Simon Patterson's piece 'The Great Bear' (1992) takes the London Underground tube map and replaces the station names with names of famous
cultural figures throughout history, through to the end of the 20th Century. Patterson chose the tube map for its accessibility - the tube map is a well known and loved London icon, and as such is accessible to
those who would not necessarily be accustomed to looking at artworks.
In Patterson's words “the Underground Map is recognisable, although it is an abstraction that seems representative of place; people who are not
interested in art might like it, because it is comfortable.”
Originally Patterson's plan was to produce 'The Great Bear' as a poster and give it out for free, but London Underground prevented this on
the basis that this would be too confusing for the public. When he finally gained permission to use the map, he had to produce it as a limited edition print, although it is now available as a poster.
'The Great Bear' brings together layers of information and obfuscation, working as a map in that it enables the viewer to locate themselves in
relationship to other 'things', but in this case the relationship is not with underground stations but with cultural icons.
The London Underground map is an immediate icon, a map which enables one to locate oneself in relationship to the tube system and includes the key to the
different coloured lines. The substituted station names allow one to locate oneself in relation to philosophers, film stars etc. and enables one to place both oneself and the artwork within a cultural context and a
time period (late 20th Century / early 21st Century).
This 'layer' of information points at another one - the question of what system has been used to choose a particular type of figurehead for a
particular line, and a particular name for a particular station.
The title 'The Great Bear' brings in another layer of meaning, that of star constellations, and with that, the myths which go along with the name
of The Great Bear constellation. These myths are only extant in the work if the viewer knows them: the work changes depending on who reads it.
Text by Anna Oliver: 'A reading of Simon Patterson's piece The Great Bear'
Web Link: www.annao.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/index.htm