As part of the BT Artbox programme, artists and designers have re-designed the iconic red telephone box. The telephone boxes have been located in different places and spaces across the urban landscape. The red telephone box has an enduring presence in geographical imaginations of London and the UK. I’ve felt more aware of the presence of the ‘iconic’ red telephone boxes of late. Walking in central London, tourists huddle round the big box to take their holiday snaps with their rosy red London icon and consuming place. During the Jubilee chaos, the telephone box became a useful viewing platform – a steadfast beacon amongst a sea of crowds. I don’t mean to romanticise the conviviality of the telephone box – many are highly sexualised advertising spaces. It’s just this sense of vitality and connection with the telephone box seems an interesting reconfiguration of the ‘connections’ the telephone box has housed historically.
Knit in the City collective is noted for their iconic knitted telephone box cosies. As part of the BT Artbox endeavour Deadly Knitshade (founding member of Knit in the City) created a big yellow monster. The colour of the ArtBox was as bright as the yellowy tones of a New York’s taxi – an equally strong character in the geographical imagination of a fellow ‘big city’. Aesthetically, the detail of the signage, and the shape of the box’s windows were replicated in the monster cosy. But with giant eyes added, and goofy, monster teeth the telephone box became a creature and a character in the city. Given the especially soggy weather over July, I thought the ArtBox still felt pretty cosy to touch – it had endured well. Infact, it offered comfort and a space to sit and chat – a site of sociality for a group who appeared to have chosen the spot as their designated meeting point. People danced in and out of the group to get a touch of the telephone box, and to see the craftsmanship ‘close up’. Knitters and knitting could be argued as a new subculture within London. If subcultural groups construct meaning by taking objects and signs from dominant cultures and injecting them with their own meaning, the knitted tea cosy is emblematic of this. Though of course the intentionality of this BT ArtBox is different to more ‘guerrilla’ tactics.
I’ve been exploring the relationship between the materialities of the city and acts of knitted graffiti. The materiality of something knitted affects different ‘feeling’ sensibilities in the city. It affects the ‘feel’ and touch of the telephone box. The red steel box becomes softer and bright yellow. The knitted ArtBox affects the ‘feeling’ of the city; it surprises, it delights, it confuses. It affects how we feel ‘about’ the city – based on comparison with our assumption of telephone boxes and other materialities of the city – we feel affected or enchanted as Jane Bennett might argue. It created a space for encounter and it would be interesting to see the extent to which the knitted medium and materiality played in these ‘encounters’. Though many of the red telephone boxes are increasingly redundant, they do still have feelings (!) and the yellow monster cosy seemed to speak for the telephone box, its place in the city and relationships with it, through a knitted narrative.