Witness the visceral and lively work of Laure Prouvost’s Art on the Underground commission and alternate between roister and rumination. On view until 15 December 2019 across 270 London train stations, ‘You are deeper than what you think’ is the French artist’s first UK public art commission and, as with all of her work, it mingles images with words, animating heavy subject matter with a light touch. In this instance, the Turner-prize winning artist has been inspired by London Underground’s history of graphic design – such as its iconic Johnston typeface – and her ongoing preoccupations, most notably the Grand Ma figure, who appears in many of her works.
Looking at the cover of one of the six million tube maps printed with the words, ‘In grand ma’s dream this map would always be with you and would resist the passing of time’, it would seem that Provoust is trying to have a conversation with passengers. A series of macro and micro installations are spread across the capital’s stations and feature posters, digital screens and hand-painted signs, many of which are site-specific. For example, a 20-metre text which declares ‘Ideally these words would pause everything now’ is overlaid on painted clouds; it pronounces itself boldly at East London’s Stratford station below a view of an almost-summer sky. The artist tells me the work is about Brexit. This is further emphasized by an energetic live performance by a London-based choir who sing: ‘Oh stay with us, the party has just begun.’ ‘I’m singing from a European point of view, stay a little bit longer, we could make it work’ explains Provoust.
Discussing the merits of creating work that will be seen by millions of people, Provoust says: ‘For me, it’s an opportunity to communicate an idea gently.’ A station is an environment in which we are incessantly told where to go, where not to stand, how to behave. At times, Provoust appropriates the same instructional language. At Heathrow Terminal 4 underground station, for example, a poster states: ‘You are going in the wrong direction’ but rather than being directed by an anonymous and impersonal guide, we are chauffeured by the artist’s voice: humorous, lyrical and proudly bilingual.
Main image: Laure Prouvost, ‘You are deeper than what you think’, 2019, installatin view. Courtesy: Thierry Bal