The Answer Lies at the End of the Line is a series of artworks by local artist Serena Korda, currently to be seen at Stanmore Underground Station – an unlikely place for an art exhibition.
Jack Watkins meets the artist to find out more.
London Underground has had a proud, pioneering record in the commissioning of transport art and design since 1908. Back in the early days, its Publicity Officer (later Managing Director), Frank Pick, enlisted leading artists like the American Edward McKnight Kauffer, Graham Sutherland, and even the photographer Man Ray to work on his innovative poster campaigns. While their designs had the commercial aim of encouraging the public to see the tube as their prime means of getting about, they had at their heart a genuine public service ethos of educating and opening up the eyes of the travellers to the cultural wonders of the capital and its suburbs.
Since the 1980s, this tradition has undergone a revival; more recently still, Art on the Underground has been working with a mix of artists, from international names to those at the start of promising careers, to produce new artworks that enrich the journeys of everyday Tube users. One such is Serena Korda, 29, whose works are currently greeting passengers alighting at Stanmore station, the last stop on the Jubilee Line. Serena, entirely by coincidence, spent her schooldays in the area, which informed and stimulated her engagement with the project.
Stanmore fits Art on the Underground’s aim of broadening art coverage to areas of the network where you might least expect to see it. Serena found that the more she delved into its past, the richer the history she uncovered, justifying its inclusion in its own right.
“I attended Edgware School (now the London Academy) on the Stonegrove Estate from 1992 to 1998,” she explains, “and every day used to walk past the army barracks. I decided to look further into its history and what was housed there, and discovered it had been an outbuilding for the once top-secret Bletchley Park.”
It was this Bletchley link that got her thinking about crosswords as an artistic motif. “I found that one of the ways the Foreign Office recruited codebreakers at Bletchley was through crossword puzzles. Allegedly, if you could complete The Times crossword in under twelve minutes you had the potential to be a code breaker.” Serena realised that the theme had even more mileage when she found a poster of a completed crossword grid in the London Underground archive, along with an accompanying leaflet. “The leaflet was given to people sheltering in the tunnels during the Blitz. It had rules and regulations of how to behave in the shelter, and on the other side it had a crossword grid and glues (to provide entertainment). So there is a rich history of people playing crosswords on the Underground, from passing the time of a journey, to sheltering in it during the war.”
Locals played a big part in helping her flesh out her ideas, from a couple of professional setters, Geoff Heath and Roy Dean – said to have completed The Times crossword in a record 3 minutes 45 seconds, and who gets his own graphic illustration at the station – to the self-styled Stanmore Puzzlers, to several Bletchley Park veterans, who gave her an insight into the hush-hush days when Stanmore barracks housed 57 Turing Bombe machines, used to decipher the German Enigma code.
One of Serena’s posters jumps back a couple of centuries to feature the profligate Duke of Chandos, former owner of a large mansion in Canons Park. Serena explains: “I discovered his story through the Stanmore Choral Society, who in turn told me about a local shop owner who’d been in the area for over 60 years and was a keen local historian. I went and talked to him, and wanted to encapsulate his enthusiasm for history, the Duke and the Canons Park estate into one of the crosswords.”
The climax of her display is a series of heraldic banners adorning the main ticket hall of the station which, she hopes, “elevate the crossword into something extraordinary to be gazed at. It’s also, she adds, the only place in the universe where you will find the solutions to the crosswords. “As the title suggests, the answer lies at the end of the line. This is the Holy Grail of Stanmore.”
The works have proved deservedly popular. Leaflets containing all the puzzles have been distributed along the Jubilee Line, and have been swallowed up fast. Serena recently appeared on a BBC Four Time Shift programme on solving cryptic crosswords, talking about the project. “I hope it brings more people to Stanmore, and that it will amuse residents that they hold the answer at their local station.”
The Answer Lies at the End of the Line is
at Stanmore Underground Station until 30 January 2009.