Harold Offeh and young people from Baraka Youth Association and Canalside Activity Centre
Bethnal Green, Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill Gate stations
The Central line is transformed into an interstellar superhighway in this science-fiction-inspired project. The familiar station symbols on Harry Beck’s Tube map have evolved into planets: stopping-off points on the Lunar Express, appearing like notes on a galactic musical score.
Artist Harold Offeh and young people aged 11 to 19 years, from Canalside Activity Centre, part of Epic CiC and Baraka Youth Association, have worked together on a project to mark the 150th anniversary of London Underground. This historic year provided a springboard from which to imagine the next 150 years of the Tube – a vehicle to project the group’s interest in popular culture and sci-fi and their visions of the future, whilst allowing an opportunity to reflect on the present.
For Offeh, a regular tube traveller, ‘There is wonderment in disappearing into a “black hole” in the ground and being transported and arriving at a completely different location.’ This idea of the Underground as an everyday transporter, like the teleportation machine in the Star Trek films, enabled the group to travel together through space and time in both a real and imaginary sense.
The young people travelled with Offeh to discover parts of the Tube and the city that they had never explored before. They visited the V&A Museum of Childhood, the Science Museum and the London Transport Museum, encountering art on the Underground along the way, such as Mark Wallinger’s Labyrinth, a unique artwork for every Tube station. At Bethnal Green station, a behind-the-scenes tour by Underground staff gave them a glimpse of how the station operates and how devices like the PA system work.
Listen to an interview with Harold Offeh on the BBC World Service (at 13:40mins)
Born in Ghana, Harold Offeh lives and works in London. He often collaborates with other artists, communities and individuals, inviting audiences to experience and engage with ideas through workshops and small-scale events under the umbrella project The Mothership Collective. This framework for Offeh’s collaborative practice is loosely based on musician George Clinton’s 1970s P-Funk performances, which used outer-space motifs, alien space clothing and a ‘Mothership UFO’ prop. Clinton was part of the Afro-futurist movement, along with other artists, writers and musicians such as jazz composer Sun Ra, who used outer space and sci-fi as a way to reframe identify, creating alternative myths and narratives that challenged conventions.
Offeh and the young people were assisted by photographer Benedict Johnson, artist Steve Nice, filmmaker Ash Mahmood and sound recordist Mick Ritchie in making and documenting the project.
Using this experience of the Tube’s Customer Information announcements and their knowledge of script writing and the conventions of the spoken word, they made a series of ‘interplanetary’ audio recordings for travellers on the ‘Lunar Express’. They imagined what a number of Central line stations would be like in the year 2163 and created new images and stories based on their own experiences and memories.
One young person’s future drawing, ‘Notting Hill Gate’, imagines that the carnival spirit will still be very much alive in the future: the station becomes a musical score with notes emanating from its centre. This was adopted as the central motif for all the large-scale artworks designed by the young people for the escalators at Bethnal Green and Notting Hill Gate stations and the ticket hall at Ladbroke Grove station. Echoing Beck’s Tube map diagram, the musical stave connects the different planets on the route, symbolising the creative journey that the young people took with Offeh, where the real reward was achieved not just at their destination, but in the possibilities that grew out of sharing and exchanging ideas with each other on the way.
Transporter is part of Art on the Underground’s engagement programme for Labyrinth, a major new commission by artist Mark Wallinger resulting in an artwork at all 270 Tube stations to celebrate the 150th year of London Underground.
In partnership with Epic CiC and Baraka Youth Association
Read about the making of Transporter