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When You Look You May Not See - Richard Wentworth

Date uploaded: July 31, 2014

Marking the Centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War, British artist Richard Wentworth has created a new poster for Art on the Underground which uses mirror writing to reveal the personal correspondence of a young solider to his wife. The poster is currently being displayed across the London Underground network.

The work is entitled When You Look You May Not See, and uses a postcard written by soldier Herbert Ernest Wilson to his wife Martha Emily Wilson on 4 September 1918, taken from the University of Oxford First World War Poetry Digital Archive.

Where the original reader, Wilson’s wife, may have poured over the postcard time and again, imparting meaning into each and every word, Wentworth has reversed the text of the postcard, rendering it initially illegible, seemingly a graphic symbol rather than a letter to be read.

In reversing the text, the historical distance between the contemporary mass audience and the original individual is emphasised. The words now appear under-exposed and indecipherable in front of today’s commuters passing by. However, on closer inspection, and with time and perseverance, the use of a mirror or a careful reading, the audience is afforded an insight into the intimacy of the exchange.

14-18 NOW, First World War Centenary Art Commissions

The work is a co-commission with 14-18 NOW, First World War Centenary Art Commissions, a programme of special commissions by leading artists from Britain and around the world to mark the centenary of the First World War as part of the UK’s official centenary commemorations. The programme will centre around three key moments: the 4th of August 2014 (Anniversary of the Declaration of War), July 2016 and November 2018. The first events will take place from June to August 2014. 14 -18 NOW is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England and by additional fundraising. 

First World War Poetry Digital Archive 

The First World War Poetry Digital Archive is aimed at releasing a wealth of resources to researchers, teachers, students, and the general public to further the promotion of the subject.

For more information about this and other Art on the Underground projects click here.


Photograph: Alastair Fyf

Photograph: Alastair Fyf