Recently, Londoners and visitors might have found themselves sitting on concrete benches, which resemble half open books. Benches not only look like a book, they are fully dressed up by different depictions that resemble and celebrate the literary heritage of London. For the Summer 2014 the National Literary Trust and Wild in Art are the promoters of the project Books about Town whose purpose isn’t just limited to the celebration of the rich literary background that London offers, as it aims to engage the public through the joy of reading, via art.
If the urban space of any city in the world has been one of the most influential sources of inspiration for narrative, its London. Books about Town inverts such relationship: books become vehicle to experience the space of the city by inviting its dwellers to walk around and find the different locations around London where the benches are. Traditional novel characters take shape to the viewer through the wondering and the experience of streets and alleys that engage the reader by connecting personal memories of places and mixing them with the character’s ones.
Such interwoven experiences create the thrill that unwraps one’s imagination; nevertheless Books about Town makes London the visual scenario of different and overlapping stories through inviting book lovers to read and literally sit on top of their favourite book. Hence the city becomes a collage of 50 tales, which have been represented by local artists and professional illustrators, thanks to the funding received by London Schools Excellence Fund which involved more than a hundred children from schools around London via a project linked to the Book about Town.
Providing an alternative city tour, the literary benches include works: Mary Poppins, 1984, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Elmer the Elephant and Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly from among 50 tales that all use different techniques of representation all the way from painting to mosaics.
One such mosaic is Elmer the Elephant, situated on the Greenwich Trail in the mid of the colourful hill path of Greenwich Park. Its creation involved artist Giles Boardman and David McKee, who designed the illustration based on the story aiming to promote and support diversity. Elmer is an elephant whose skin is a patchwork making him different from the others and follows his attempts to camouflage this difference though once his real colour is revealed Elmer learns how his friends like him for his particular characteristic rather than exclude him. The bench is indeed one of the most colourful on the trail, and represents Elmer through a pixelated mosaic with an overlaping elephant silhouette. Embracing the concept of diversity, it is a positive message regarding accepting and enjoying one’s true colours. Next to each bench there is a QR code, which gives more information about the project.
Until the 15 September the benches will be on display in different areas of London and at the end of the summer they will be collected and auctioned at Southbank Centre on 7 October with all proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust, a charity dedicated to raising the literacy levels of disadvantaged children and young people across the UK.
Books about Town, London. Until 15 September. For more information please visit www.booksabouttown.org.uk
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1. Books about Town Elmer Bench by Giles Boardman and David McKee. Photo by Laura Ferrarello