facebook

2012 Highlights

Alan Ashton-Smith

1 May 2012

Alan Ashton-Smith

Alan Ashton-Smith is completing a PhD on Gypsy Punk, in the London Consortium’s multi-disciplinary programme in Humanities and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Other research interests include Eastern European and Balkan studies, and many aspects of popular music and culture.

Abstract:

REORGANISING HARRY BECK: THE LONDON UNDERGROUND MAP AND THE ART IT HAS INSPIRED

This paper discusses the familiar London Underground map, which was designed by Harry Beck and 1931, and the influence it has had on designers and artists. The map has come to be recognised as a signifier of London, and its influence resonates both beyond the city and beyond cartography.

I will consider the work of a number of artists who have produced work based on the structure of the map. Simon Patterson’s piece ‘The Great Bear’ is perhaps the best known artwork that appropriates the London Underground map: Patterson removes the navigational properties of Beck’s map, and reduces it to a simpler tool of organisation.

However, other variations on the map, of which several bear comparison with ‘The Great Bear’, have retained the navigational properties of the original, resulting in homages to Beck that simultaneously comment on the influence of the Underground map and provide a means for navigating different sets of data. For example, the music writer Dorian Lynskey produced a map in which a different genre of music was applied to each of the Underground lines.

The idea of organisation is important here: the original Underground map organises data so that it can be simply comprehended, while the artists who draw on it reorganise this material for their own ends. Ultimately, we realise that the process of navigation within the city that the map makes possible is in itself a form of organisation.