From today, travellers on the London Underground can meditate on a series of film-strip photographs dotted around four stations: Stratford, Bethnal Green, Notting Hill Gate and Heathrow Terminal 4. The multi-site piece (Uncommon Observations: The Ground that Moves Us, until June 2023), by the London-based artist Rhea Storr, is one of the most ambitious projects to date overseen by the commissioning body Art on the Underground.
In the images a Black figure, static and in motion, is drenched in garish shades of red and pink. Her cinematic images, featuring the artist Jade Blackstock, are captured on infrared Aerochrome film, an outdated form of military surveillance photography.
Storr explains why she used this obsolete medium, saying in a statement that “Aerochrome was used for the purposes of war to identify people among vast swathes of green land, by turning only the grassland a sickly pink and leaving their bodies untouched.” She adds that “the history of surveillance is racialised; passes, tags and the meticulous documentation of the Black body were all used to control the enslaved."
The artist also spoke with Tube staff—asking questions such as how race and dress affects the way that they, or the people they observe, move around the Underground. These observations fed into the “consideration of surveillance… intertwined with the history of Black life”.
Eleanor Pinfield, the head of Art on the Underground, says that “each photographic series is uniquely suited to the station site that it is installed in, allowing the public to read the images and captions akin to a short film. Storr’s reflective work will speak to millions who pass by over the course of its display.”
Other Art on the Underground projects include a work at Brixton Underground station by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, first shown in 2018 (Remain, Thriving), and a new permanent work by Larry Achiampong for Westminster Underground station which was unveiled earlier this year (Pan African Flag for the Relic Travellers’ Alliance (Union), 2022.