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).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?