A red phone box street art hunt.
It was how I started blogging in 2012. By writing about my exploits in tracking down the 70+ BT ArtBoxes scattered around central London to raise awareness and money for the charity Childline. And 4 years later this still remains one of my favourite street art photography experiences. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about another red phone box art project.
It all began when a friend showed me a photograph of a person doing a headstand inside a phone box. I could see it was a a painting but where had the artist put it? Wasn’t the phone on the back wall in the way? About a week later, this same friend showed me photographs of two more boxes he’d found. And then I knew that I had to find out more and follow this new trail.
Dan Witz, guerilla street artist
Dan Witz is a street artist who prefers to choose when and where he installs his work rather than wait for permission. He finds that this is a more affective way to communicate and campaign with people. He’s been an activist since 1970s. He hails from Chicago and is currently based in Brooklyn.
Dan Witz Wailing Walls 2013
In collaboration with Amnesty international, Dan created 25 pieces to protest about the injustice of people detained in prison purely for their political beliefs. They were installed, guerrilla style, around Frankfurt, Germany. And each image related to a specific prisoner and members of the public could learn about them via their smart phones. They could also leave messages on a virtual wailing wall.
I found the image above in London last year and now I understand that it is an extension of this project.
Dan Witz Breathing Room, London 2016
Dan Witz had planned to extend Wailing Walls to other countries. Our iconic red phone boxes would be his walls in London. I can see why. The concept of a person trapped inside a phone box is a powerful image. Then, in November 2015, the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and a new project took hold in in the artist’s mind.
The shock of the Paris attacks profoundly affected him and his thoughts turned to peace and the need we all have for space to breathe. And this is how Breathing Room came about. A kickstarter campaign was set up to fund it and the project went ahead when it met and then exceeded its target.
10 pieces were installed in London in July 2016. The images are of people from diverse backgrounds all in the midst of spiritual practice. The boxes are scattered across the Capital, concentrating on the East, with one in central London and one down in South London.
Dan Witz Breathing Room: Creating the illusion.
Have you worked out from the photographs so far how the illusion is created? Dan Witz has painted each image on a panel which is glued onto the back of each phone box. The neat touch of adding the PULL handle to each panel plus the dark, shadowy background fools the eye into believing that there really is a person inside a phone box.
The panels were attached with an easily removed clear sillicone glue which would cause no damage to the phone box. A good thing too as I believe that they are all listed by English Heritage. In the photograph below you can see where one of the 10 works has been ripped off. And to date, this is the only one that is missing.
Breathing Room: Finding the boxes
The locations of these art works is deliberately not well documented. The idea is that people come across the meditating images unexpectedly. And you will notice that they do not leap out at you when viewed from a distance. There are clues on Dan Witz’s website. And I’m going to respect this by not posting the precise locations here.
Red Phone Box models K2 and K6: a clue
When phone boxes were first introduced in 1920 they looked very different to the iconic design we now think of. On the London streets today there are two models. The K2 (from 1924) and the K6 which was introduced later in 1936. The K2 was the first red designed box. And the K6 is a modified version which was no doubt cheaper to manufacture.
The K2 is a much bigger box and the glass panels are equally proportioned across its width. It also has a distinctive perforated crown on the top.
The K6 is slightly smaller and the windows panes are proportioned differently with a large central pane of glass and two small slivers on either side.
When Dan Witz planned this project, he measured the back of a K2 unaware that there were far fewer of these scattered around London. He designed his faux door from the K6. So your clue is to look for older K2 boxes for the panels on the rear.
The end of my trail. Finding my last box
When I started writing this post yesterday, I hadn’t found the 10th box. I was going accept defeat and then I found a clue on Dan’s website. So I was out early before the sun was too bright because they don’t photograph well in strong sunlight. By now I could spot a K2 from a 100 paces… Was this the right box?
It was. And I almost knelt down to pray with the meditating lady in joy. Well I did sit down to get a photograph.
Thanks to artist Dan Witz for a truly inspiring street art project. In the bustle of busy London, not always apparent in these photographs, they are powerful images. I hope to reflect on them more myself. This is the kind of street art project which lingers long after the experience of tracking them down.