Art on the Underground invited British artist Richard Wentworth to create a new work as part of Transport for London’s centenary commemorations of the First World War, in collaboration with 1418NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.
Wentworth looked particularly at London Underground as a site for mass communication during this time. Utilising official communication material, particularly those from the London Transport Museum and the Imperial War Museum, as a starting point, Wentworth went on to look at more personal archives – letters and postcards that lay bare the individual realities of life at war.
Wentworth’s resulting work has three parts – a large-scale commission for the outside hoardings of Southwark station, a site-specific text and mirror installation in the subways of Piccadilly Circus station, both entitled If history could be folded, where would you put the crease? and a network-wide poster, When You Look You May Not See, first released in August 2014 and re-issued in November 2014.
Exploring the contemporary spaces of London Underground as, likewise, ones of both public and official communication on the one hand, and a private and individual experience on the other, Wentworth emphasises shifts in perspective and explores distance and legibility in relation to history by turning text into symbol through mirror writing and reversal.
Here, marking the First World War as pivot, each element of the commission uses the gaps between official and personal histories to ask how we look back on important moments in history and attempt to understand them as both personal markers and collective turning points.
14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions
The work is co-commission with 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, a programme of special commissions by leading artists from Britain and around the world to mark the centenary of the First World War as part of the UK’s official centenary commemorations. The programme will centre around three key moments: 4 August 2014 (Anniversary of the Declaration of War), July 2016 and November 2018. The first events will take place from June to August 2014. 14 -18 NOW is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England and by additional fundraising.
First World War Poetry Digital Archive
When You Look You May Not See uses a postcard written by Herbert Earnest Wilson to his wife, Martha Emily Wilson on 4 September 1918 reproduced from The Great War Archive University of Oxford; © Marilyn White.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive is aimed at releasing a wealth of resources to researchers, teachers, students, and the general public to further the promotion of the subject.
Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front
London Transport Museum’s 2014 exhibition on the First World War explored how the conflict accelerated social change, how it impacted on the lives of Londoners and the essential role undertaken by bus service staff and buses in the war effort, both at home and abroad.
Great thought provoking and poignant piece of work. I was paused trying to read letter for a while and when i reversed the text it brought a tear to my eye. I do hope and pray that Herbert got home to his wife, but knowing the horror that WW1 entailed, i’m not so sure…
This is a beautiful project. The stillness of the artwork amongst the busy surroundings is remarkable. If the purpose is to make one pause and reflect – then it has certainly been achieved. I have seen the work at various stations and each time I see it I am frozen in time as I read the letter by Herbert to his wife. What a poignant, thoughtful and respectful way to mark the Centenary of the First World War and the enormous sacrifice made by so many.