...the tube is such a part of London living, something we assimilate and learn to forget to see, and suddenly, intensely I wanted to really see it again. It seems so much the daily fabric of life and yet we blur it all out.
And then the question, of all the tube stations, how many of them have I actually been too - not just traveled through, but actually popped out in? What percentage of the network could I tick off this imaginary list...and if you set out to do it, how long would it take to complete the set...especially if you decide to set on on said pointless task when you don't actually live in London anymore.
I've recently returned to my childhood in that I've been collecting Doctor Who stickers, and putting them into my Doctor Who sticker book. It has brought more peaceful satisfaction than is healthy in a grown woman. I don't know why the act of completing the set gives me such a warm thrill, probably the same drive that makes me unable to wear a mis-matching set of bra and pants, and finds pleasure in shade charts in DIY stores and skeins of embroidery thread organised by colour.
I've loved it, 'doing my stickers' - playing swapsies with equally guiltly-addicted adult friends, the excitement of getting a new one and the rarity of that happening once you get closer to completion - why am I writing about this, what the hell is the relevance of that - except that it a demonstration of my tendency towards finding pleasure in making sets of things and imposing a logical order on objects. I need a new thing to collect, a new set of lists to obsess about - supposedly a very male trait, this need for lists, for completion, a way to coral meaning, to place human order on a chaotic systems...and I am not interested in collecting china pigs or theatre programs, or things of that nature as they aren't finite groups - there is an expanding set of china pigs in the world, and ever increasing number of theatre programs, but the London Underground is a closed set (well mostly; the buggers keep closing bits or adding bits, but lets face it it is a fairly stable number). And while they may build more stations, the difference between this and china pigs or theatre programs, it is not a system designed for this type of consumption, for being collected, and therefore it is not driven by a material, capitalist desire to make things people don't need, to constantly increase the number objects to be collected, in limited edition produced-for-collectors, heirloom quality sets.
The idea morphed - firstly a suggestion of getting a photograph of oneself a platform at every station. The photo must feature the station name as 'proof' that one's feet did actually land on the platform, but this seemed to easy - a case of pull in, jump off train, snap, and jump back in before the train set off again...you could do a whole line in one frantic afternoon...no, it must involve seeing the station.
A large part of the drive behind the project is to see these places that exist only as names on a map, and to see the difference between one's expectation of them and the reality - are there smouldering trees at Burnt Oak? Nothing but tennis at Wimbledon? London names have a magical potency to a girl brought up in rural Cornwall - they have evocations, they have the weight of expectation and imagination and history...time to explore that.
Traveling, living in London, means a fraught relationship with the public transport system, a tube map in one's head, an interlinked web of buses and trains overlaid, the misery and entertainment of having to travel with thousands of others all at the same time - all this complex interaction, all that swearing and frustration when it doesn't work, and the thankful prayers to the bus gods when a 432 arrives just as you've got to the bus stop after a trip down the Victoria line. The stories, evenings out, job interviews, that are connected to trips to unfamiliar stations. Popping out in new spaces, ascending from the underworld...will it be different when the journey is the only object, and traveling loses it's timetabled meaning? Will this way of traveling change how I use the tube?
A plan emerges; a set of Rules and Aims:
1) I must pass through the ticket barrier to properly collect a station.
2) I must get a picture at every station, both on the platform and exterior, featuring myself and the station name to act as proof that I really have visited each station.
3) To make 274 pieces of art to represent the total number of actual tube stations. There won't be a piece of art for every station as some are just beyond my capacity to find inspiration, and conversely some stations are too exciting to limit to just one piece, but eventually 274 pieces there will be...
Beginning here and now, tonight, at Kentish Town...
...reading from a free London Transport tube map, I can be positive above having used 103 of the 275 stations in my life already - plus at least one of the Acton's but I don't remember which, but that still leaves well over half the network a mystery...what adventures lie ahead? What memories will returning to places long unvisited bring back, my history of twenty years in London. I realise that perhaps only I will care - I am but one of thousands of economic in-comers, who then choose to leave again...but hey, it gives me something to do...