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Art on the London Underground: Background information when reading I See You

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I See You

by Clare Mackintosh

I See You by Clare Mackintosh X
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2017, 400 pages

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Art on the London Underground

This article relates to I See You

Print Review

Map of The TubeThe world's first underground railway opened in London in 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon stations using steam engines to pull gas-lit wooden carriages along the almost four-mile, 6-station, route. In its first twelve months, almost 10 million passengers were transported. The early network was built in shallow tunnels and needed many vents to allow engine smoke and steam to escape. Then, at the turn of the 20th century, the invention of electric traction allowed for much deeper tunnels, and replacement lines were created. Today, The London Underground, known to most as the Tube, serves 270 stations and has 11 different lines that link central London to distant suburbs many of which, 150 years ago, were small villages separated by stretches of open space from each other and from the heart of London. Thus, the Tube (the setting for much of Clare Mackintosh's I See You) has deep roots in London's history; and it adds to the cultural wealth of London in more ways than simply transporting five million passengers a day. For example:

TransporterArt on the Underground was started in 2000 with the goal of exposing contemporary art to a wide audience. Believing that the Tube is not just a mode of transportation, but a "cultural and social environment", Art on the Underground commissions artists to create projects, large and small, that reinvent all sorts of spaces. Artists from London and from around the world are chosen to create temporary and permanent pieces, such as the Pocket Tube map cover series and the ongoing Line series, which weaves a common theme between different train lines. Labyrinth
One recent project, commissioned to mark The Tube's 150th Anniversary, is a series of 270 black and white enamel artworks (one for each station) by Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger.

Art isn't just on the walls of the trains and platforms, it's also on the seats. Over the years there have been many iconic fabric designs including the one shown to the left introduced in 2010. Just a cool 80s-inspired graphic you say? Seat fabricNo! Look very closely and you'll see that WallaceSewell, a woven textile design company, have hidden four London landmarks in the design: Tower Bridge, Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, and The London Eye.

And finally, traveling on the Tube becomes the perfect opportunity for reading stimulating, inspiring and short works of literary art. Poems on the Underground, conceived by the American-born and London-based writer Judith Chernaik has brought poetry to the vast audience of Londoner's and visitors, young and old, since 1986. The poems range in style and include classics, contemporary and international works. Judith Chernaik, as well as poets George Szirtes and Imtiaz Dharker select the poems, keeping in mind London's diversity of cultures which are so vital to the city's rich character.

Chilling Out Beside the Thames
by John Agard, London-based poet from Guyana


Summer come, mi chill-out beside the Thames.
Spend a little time with weeping willow.
Check if den Trafalgar pidgeon still salute
old one-eyed one-armed Lord Horatio.
Mi treat gaze to Gothic cathedral
Yet me chant forget how spider spiral
Is ladder aspiring to eternal truth…
Trickster Nansi spinning from Shakespeare sky.
Sudden so, mi decide to play tourist.
Tower of London high-up mi list.
Who show up but Anne Boleyn with no head on
And headless Ralegh gazing towards Devon.
Jesus lawd, history shadow so bloody.
A-time for summer break with strawberry.

Map of London Underground.
Labyrinth by Mark Wallinger, Green Park station, 2013 Photographer: Thierry Bal.
Transporter, Harold Offeh and young people from Baraka Youth Association and Canalside Activity Centre, Bethnal Green station, 2013 Photographer: Benedict Johnson.
Seat fabric.

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to I See You. It originally ran in February 2017 and has been updated for the November 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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