While I was attending Goldsmiths, I use to take the DLR through Greenwich on an almost daily basis. “This station is Cutty Sark, exit here for Maritime Greenwich.” I use to watch the excited tourists rush out with cameras in hand ready to explore the area. I myself, however, only ever joined them once. It always struck me while passing through this station just how greatly we rely on words and signs to mediate our relationships with the identity and historical implications of our surroundings. In this dark tunnel there was nothing to connect me to the rich maritime history that lay directly above. Yet, the very announcing of the notable features of this location seemed to absolve me of “the need to stop or even look.” The landscape was kept at a distance by the walls and tunnels of the underground.
On one occasion an old grandmother came and sat next to me and struck up a conversation. She proudly told me that the had been a Londoner her whole life, and talked about how the Isle of Dogs had changed over her lifetime. I remember noticing the other passengers listening in on our conversation, intrigued by her knowledge of the area that we were all travelling through.
The movement around the city is marked by “a series of snapshots” which can only be contextualized or sequenced at the various stations your tube or train may stop at. However, through my conversation with this woman, the landscape was contextualized. In discussing her memory of the changes to the Isle of Dogs and London, she made it possible to reconnect to the space that I was traveling through. She transformed the journey into a spectacle, making room for history. Her interaction with me and the other passengers gave us a common ground in which, as users of the space, we could reestablish relationships with one another, if only momentarily. We were forced out of solitude and anonymity.
photo by nick.garrod