Sunday, 7 March 2010

Welcome To London

This great little piece of public ornament is now semi-permanently gracing the north-western entrance to Leicester Square.

Warning of the amorphous and shadowy presence of some sort of unspecific, generalised "criminiality", out to get whatever you consider to be valuable in the space between your flesh and your outermost pocket, the sign (one guesses) is supposed to increase the reach and efficiency of the law through public awareness and vigilance. But because it looks like it has been hastily left by the retreating side in a battle of which there are no traces, like an apologetic warning to initiate self-policing from the government of some occupying power being forced to withdraw, instead of instilling communal self-policing and confidence it is unintentionally pathetic.

It doesnt have the sinister gaze of the discrete observer that shrouds cctv cameras with their very particular aura of malignant control, and singular purpose; instead it has the rather sad aspect that comes from a sign which is attempting to do something as serious as control criminality, but is having to nonetheless balance this with the role of needing to welcome people to an area, to somehow positively represent that area, to efface itself at the same time as pronouncing itself, hence the "WELCOME TO LEICESTER SQUARE", then the dire warnings, put as neutraly as possible, like the traffic-jam signs on motorways that tell you to drive carefully when there is no information to relay, and finally the ambiguous "HAVE A SAFE NIGHT", not "HAVE A LOVELY NIGHT" or "MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A SAFE NIGHT OR ELSE: ITS UP TO YOU!", but the rather sweetly confused median. One feels for the sign, it doesnt know what it is, it is pathetic, and Kawai, sweet.

I wonder whether it ever has other messages posted on it from different governmental depts or the GLA, perhaps like "Welcome to leicester square; the food served in some establishments here has been proven to be detrimental to your health; Order with caution; Have a healthy evening".
Because there is something so forlorn about the wheeled-in sign, with its little guardian sentry rails that allow it to conform to Health and Safety regs, and its confused task, I wonder if it could be brought to life and given its own sad, pleading personality, like a very British Marvin The Paranoid Android in another guise, or a more down-to-earth, london 2010 version of the Highway sign in LA Story that instead of helping out like a post-modern benevolent techno-god, here looks back at you from the works of man and offers up a confused and pitiful mirror, in LED and aluminium, for your own relationship to the city around you.

1 comment:

  1. How very maudlin. Nice name check on LA Story there. I suppose it depends how much you anthropomorphize the objects around you, if you see a sign in a Pixar kind of way all street furniture starts to look very sad and lonely like a dog leashed up outside a cornershop waiting for it's master to return.

    So there's two skews here 1) the planning, design and application of signage and street furn. is appalling in general. And appears to be proliferating at an alarming rate.

    2) the very real issue of how people interact with each other and their environment and the ham fisted way the various governmental structures routinely impose odd/pointless/detrimental measures and programs to this milieu

    So what is to be done? Clearly, I would suggest, that there be a post and/or body created to sweep everything clear and in the spirit of the 30's-50's reforms set down a new and consistent, in terms of thought and action, core design guidelines and principals for this.

    However without a cultural awareness and want for a wabi-sabi like way of being, I fear in the Britain of "what are you moaning about, it's alright, it does the job well enough doesn't it?" that this will never happen.