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> > > Jon Adams: Word Wall

16 October 2008

Artist challenges commuters at London Bridge station

Jon Adams has recently been appointed as Southern's Artist in Residence and over the next year Adams will be creating his art on the Southern network as part of the Alternative Platform project.

Artist Jon Adams standing next to his WordWall installation at London Bridge station.

Artist Jon Adams standing next to his WordWall installation at London Bridge station.

Adams first large piece was installed at London Bridge Station on Friday 5 September 2008. Word Wall, forms part of the first ever artist's residency on Southern Railway. Jon says 'Word Wall is a take on a quote from French painter Jean Dubuffet: 'Real art is always lurking where you don't expect it.' The artwork is made up of words from the quote, which have been taken apart and dropped. I wanted to site the piece on a wall because, due to my dyslexia, words present a barrier to me.'

Adams' work seeks to challenge perceptions of disability and communication in society. Adam's current project Alternative Platform, of which Word Wall is part, explores his journey in overcoming his hidden disability, and developing the confidence to express himself as an artist.

By exploring his own journey in conversation with passengers on Southern Railway, Adams hopes to encourage people to think about their attitudes to disability and the events that have influenced their own lives and made them who they are today.

Adams worked as an illustrator for many years before turning to disability visual arts three years ago. He received the Art Plus award in 2007 and set out to use it to break into new territory. Initially he had to spend a lot of time gaining the trust of the railway officials involved in giving him the go ahead. Adams says 'when I finally met the communications manager of Southern last year, I had 20 minutes to give him a pitch. Two days later I received a free train pass through the door. I then knew that Southern were serious about giving me space to do this project.'

Adams idea was to interview a whole range of people using the train network, from passengers and conductors met by chance to other disabled people he'd invite on a train journey. He would then use those conversations as a stimulus for making artwork. Some initial ideas were to make maps of journeys using words from the conversations and to make small interventions by leaving artworks serrupticiously, with the idea of creating chance encounters - something Adams does on a regular basis.

Adams says 'When I got this award I wanted to get completely out of my depth. The point is to challenge myself to work in ways that are out of my comfort zone. When I talk to people I write words down with the intent of capturing things said from the heart. It can be the most wonderful thing.'

As part of this process Adams has been creating a series of interventions; the first of which appeared in the Southern train timetable in May 2008 in which the artist had inserted the word 'dream' almost imperceptibly on various pages. Adams says 'It's more of a question, but without the question mark. I dreamt at age six that I'd be an artist and I was reminded of it by one of my fellow travellers who told me 'don't just live your life. Live your dreams.'

Jon Adams WordWall installation in situ at London Bridge station.

Jon Adams WordWall installation in situ at London Bridge station.

Inspired, as many of the officials involved have been by Adams assertion that he wants to give fellow travellers 'a place to dream' many people assume that being an artist in residence means making paintings. 'I told one manager I was going to make a six foot pair of binoculars and put them at the end of a platform, as a tribute to train spotters. What I didn't tell him is that I usually make a record of where I've seen train spotters - which may or may not turn up in an artwork.'

The next stage of the project will involve Adams working with Pallant House Gallery (near Chichester rail station in West Sussex) creating a large scale map of journeys, and delivering a series of community workshops.

Alternative Platform is supported by Arts Council England, South East and the South East Economic Development Agency (SEEDA) through its Art Plus awards scheme for art in public places.

Felicity Harvest, Executive Director of Arts Council England, South East, said: 'Jon's thought-provoking work supports the Arts Council's aim of creating opportunities for people to experience art where they least expect to - in railway stations, in forests, on trains, streets and shopping centres.'

Alistair Napier, Network Rail Station Manager at London Bridge station, said: 'We are delighted to showcase Jon's work at London Bridge as Southern Railway's resident artist. The new installation will help to make London Bridge a more inviting station whilst work continues on improving facilities for passengers as part of the Shard development.'

For more information about Jon Adams work go to his home page

You can also find out about Art Route Dream an artist-led project Jon Adams is engaged with in the Portsmouth and Southsea area.

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