Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London

Charles Darwent on Mark Wallinger: Underground artist leads travellers astray

4.00

Mark Wallinger's new commission, 'Labyrinth', aims to subvert London Underground's iconography and disorient the viewer

Mark Wallinger has always had an itch for public transport: witness Threshold to the Kingdom, filmed at City airport, or Angel, which featured the artist walking down a station up-escalator reciting St John's Gospel backwards. The 2007 Turner Prize-winner is also fascinated by signs and codes. So if anyone was going to make an artwork for each of London Underground's 270 stations, then Wallinger was he.

But first, Edward Johnston. In 1913, a square century ago, Johnston designed the Underground's red, white and blue roundel, a symbol now so familiar that it has become a metonym for London. Like Harry Beck's 1931 Tube map, the logo is misleading. Just as the Circle Line is not, pace Beck, neatly bottle-shaped, so Johnston's geometry and sans serif type suggest that travelling on the Underground will be a rational experience. This is not borne out in fact.

Which means that Labyrinth was a pretty brave commission on the part of London Underground Ltd. Among Wallinger's better-known hobby horses are myths and the debunking of them. A logo that has both entered the national psyche and sets out to mislead it is the kind of thing to set him licking his lips.

You can see the outcome of this at 10 Tube stations so far, including Oxford Circus. Its personal Labyrinth arrived on a wall a couple of weeks ago, between a ticket counter and an Oyster card machine. I imagine most of the quarter-of-a-million people who surge through the station each day haven't even noticed it; they may never do so. The only thing to suggest that it is an artwork rather than signage is that it bears a discreet number, 60/270.

That secrecy is very Mark Wallinger. Like all the others, the Oxford Circus Labyrinth is a circular composition, black on white and about the size of a Johnston roundel. You vaguely imagine tourists scratching their heads at it in a sad-eyed attempt to find Fortnum's. It is a graphic maze, like the ones children trace their way through in comics. At its entrance stands a little red cross, jaunty and hopeful. It seems to stare at the maze with a question-mark over its head. You Are Here, it says: but where are you?

And what is this Labyrinth? Good question. Johnston's roundel was the visual abstraction of a set of ideas – logic, modernity, speed. Wallinger's is, too, although his ideas have more to do with Homer and Barthes. Like Daedalus, the Homeric character who built a maze for the Cretan minotaur, Wallinger is an artist. You sense his identification with the man who, in Ovid's telling, made a labyrinth so cunning that he was almost trapped in it himself.

Wallinger's labyrinths are also quietly subversive. Part of the way artworks control us is in insisting on how we look at them. Michelangelo's David demands to be seen in the round, while we have to squint at Holbein's Ambassadors sideways-on to discover the picture's anamorphic skull. To find our way through the Oxford Circus Labyrinth, we would have to stop and trace a path with our fingers. Try doing that in the rush hour. If Johnston's roundel called out to the conscious mind, Wallinger's whispers to the part of it that fears tunnels and the dark.

Something else strikes you about 60/270, particularly when seen in the company of its friends, 142/270 (Bank) and 101/270 (Westminster) in a show of artworks from the LUL commission at the Anthony Reynolds gallery, a short step from Oxford Circus. Johnston's design set out to integrate, to show the Underground as a unified network. Each of Wallinger's labyrinths is different, although that doesn't mean we can use them to navigate by.

Rather the opposite. There is, intentionally, no sense of place in his system, nor – short of Wallinger spending the rest of his life travelling to 270 stations and getting to know their different locales – could there be. No, the point of each Labyrinth is that it is a symbol of itself, or, rather, a symbol of symbols.

There is something faintly Dan Brown about all this. Conspiracy theorists will recall that red, white and black roundels incorporating a cross were used to some effect by the Nazis. Reducing things to symbols, as Wallinger is aware, is fraught with danger. His labyrinths remind us of that.

 

To 27 April (020-7439 2201)

Critic's Choice

There's double exposure for Man Ray, with two exhibitions of the Surrealist's photographs in London. The bigger is Man Ray Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery (to 27 May), focusing on his work in America and Paris, where he snapped friends, colleagues and lovers. Shown in tandem at the Atlas Gallery, Man Ray: Contacts affords greater insights into his work, incrluding raw, untouched versions of famous images (until 30 Mar).

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?