Have you seen someone being kind-hearted on the Tube?
Did someone do something kind for you?
Did you help someone out?
Acts of Kindness is a project by artist Michael Landy celebrating everyday generosity and compassion on the Tube.
Landy invites passengers and staff to help by sending stories of kindness that we’ve seen or been part of on London Underground. In the coming months he will choose a selection of the stories to place in Central line stations and trains.
About the project
Michael Landy’s project Acts of Kindness is a celebration of compassion and generosity, inviting us to notice acts of kindness however simple and small. The artist explains, ‘Sometimes we tend to assume that you have to be superhuman to be kind, rather than just an ordinary person.’ So, to unsettle that idea, Acts of Kindness catches those little exchanges that are almost too fleeting and mundane to be noticed or remembered.
Landy first began thinking about the idea behind Acts of Kindness immediately after making his work Break Down (Artangel, 2001). For Break Down, he destroyed all his belongings, from his birth certificate to his car. The experience of being left with nothing helped him reflect on what we are aside from what we own, and on the value of feeling part of a common humanity. ‘One of the questions that motivated Break Down’, he says, ‘was what makes us human, more than just being consumers. I guess I wanted to take that a step further. I was looking for the right situation to explore what value kindness has, what it means, and what kind of exchange is involved in giving someone a helping hand.’
The situation he was looking for turned out to be on London Underground. Landy is fascinated by the way we tend to disappear into our own bubble on the Tube, disconnected from the people around us. One day, he recalls, while sitting in a Tube train absorbed in his own world, he suddenly became aware of two strangers, one trying to help the other. For Landy it was a life-enhancing event. He considered how easy it would have been for the person helping to look away. And he wondered what inspires a stranger to be kind to another: what motivates someone to step out of their bubble and go out of their way to help a person they don’t know? He created this project as a way of capturing and exploring what happens in that moment.
Landy defines kindness as going beyond yourself to acknowledge someone else’s needs and feelings. Being kind to a stranger involves sharing that sense of connection with someone you don’t know. ‘It’s a gesture of trust between two people’, he says. ‘There’s a risk in that. They may just ignore you or take it the wrong way.’ It requires courage and acceptance on both sides.
Perhaps that’s partly because acts of kindness between strangers undermine the idea that we should compete and always strive to be independent. Instead, they’re an acknowledgement of our shared humanity. ‘This project is about feeling a sense of being connected to each other’, Landy explains. ‘That’s what “kindness” means – we’re kin, we’re of one kind.’
Look out for artworks on the Central line
Acts of Kindness is the first in Art on the Underground’s Central line series of artists’ projects taking place from 2011 to 2012. Landy has been placing his selection of Acts of Kindness stories in Central line stations and trains since late July 2011. Current stations with stories installed include Newbury Park, Redbridge, Gants Hill, Wanstead, Barkingside, Leyton, Liverpool Street, Chancery Lane, St Paul’s, Holborn, Lancaster Gate, Holland Park, Greenford, Ealing Broadway, West Acton, North Acton and Hanger Lane. The number of stories to look out for will gradually build over the coming months. They won’t always be where you might expect to find them. Look out for stories in trains on the Central line too...