In celebration of last Sunday’s World Kindness Day artist Michael Landy talks about his project Acts of Kindness with its curator Cathy Haynes. Acts of Kindness is an Art on the Underground commission calling for stories of kindness on the Tube. Since the project began in June 2011 the public have sent in over 300 stories. Over the coming year Landy is placing his selection of stories as artworks in Central line stations and trains. To find out more and send in your own story of kindness on the Tube, visit the Art on the Underground website.
Cathy Haynes: On the Tube on the way here, I had this weird little shock of self-awareness. I’d settled into my seat a bit like I would at home and was vaguely watching all these strangers around me almost as if they were on TV. I was daydreaming and wondering about their lives, but making no real connection. Then my eye drifted onto a safety sign and it broke the spell. I suddenly became properly aware that I was surrounded by real people. And I remembered how at the beginning of this project you talked about the way we retreat into a bubble on the Tube. We’re in intimate proximity with strangers Underground but we do our very best to ignore each other, in an amplified version of the way we treat each other in the city above.
Michael Landy: Yes. You enter the Underground and suddenly the atmosphere is completely different: how much eye contact you can give, how close you can get. You become much more aware of people because you’re in such a condensed space. Perhaps because of that we close off and disappear into ourselves. And because of the way we act there, the Underground is the perfect platform (boom, boom) for this project to manifest itself.
I’m interested in what makes us human in a basic sense apart from our economic identities, especially at this time when people have lots of financial worries and the world seems to be a very troubled place, and we don’t really know how to move forward. I want to find out what makes us human, and what connects us, beyond material things. For me the answer is compassion and kindness. And this project is a way of collectively exploring that idea. I mean I don’t know if it’s going to help create a kinder place on the Underground. I think that’s probably too big an ambition to have. But, in the way that it can make you feel uplifted when you see someone be kind on the Tube, I’d like to think that the artworks presenting the stories will also do that – that they’ll become life-enhancing for people. In other words, I hope the artworks are an act of kindness in themselves.
I’m trying to place the story artworks on platforms and in trains in ways that echo the unexpected ways you encounter acts of kindness in the flesh. They pop up when you least expect them. And I’m hoping the stories will have the same kind of effect on the reader as seeing an act of kindness. That’s what I’m hoping.
Click here to read the full interview. The School of Life's campaign: 'A Month of Reaching Out' continues for the rest of November, with Karen Armstrong delivering our next secular sermon this Sunday. Visit our facebook page to check for your daily task.