It’s always nice to be invited back. After 26 Letters, the London Design Festival asked us if we could come up with another killer collaboration for the 2005 festival. This time, our idea was even more connected to the city itself. It started with the Circle Line.
The Circle Line is a fantastic starting point for London’s stories. It encompasses the centre of town, and takes in neighbourhoods of startlingly different character. We decided to give each station to a writer (a set of startlingly different characters, too), and ask them to produce a chapter of a book, based on their station, or the area round it. But not just a chapter. Our partners in crime this time were London Underground, and the London College of Communication, so each station now had a team – a writer, staff from the station, and students from the college. Their joint task was to produce an artwork to be part of an exhibition to take place during the festival.
So ‘From Here To Here’, as it was now known, had two results. A book, and an exhibition. Close cousins, but not just mere representations of each other.The book is 31 chapters, featuring guest appearances from the poet Simon Armitage, science writer Martin Gorst, and Ian Marchant, as well as those of us drawn from the ranks of 26. The mathematically minded among you will note that those 31 chapters include more than the Circle Line’s 27 stations (King’s Cross appears twice – the ‘Here’ of the title; and the Thames, Line Control Room and the lost station at Mark Lane are all included). They included all kinds of writing, too – fiction, poetry, biography, memoir. As mixed-up a picture as the city itself.
The book was on the presses on July 7, the day of the London Tube bombings. Several of what we had come to think of as ‘our’ stations were affected, and the events of that day lent more than one of the chapters an unexpectedly prophetic aspect, notably Simon Armitage’s poem about King’s Cross, and Rishi Dastidar’s chapter on the ghosts of Aldgate. The book – a celebration of London’s diverse cultures and characters – was dedicated to the victims of the attacks, and to London itself.
The exhibition was just as lively as the book. There were water features, a recreated front room, 3D glasses, a modern-day hanging garden, and a brilliant display of yellow-framed chapters. And there were posters and postcards of the artworks all over the Tube (and still available in the London Underground shop!).