Searching for a Labyrinth: England

This is the second in a two-part series of my experiences in Europe searching for labyrinths.

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Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – John 7:24 (NRSV)

I had better luck locating potential labyrinths in England than I did France. I found one near Portsmouth where we spent one night, but we weren’t able to stop worried about what time we would be arriving in London.

I didn’t find much in London. Many were temporary placements or exhibits (not large labyrinths you could walk). However, I did come across this one by accident when leaving the Underground at the Park Royal tube station.

Labyrinth, Park Royal Tube station, London

Labyrinth, Park Royal Tube station, London

 

After a little bit of searching, I found out that all 270 London Underground Stations have labyrinth. They were created by artist Mark Wallinger to celebrate the Underground’s 150th anniversary in 2013.

“The rumble of trains was a reassuring presence in Wallinger’s childhood, with the Central line running close by his family home in Chigwell, Essex. The Tube provided him with a connection from the countryside to the complexities and possibilities of the metropolis. This personal relationship with the Underground has informed his interest in public transport and fuelled a fascination with the idea of being ‘transported’ in an imaginative or spiritual sense. This idea gave rise to the ancient symbol that lies at the heart of this commission: the labyrinth, which represents this idea of the spiritual journey in many different traditions across the globe. An example of a significant labyrinth from the 13th century can be seen today on the floor of Chartres Cathedral, where visitors are invited to walk its circuitous path as a form of pilgrimage. For Wallinger, the labyrinth is a fitting analogy for the millions of journeys that are made across the Tube network every day.”

Since we were usually looking for signs, I hadn’t noticed them before. Unfortunately this was the last day of our trip. As I write this, I am a disappointed that I had not found out more about these Underground labyrinths before our trip.  You see, I saw the picture in the labyrinth locator and didn’t think much of it. I didn’t bother to read further and understand. Not until I was writing this did I go to the website and find out more about this installation.

 

These 270 labyrinths near the entrance of each Tube station are unique.

“Wallinger has created 270 individual artworks, one for each station on the network, each one bearing its own unique circular labyrinth, but with a graphic language common to all. Rendered in bold black, white and red graphics, the artworks are produced in vitreous enamel, a material used for signs throughout London Underground, including the Tube’s roundel logo, whose circular nature the labyrinth design also echoes. Positioned at the entrance of each labyrinth is a red X. This simple mark, drawing on the language of maps, is a cue to enter the pathway. The tactile quality of the artwork’s surface invites the viewer to trace the route with a finger, and to understand the labyrinth as a single meandering path into the centre and back out again – a route reminiscent of the Tube traveller’s journey.”

 

I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t give this labyrinth a chance.

Instead, I judged it as not worthy based on a thumbnail picture on a website. While I’m thankful I saw this one by accident, I’m sad that it was the last day of our trip. We were in many Tube stations while in London, and I have missed out on a very unique piece of art.

I love everything about this description of Wallinger’s work. I love the simplicity and how it was designed to incorporate its surroundings and symbols familiar to Tube riders. I love that while there are 270 unique labyrinth designs, they are bound together by their placement and the London’s common use of the Underground – as well as visitors like me.

I realize it’s just a piece of tile on a wall but this experience teaches me about sin and grace. When I judge based on a surface response or incomplete information – especially when it’s people I’m judging – it’s not only a sin but I miss out on something of value. But I’m also thankful for the grace of seeing that one, so that even in retrospect, I am able to share in Wallinger’s labyrinths and be part of the community he created it for.

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