Jenny, Sophie and Ivor spent a week in April speaking to commuters at Foregate Street Railway Station, Worcester, about their experiences of complaining, receiving complaints and the inability to complain.
We were also handing out a free copy of The Source with two new texts by Ivor. Have a read on your journeys.
Ivor Southwood’s written response:
Slouch down into your seat, shoulders forward, head down, headphones in
‘The idea was that if we put a jigsaw about time in a waiting room it would complete itself, as all the bits of time of the people who come in would join together, like the pieces…’
Yes that’s a good idea, says the elderly woman who had entered the waiting room a few minutes earlier. She had looked curiously at the jigsaw puzzle laid out on a picnic table before sitting on one of the benches lining the walls. However, her eyesight isn’t what it was. She’s due to go into hospital for an eye operation next week, a routine procedure. I’m seventy-eight, she says, you have to expect that sort of thing. She unwraps a piece of cake from her bag. Elsewhere in the room a man sits reading a newspaper. A young man enters the room. Come on! She exhorts him, gesturing at the jigsaw, you can have a go… He raises an arm in plaster and replies apologetically, I would but… he can’t tackle a jigsaw one-handed. The paper-reading man remains silent. The woman asks if she might be left to eat her cake. I resume my position in the corner of the room.
On the table in front of us, the jigsaw – a 500-piece reproduction of an 18th century engraving by German artist Martin Engelbrecht depicting ‘the female clock and watch maker with clock costume and apparatus’ – remains incomplete, the pieces scattered across the table, exploded fragments of time. Most of the edges are done. In the original image the horologist’s body has become fused with the elaborate instrument of her trade, but so far only a small part of this picture has emerged in the chaotic space of the puzzle. Sections of an ornamental clock have been joined together with the woman’s facial features: Roman numerals, an eye, a hand.
Time passes. We wait.
A man wearing a sandwich board with ‘The Complaining Body’ printed on it stands at the entrance to the station, trying to get the attention of a woman walking past.
‘Hi, I’m not selling anything, I wonder-’
‘Is it to do with the train company?’
‘No, we’re from the art gallery-‘
‘What’s wrong with the gallery?’
Customers are reminded to keep their luggage with them at all times while on the station.
Over the course of half an hour people congregate on the platform in preparation for the next departure, a growing line of bodies dotting and then filling the horizontal space in ones and twos, sitting on benches and standing, facing across the line or fixing their attention on handheld devices. Each studiously ignoring those next to them, some talking on phones to people miles away. By the time the train arrives eighty or so people are waiting to get on. From the point of view of a single traveller, part of this impromptu group but not seeing it, not acknowledging those on either side, the journey, whether routine or extraordinary, daily or once-in-a-lifetime, is an individual matter. Viewed from across the platform it resembles a mass exodus starting from this small station.
[Man wearing sandwich board, walking along platform] Hello, I’m not selling anything, would you like a free newspaper from the gallery?
Man leaning against wall, reading Metro shakes head.
[Sandwich board man] Are you sure? I see you’re reading the Metro, it’s better than that, there’s no adverts in it.
[Man turns further towards wall and tries to hide behind Metro, avoids eye contact] I’m good.
[Sandwich board man] Are you though? Really?
At approximately 2pm the following incident occurred: a passenger, a casually dressed male in his thirties, was waiting on platform two for a train to Birmingham. A slightly older man walked up and stood next to him. They stood side by side, facing across the line to the platform opposite.
After a minute the second man turned and looked intensely at the first. The first man asked, ‘Yes?’ The stranger continued to stare, did not answer. ‘Do you want to fuck off?’ said the unwilling object of this man’s attention. Still he stared. The passenger did not move, but looked away. The stranger then sat crossed-legged in front of the man, facing him. The passenger steadfastly ignored him. This position was maintained for another couple of minutes.
Finally the staring man stood up and explained that he was participating in an art project on the station. The passenger was unimpressed and made clear his complaint: he found the other’s behaviour, conducted without warning, to be rude. He also sought assurances from others involved that he would not appear in any photographs taken in connection with the event. Being left alone again, he continued to wait, as other passengers waited around him, until some minutes later they boarded the train.
Split yourself up
A familiar railway scene. A train arrives, passengers board and file into seats inside. Meanwhile on the opposite platform a woman stands, facing the carriage on the other side, and waves. Inside the carriage a couple installs themselves around a table, stowing their luggage on the overhead shelf, while a man sits behind and looks out of the window.
The passengers cannot fail to see the woman waving opposite them, her expression fixed and her movement unvarying, right hand palm-out rolling from side to side. The couple wave back briefly, they acknowledge her but do not know her. At whom is she waving? The man behind them hunches down into his seat and looks away. She does not know him, she cannot be waving at him. But he seems to sense that the other passengers do not know her either.
Time passes. Still she waves, as the carriage continues to fill up. She has been waving for some time now, beyond what would be easily explicable or ignorable. The couple are no longer looking, they are talking to each other. The man brings his coat up as if to shield himself from the waving woman, with her wave that cannot be meant for him. The engine revs, the woman waves, the man hunches.
Five minutes or more have passed. The scene has become strange, a departure as it were from the usual railway etiquette. To any observer the wave has exceeded its usual social meaning, and the lack of response has become a signal in itself. The engine roars again as the train prepares to leave.
Still the woman waves, still the man ignores her. The train lurches, screeches, slowly begins to pull away. The fixed relation has become mobile, time-limited. There is a sense of urgency, of crisis even. Still the woman waves, with the same repeated movement, adjusting her position slightly to the angle of the departing train… Wave back! Wave back! For the sake of humanity!
Finally the man lowers his coat, raises his hand and makes a small, reluctant gesture. He waves.
The woman continues waving, with the same metronomic motion, following the vanishing dot of the train. Only when it disappears into the distance does she stop and walk away.