Friday, 3 August 2012

Mind the Gap... er, Map

I've always been a sucker for the London Underground map.

Since my first visit to London in 1990, this representation of the city's underground railway network has fascinated me.

For some reason its intricate colour-coded diagram seems to represent more than a way of getting from A to B.

Maybe it holds the promise of a hidden order to things, especially in a city which can seem so randomly arranged above ground.

Perhaps it's the collection of curious place names (Seven Sisters, Elephant & Castle, Pudding Mill Lane, etc) jostling each other on the map.

Maybe it's Harry Beck's 1930s inspiration of arranging railway lines in the manner of an electrical diagram.

Whatever the case, I found myself drawn in May to Mind the Map, a temporary exhibition about the Underground map and associated posters within the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.


Although the exhibition covers the history of the map, the curators also commissioned a series of artworks related to transport, to spice up what could be seen as a dry topic (though not by me - I love maps).

Here's Memento by Susan Stockwell, a map of the world constructed from hundreds of old dyed and cut transport tickets:


There was also a selection of classic Tube posters, such as this memorable mess by David Shrigley which I think I remember from a previous visit to London:


Something else which caught my eye was a fascinating series of posters created about a century ago by Max Gill.

Intended to entertain as much as inform, they consisted of fanciful, incredibly detailed maps of neighbourhoods and their attractions, delivered with a dose of British humour. Here's a section of one, featuring the area around Hyde Park:


This reminder of times now past, created in 1933, linked particular Tube stations with the "wealth, romance and beauty of the Empire":


And finally, I was impressed by this sculpture, Jonathan Parsons' Zoned Out. It's a remarkable 3D piece in which the individual Tube lines cascade out from an upturned Tube diagram, creating the effect of a fountain.


By creating something fluid from the strict order of the diagram, the artist has up-ended the purpose of the map and seems to bring it to life - echoing many people's feelings that there's more to the Tube map than first meets the eye.

Mind the Map continues until 28 October 2012 at the London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London. Admission (including the museum's other exhibitions) is £13.50 adults, £10 concession.