Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Travelling Tea Set - 2009

Travelling Tea Set - Train journey from Glasgow to Leeds - Lois Whitehead - March 2009

'This Tea Set was designed to inspire conversation & bring people together.
A friendly gesture, that hopes to work as a tool to encourage social interaction and get the brain thinking a little.
Exchange stories, information and opinions happening over a cup of tea or coffee with a new acquaintance as you both make the same journey.'
- Taken from the handout sheet I wrote for the project.

Travelling on trains is part of my yearly routine. My Dad, Nick Whitehead, is the Leeds district secretary for ASLEF, the train drivers union, and because of this He and the members of his family are entitled to free train travel with a privilege pass. Each time you travel for free you have to fill in a box on your pass and you use this box as your ticket.
So train is my preferred method of transportation on long journeys and I travel down to Leeds every other month or so to see my family.
On this occasion there was a family party on Sunday the 16th that I wanted to attend, so i took the chance to try my Public Art Project out for the first time on the journey down.

I hopped on the Edinburgh bound train from Glasgow Queen Street with my Suitcase in tow.
The train was quite busy and I had to sit next to a woman in a two
seat section.
I offered her a cup of tea, but she seemed hesitant and so declined. She asked me about the project and eventually asked me the question "But how is that art?".

Coming from an institute where I am constantly surrounded by other artists and tutors who accept all the ideas as art without me having to explain why, I find it hard to understand when people from a none art background question my ideas.
I told her that the work was in the ideas. Hopefully that there were questions thrown up about social comfort levels, roles of the care and being cared for. That I want to open myself
up to disclosure and trust of the people I meet. She looked at me, smiled and returned to her book.

So I lost hope a little bit.

The next train I had to get was from Edinburgh to York. I was one of the first on the train and managed to secure myself a table seat with no-one else currently sat there.
Slowly people started boarding the train and sitting down, but no-one sat next to me.. And then..
Two men looked around anxiously for a seat..

"Are these seats taken..?" they asked.

"No, sit down" I ushered.

"Would you like us to move your case up on the storage for you?"

"Well actually, I was going to offer you a cup of tea.." I said as a threw the suitcase open revealing its luxurious contents.

And that was that, we were sat together enjoying tea, talking about my work, their jobs, where they grew up, families, relatives, friends, the recession, farms, car crashes, vegetarianism, ex boyfriends..

We had a thoroughly enjoyable train journey together and exchanged email addresses and have both being in touch to say thanks for the company.
The project will continue, hopefully later this week, as I ride the train to and from central station, to places such as Edinburgh and Ayr..

Images & Ideas : Lois Whitehead


  1. I thought this was a brilliant idea. On public transport I often wonder about my fellow passengers, sometimes make up stories about them (I'm a writer), but starting a conversation is - difficult. It's the British reserve thing. If I pluck up the courage to say something - even the traditional remark about the weather - will I be intruding on someone's privacy? Will they think I'm 'up to something', nosey or weird? Safest to keep quiet unless someone speaks to me first. A cup of tea would be a great conversation opener.
    As for the art - sorry, but I'm like your first co-traveller. If I had to put a label on your project I would have called it a social experiment. To me 'art' is creating something tangible, a painting/ sculpture etc. Although, now you've made me think about it, you do have your photos and written observations, and you've put them on your blog for all to see ... Am I beginning to 'get it'?
    Anyway, if I was on your train I'd definitely have a cup of tea with you (pretty, china cups!)

  2. Hi, sorry I've only just read this comment, but it's great to hear what you think.
    I completely agree that this could be labled as a social experiment, and largley see it as one. I'm about to start working on my degree show piece which is something in a similar vein, and i was using this as an artistic investigation into test out my ideas.I see art as ideas, and making those ideas exist outside of my head.
    There are more solid pieces that have developed from the work, and I'm currently making books from the conversations I have on the train.
    Keep a look out for me on the train and I would be delighted to offer you a cup of tea and discuss it in more detail!