I’m on the mailing list for Pentagram’s annual publication, “Pentagram Papers.” This year’s edition, called “Overlooked,” is by Partner Marina Willer. It contains 22 rubbings of street covers found throughout London.
With each sheet roughly 23" x 16" and printed with neon shades of orange and hot pink, this is a piece that can’t be overlooked. Pentagram’s intention is to provide a reminder that “a city’s beauty isn’t limited to art galleries or grand architecture, and that intricate design is everywhere.” An inventory page shows a photo of illustrator Hiromi Suzuki kneeling over a street cover in London making a rubbing.
Walking through any city, my designer’s eye is always drawn to street covers, partly because they provide a visual punctuation to a bland street, and partly because I have a secret fascination with infrastructure. This issue of “Pentagram Papers” elevates this utilitarian object (no pun intended) into art by changing the context in which we view it. These street covers have been collected and processed so that we may hold them in our hands rather than have them under our feet.
Flip the pages, and the front- and back- printed pages combine into completely new street covers. These combinations elevate the design of this piece to a whole new level. With a binding comprised of a simple black piece of elastic, you can take the whole thing apart and rearrange the pages, creating endless possibilities for pattern combinations. This versatility and the use of playful florescent ink make for a fun and creative interaction with the piece.
A bonus experience is the curiosity piqued by the stories behind the street covers. Each rubbing names the “artist” who designed the street cover (where known) and its location are noted on each sheet. The accompanying gatefold gives a tease of the origins and history of both the street covers and the rubbing methodology used to create them. In case you want to research a bit further, you can learn that:
• Taking rubbings of religious objects was a popular pastime of the nineteenth century in Britain.
• The geometric designs of Victorian-era coal hole covers provided a useful function — to keep pedestrians from slipping in wet and icy weather.
• Hydraulic covers are all that remain of London’s water-based power system of the Middle Ages — the old water conduits now house fiber-optic cables.
• Gas pipes throughout the city provided lighting to Londoners before electricity.
Just enough context to satisfy curiosity, but not enough to overshadow the intent of the piece — to be a work of art in and of itself.
Creativity and curiosity—and wonderful combination for sparking ideas of all kinds. And all from a collection of street covers.