For some social commentators, the stereotype Londoner is an unfriendly commuter on the underground railway, burying their head in a book. But, one of the capital’s leading artists has decided to dispel this myth
Michael Landy has captured the generosity on the tube that often goes unreported. For his project, Acts of Kindness, run in association with Art on the Underground, the artist invited passengers and staff to share stories of kindness they have experienced. Landy then installs these inside Central line trains and stations.
Hundreds of stories have been submitted on the project website over the past year and have sprung up on pillars, platforms and sliding doors, as well as on late-night animations commissioned for Channel 4.
One story reads: “After a miserable week and particularly difficult day, I was returning home on the tube, trying to hold back the tears. I’d noticed a gentleman further up the carriage was writing a letter, but I didn’t take much notice. Until the letter was eventually passed up the carriage to me. I kept this letter with its kind words and smiley face for many years. The kindness of this stranger always reminds me not to lose faith in people or society.”
The project was inspired by Landy’s first landmark installation, Break Down, in 2001, in which he destroyed all his possessions in order to find his true identity. The experience made him contemplate the value of kindness and what motivates strangers to help one another.
In an interview with Acts of Kindness curator Cathy Haynes, Landy says the tube was an ideal platform for the project: “You become more aware of people because you’re in such a condensed space. Perhaps because of that we disappear into ourselves…This project is about feeling a sense of being connected to each other. That’s what ‘kindness’ means – we’re kin, we’re of one kind.”
With the arrival of underground WiFi, more people may be tempted to switch off from the world around them. Yet, if Landy’s installation has proved anything, the real opportunities to interact are right in front of us.