Subway stations are great places for art, commissioned or otherwise. The anxieties of a bustling platform, the boredom of waiting for a delayed train, or even the drudgery of another day’s commute--all can be soothed, or at least temporarily smoothed over, by a well-placed placard with something nice to look at. Renowned artist Mark Wallinger recently finished a new collection of soon-to-be-subterranean pieces to celebrate the London Underground’s 150th anniversary, though their subject matter is somewhat at odds with the whole idea behind these modern marvels of efficiency in the first place. By the end of this summer, at every one of London’s 270 Tube stations, passengers will be able to take a few seconds to contemplate a tiny maze.
The project is part of the ongoing Art on the Underground program, and it’s the largest-ever commission of its kind. For the full set, Wallinger created 270 different labyrinths, one for every stop. The first 10 of the series are being installed this week; the rest will follow in coming months. Once they’re up, each two-foot-by-two-foot piece will be a permanent part of the station in which it’s posted.
“The journeys we take on the Underground are unique to each of us," Wallinger said in a statement accompanying the project’s debut. "I hope Labyrinth can perhaps reflect that individual yet universal experience.” And in a sense, the maze is the perfect thing to capture that dynamic. Each will be instantly recognizable as such--like the ones you’ll find in any kids’ activity book, they’re nothing more than ordered clusters of black and white lines--though every passerby will have the opportunity to navigate the lines on their own, be it superficially, from a distance, or up-close, scrupulously following their path with a finger.
From the initial pieces, it seems like some will be easier to complete than others. The puzzle for Embankment station is a straightforward spiral to the center. The thin-lined Oxford Circus labyrinth offers a significantly greater challenge, with some potential wrong turns and dead ends thrown into the mix. But for all the pieces, the magic only exists so long as the works stay pristine. Hopefully, the city’s transportation officials have a plan for dealing with the inevitable product of the first drunken ass who happens to encounter one of these with a Sharpie.