How street artists reimagine city maps

Tagging the city. Image: MOMO/Somerset House.

What counts as a map? Cartographical purists certainly wouldn't recognise much in the displays at Mapping the City, a new exhibition at London's Somerset House.

The walls of the newly re-opened New Wing, still raw and unpainted, are covered by a mishmash of brightly coloured canvases. The exhibit's floor is partly taken up by a large orange teepee and a cardboard cartoon figure.

The exhibition asked over 50 street and graffiti artists to create a work on the theme of "the city". Some played with city maps; others highlighted features of urban architecture. While the artworks and maps featured wouldn't be much use if you needed to find the central train station or a pharmacy, they do say a lot about the cities themselves and the artists' perception of them. Here are a few of our favourites. 

1. Manhattan

Momo: "Tag Manhattan", 2013. Click for a larger image. 

This work is by a street artist called MOMO (if you look closely, the line on the map spells it out), and is actually a recreation of a stunt he pulled in 2006. Using orange paint, he drew a thin, 8 mile line, using the streets of Manhattan to make up the letters of his tag.

Another piece in the exhibition, Brad Downey's "Face", uses a similar device: the streets of Chicago are used to form the face of an elderly man.

2. Bangkok

Swoon: "Bangkok", 2009-2012. Click for a larger image. 

This cutout of a woman apparently perched atop a tower of Bangkok stilt houses was created by Brooklyn street artist Swoon. She specialises in "street pasting" – sticking images of friends or family on abandoned buildings and street signs around the world – and has said she's fascinated by the "relationship of people to their built environment". 

3. Los Angeles

Augustine Kofie: "Overcast Angeles", 2014. Click for a larger image. 

Augustine Kofie has been on the LA graffiti scene since the mid-90s. His work tends to use found or everyday materials – the work above is made from yardsticks, ballpoint pen, correction fluid and recycled maps and pieces of paper. 

4. Buenos Aires

Chu: "Buenos Aires", 2012. Click for a larger image. 

Chu was part of a mid-2000s Buenos Aires street art movement which replaced propaganda and pictures of politicians with huge, colourful works of street art. He told BrooklynStreetArt, a graffiti and street art website, that for this piece, he wanted to create a personalised transport map:  

I tried to create a map of Buenos Aires marking my usual movements around the city. I am used to moving around it a lot, from one side to other, and sometimes it is really chaotic and stressful. However it is also really where I get a lot of inspiration

Probably not much use of you're a tourist, mind.

5. Beijing

Eltono: "Promenades", 2014. Click for a larger image. 

Like Chu's and piece, this sculpture takes the visual symbolism of public transport maps and uses it to track the movements of the individual. El Tono took several walks through Beijing, tracked them on his phone GPS, then turned them into wooden cutouts. 

Mapping the City is on show at Somerset House until 15 February. 


Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.