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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable