Bus Shelter Exhibition: arrival of the artwork

Exhibition Install

Excitement in the office as the artwork for a small exhibition to celebrate the end of the Bus Shelter project arrives! Here’s a sneak preview of one of the panels, which should be going up in our temporary exhibition space by the end of the week!

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A New Subterranean Map of London – Get Involved!

Before Getting involved in the project you might like to read the full post: A New Subterranean Map of London

When thinking about London Underground, most people will relate to the tube system and their memories of events whilst on it, or to a crypt, basement or tunnel. This is all fine. London Transport Museum would like this blog to be a platform for expression in relation to subterranean places as well as history, archeology and comments. From your comments, I hope to find certain patterns or strands that reveal the histories of London’s people in relation to the geography of the place.

A few open questions to consider:

  • When you think about what is underground in London, what do you see?
  • What spaces fascinate you?
  • What discoveries have you made both in fact and fiction?
  • What rumors of ‘secret’ underground infrastructure have you heard about?
  • What does the ‘underworld’ mean to you?
  • Your idea of the ‘uncanny’?
  • What are the stereotypes and impressions that you hold of certain areas?
  • What is your concept of what is ‘underlying’?
  • London is a palimpsest of a multitude of histories, what do you want to see on a subterranean map of London?

A New Subterranean Map of London

London Transport Museum has commissioned me to create a new map for them. Our initial dialogue centered on ‘The Island’, a Map of London that I finished in 2008. Basically it was a hand-drawn map of London’s surface, where words and symbols mingled with geographical information to form among other things – a celebration of place. Traces of local history still resonating today were noted along with popular culture, contemporary life and autobiographical events.  It was essentially a people’s map, a snap shot of a vast and complex city frozen in time.

The information came from a vast range of sources – books, Internet, talking to people as well as my own experiences in the city of my birth and up bringing. I of course edited the details and epithets, but the filter that I used was a broad one in order for the piece to act as a mirror onto its viewer. The serious and the hard facts were to merge with the absurd and banal. It would defy conventions and act as a litmus paper to the reactions of its readers.

A portion of my internet-based research came from Wikipedia. I was drawn to the ability of the medium as a direct and democratic arena in which anyone could contribute his or her story. What is fact and what is fiction and the residue left behind from both is in itself the very fabric of our culture and our folk laws. And so, this blog lends itself to that.

I said afterwards, I would like to have noted the lost rivers of London in ‘The Island.’ The continuing flow of waters that now find themselves diverted and channeled through a system of pipes underground still ending in the Thames. These are the very routes of our city. When London Transport Museum came to me for a new idea, I thought of it straight away – An Underground map of London where I could finally include those lost rivers and develop my own tube map.

I am currently developing the ideas for this subterranean map of London and entries to this blog may contribute to its development. The map will include the underground transport network, the lost rivers of London and other notable sites of interest from pre-history to the contemporary. However, I am also looking to delve a little deeper into the questions of what the ‘underground’ means and how it might be interpreted.

Bus Shelters: What was it all about?

Public transport in London provides millions of connections to millions of people every day. For some it is purely a means of travel; getting to work, school, an appointment or as a link to another mode of transport. For others public transport is a means by which they gain a sense of independence, social freedom or even offers them the possibility of exploration. Why do we journey, what journeys do we make and how do we make these journeys are all questions which I explored with young people during ‘Bus Shelters’; a youth engagement project, part of the national Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

Between February 2010 and March 2011 I worked with five varied and amazing groups of young people from across London. Each group worked with an artist to develop a creative outcome that reflected their interests, opinions and ideals regarding journeys. Each outcome was then displayed in a bus shelter local to the community of each group. (You can have a look at their work at http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/storiesoftheworld)

One of the most amazing outcomes of the project was to see the vastly different ways that each group of young people interpreted the same theme. Some groups explored their own physical and everyday journeys, looking at the ways they travel and the places and people they encounter along the way. Others undertook a more symbolic approach, seeing journeys as metaphor for their growth as young people, exploring the notion of the many and different pathways they must travel in order to reach adulthood.

Working on the project has given me a great insight into London’s dynamic youth culture – and particularly, by virtue of representing being the London Transport Museum(!), a unique and important glimpse into the way young people perceive travel and the journeys they make in what is arguably undoubtedly one of the greatest cities in the world!

Whilst I am sad that the Bus Shelters project has come to an end I am excited about taking my experiences forward into a brand new programme of activities. Over the coming year I will be working with more young people to develop new methods and ways of working that incorporate their interests, opinions, insights and creativity into the museum’s everyday working practices. (If this was twitter and I could hash tag here I think it would be appropriate to say #toomuchfun).

Drawing, drawings, everywhere!

London Transport Museum has many different collections, from posters and signs to buses and trains, with so many other wonderful things in between. This week I was sent down to our drawings store at our Depot in Acton to do some research for an upcoming restoration project. I rather ashamedly had never entered the drawings store before (and can I confess I barely knew of its existence…) – it’s one of those sides to our collection that you only really explore when you really need to. Unlike our beautiful posters, which are often requested for books or exhibitions, or the vehicles which are so dominant in our stores, the drawings are kept neatly tucked away for safe-keeping, meaning I’ve never stumbled across them until now.

A majority of the drawings are made on a linen-type material, which means they don’t rip or crease in the same way that paper does. They are also well used so are looking their age, but they are still of incredibly high value for understanding the vehicles in our collection, and London Transport stock as a whole. Getting the opportunity to delve into the drawers and search through the vast array of drawings was quite the experience, and a decent work-out – the large drawings weigh a tonne!

Journeys 2012

Journeys 2012 is the working title for a major exhibition being organised for 2012. This exhibition will draw on the museum’s outstanding historic map collection to explore the theme of Journeys. The museum is commissioning a series of new artworks for the exhibition which will add further layers of meaning to the existing collection.

One of the artists we are working closely with on this project is Stephen Walter.

Stephen Walter – Journeys 2012 Commission

As part of Journeys 2012, the museum has commissioned Stephen Walter to produce a new map of London. By mapping what lies beneath the city, with reference to both fact and fiction, history and popular culture, Stephen’s subterranean map will present a new London “Underground”. The original artwork will feature in the museum exhibition in 2012, before becoming part of the permanent collection. Limited edition prints will be also published by TAG Fine Arts.

Behind the scenes at TfL’s Lost Property Office

TfL is made up of some fascinating departments, with the Lost Property Office being up there as one of the most interesting. To get a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes, and to learn more about what happens when an item is left on London’s Transport, I spent the day making a documentary for the Museum’s collection with film-maker Geoff Marshall. We explored the stores, watched as staff took customer calls and spoke to them about their experience of working in such an unusual environment.

In 2009, the LPO received a whopping 184,969 items of lost property, ranging from single gloves, laptops, umbrellas and school bags, through to toys, glasses and thousands of mobile phones. When we went down this week the store room was packed with items, all clearly labelled and neatly arranged in numbered zones. The staff work very efficiently – we watched as a call came in from the customer point upstairs, requesting an object be sent up for return. It took the staff less than a minute to locate the object and send it up in the goods lift, making for happy customers.

The LPO store also houses some more bizarre objects which have never been re-claimed, including false teeth, a grandfather clock, a stuffed fox and some prosthetic  limbs. There were also single shoes, crutches and walking sticks, which make you wonder how the owners didn’t notice they had left such objects behind!

Staff gave us a run-through of what happens to an item, from it being left on a bus or Tube to its hopeful return to the owner. Items are normally handed in by members of the public to TfL staff, or are found by staff when checking the vehicles during their shifts. These items are logged with the details of where and when it was found, and are then collected by TfL post vans and delivered to the LPO. Here they are checked and logged onto the computer system, and labelled to LPO’s high standards, before being sent down to the store room for safe keeping. Items are kept for 3 months, in which time it’s hoped the owner will have made contact with the office and come to claim it back. If not, the items in good condition are donated to charity or sold to help fund the running of the office. Charities across the world have benefited over the years, with donated items ranging from clothing   for the Salvation Army to sports equipment  for charities in Africa.

Geoff and I had a great day and will showcase the finished film soon – watch this space! And if you’ve lost an item and want to reclaim it, check out the LPO’s website for more information http://www.tfl.gov.uk/contact/871.aspx

Regeneration Southwark

Our ‘Overground Uncovered’ exhibition, which only recently ended, was packed with community content created by groups and individuals from up and down the East London Line extension. One of the boroughs which we worked with was Southwark, where a wonderful group of elders from the Rotherhithe area made a collaborative ceramic artwork for display in the exhibition. The group, Rainbow Arts, meet once a week to take part in art based activities, and are always keen to learn new techniques and build partnerships with other organisations. Art in the Park, a Southwark based arts charity, provided the expertise and materials for the project.

Each of the participants painted a ceramic tile, which depicted an aspect of the local area that they enjoy or are proud of. The final piece was therefore a celebration of all things great about the Rotherhithe area, advertising it to those who came to the exhibition and to those who use the new Overground line.

The artwork was on display for a year at London Transport Museum, and when the exhibition came down at the end of March I decided to return the artwork to the group so that it could be displayed in their local area. Rainbow Arts are now in consultation with the local council to see if it can be installed either at the new library, due to open later in 2011, or at another public site near their centre. So if you’re ever near Rotherhithe, keep an eye out for this lovely piece of community art.

60 Second Interview with…Heatherwick Studio

Thomas Heatherwick

In January 2010, Heatherwick Studio joined the team leading the design of a New Bus for London. The project marks the first time in more than 50 years that TfL has commissioned and overseen the development of a bus built specifically for the capital. Read More…

Thomas Heatherwick established Heatherwick Studio in 1994. Thomas is an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art. He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from four British universities – Sheffield Hallam, Brighton, Dundee and Manchester Metropolitan. He has won the Prince Philip Designers Prize and in 2006 was the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.

Here we talk with Heatherwick Studio about their work on the New Bus for London.

What inspired the design of the New Bus for London?
It has been more than fifty years since someone was last commissioned to look in a comprehensive way at the design of London buses. Heatherwick Studio has been given this task and has developed a new design that reflects the functional requirements and challenges of making a new better bus for London. The bus is particularly special because the design is specific to London. For the first time the ‘look, feel and styling’ of the bus has been designed holistically.  Some of the refinements of the design have resulted in the softening of the form, a return to a more calm and naturalistic usage of materials that echo qualities also identified with the Routemaster. The studio has also been keen to retain a sense of heritage in the design.

What was your biggest challenge in designing the New Bus for London?
The requirements of the new bus make for a slightly longer vehicle than current double deck buses. The studio’s main challenge was how to balance the design requirements with the practical and functional needs. To do this, the exterior form was carefully shaped to make a less box-like object.  The most distinctive aspect of the design is the asymmetric ribbon window with its glass that wraps around the vehicle, expanding at the front to provide the driver with clear kerbside views, and following the two staircases as they rise upward to follow movements of a passenger.

What is your favourite aspect of the bus?
The studio has been keen to ensure that the new bus would be an integrated piece of design with exterior and interior working harmoniously. As a result, there are many details which we took a lot of time getting right. For example, we designed a ‘New Bus for London’ moquette. The pattern is derived from the sculpted typography of the seat, a bit like a map; the contour lines are derived from the undulating shape of the seat.  The resulting rich pattern clearly denotes the individual seating positions whilst effectively masking day-to-day wear and tear. We also paid a lot of attention to the cab, and the driver experience too.  We have tried to give the cab a sense of specialness whilst also providing a highly functional working environment.

The old Routemaster was on the road for 60 years. How do you envision bus design in the next 60 years?
The studio wouldn’t want to begin to predict how a bus might look in 60 years time bearing in mind the technological advancements of the last 60 years. However, it would be safe to say that future technology will impact on any future aesthetic design in the same way the most innovative, latest hybrid and environmentally friendly technology has been taken into account in the current design which will be of great benefit to all in London.