works retain a sense of autonomy and purpose, an element that can be lost so easily in publications that exist to summarise larger projects. One Thing Leads to Another – Everything is Connected does not just mark the culmination of the Jubilee line series – it contributes to the vast history of the Underground, a unique reflection on a particular moment in time, one forged by artists. It is hard not to consider it as the start of a long-term dialogue with the Jubilee line.
(1) Martha Rosler, Travel Stories, Grey Room, No. 8 (Summer, 2002), p.123.
Editors: Charlotte Bonham-Carter, Louise Coysh, Tamsin Dillon.
Contributors: Julia Calver, Patrick Coyle, John Gerrard, Dryden Goodwin, Cressida Kocienski, Richard Long, Daria Martin, Claire Nichols, Tamarin Norwood, Gemma Sharpe, Matt Stokes.
Book Information: Hardback 88 pages 106 b/w and colour ills 22.5 x 18.5 cm 9.0 x 7.5 in ISBN13: 978 1 907317 89 7
This text was a commissioned a-n Interface Bursary: http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/2686326