Art & Design

Satirical Art Brings Levity To London's Underground

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London's mass transit system, known as the Tube, has been hit by a guerrilla attack by pranksters. Informational posters in rail cars have been covered up by stickers poking fun at the system. Shepherd's Bush stop was relabeled Shepherd's Pie. Priority seating in pranked cars now reads: "Pretend to be asleep and they won't ask you to move."


There's a new guerilla art form in London. As Vicki Barker reports, it is intended to bring some levity to the Underground.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The next station is Holborne. Change here for the Picadilly line.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: A weekday afternoon on the London Underground. The passengers swaying gently, their anesthetized eyes only half-seeing the familiar blue and white official notices. The seat near a door labeled priority seat for people who are disabled, pregnant or less able to stand, helpfully illustrated with disabled, pregnant and elderly stick figures, lest there be any doubt. Another sign, customer notice: we apologize for any inconvenience caused during these engineering works. And then, the double-take.

JAMES: This one is customer notice: we apologize for any incontinence caused during these engineering works.

BARKER: James leafs through some of the stickers he sells online - stickers that look exactly like Transport for London notices except they wittily subvert the original message. James doesn't give his full name because what his customers then do is technically illegal. They place the stickers on top of the Transport for London notices they're lampooning, where they add to a growing catalog of guerilla signage on the Underground. One sign reads, priority seat, please offer this seat to drunks less able to stand. The artist has even adapted the same helpful obvious stick figures to fit the new message. And reserved seat, window table for three at 8:30 P.M. Professor Tim Newburn of the London School of Economics says these anonymous sticker- uppers are raging against the machine.

TIM NEWBURN: The guerilla signage, I think in a sense, is people reacting against being treated like kids. We don't need 5, 10, 15, 30 signs all around us instructing us on common forms of decency.


BARKER: From buskers to graffiti, Londoners are used to seeing ad hoc, even subversive art in public places. The stickers first appeared several years ago, but in recent months they've proliferated.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: This is a central line train to Epping.

BARKER: There's even a Facebook page called Stickers on the Central Line, where people post the latest sightings. Some of the work is playful. Someone's relabeled the station Shepard's Bush, Shepard's Pie. There's also sly commentary. The station for Green Park, in the heart of posh London, has been renamed, Endless Profits. From their offices above ground, Transport for London executives fail to see the joke. They say the guerilla sticker people are committing criminal damage. The reaction on the street, though, is more positive.

LUCY EVANS: I think they're great.

BARKER: Commuter Lucy Evans sees the stickers every day on her way to her job at the train company.

EVANS: A little bit of humor in everybody's commuting day, I think it's lovely. Just for me, they just make me smile, you know.

BARKER: In fact, there have been no reported arrests. It seems the guerilla sticker people are being allowed to ride that thin rail between artist and outlaw. For NPR News, I'm Vicky Barker, in London.

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