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In Praise of Zebra Crossings

By Cally Trench Ann Rapstoff and Philip Lee

A street intervention in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK

3 May 2011

A postcard was produced for distribution during the performance, which included the following text by Cally Trench: 

In Praise of Zebra Crossings
Zebra crossings are a British invention and were introduced in 1949.  Belisha beacons came earlier - they were introduced in 1934 by the then Minister for Transport Leslie Hore-Belisha.  Unlike pedestrian crossings involving traffic lights, zebra crossings require drivers and pedestrians to engage in a social contract with each other and to recognise each other's humanity.  When drivers stop, pedestrians usually acknowledge them with a little wave, nod or smile. 

This art intervention by Cally Trench, Ann Rapstoff, Philip Lee and Alex Dewart celebrates zebra crossings and their impact on human relations.

For more information on the artists, see:
Cally Trench -
Ann Rapstoff -
Philip Lee -
Alex Dewart -

Philip writes:

For me In Praise of Zebra Crossings was about doing my first street intervention, and was an anxious time as a result.  In the event I need not have worried.  It went very smoothly and the other's didn't run off and abandon me when someone started to have a go at us or when the police arrived. Well, as it happened, everyone who saw the performance was very positive, approached us smiling, and clearly didn't call the police because they never arrived. I wonder whether I am a little disappointed that the police didn't come because it may have made for some interesting photographs, video footage and a more exciting intervention. At least I didn't get arrested and didn't have to spend the night in a police cell while someone raised the bail money to get me out!  I am more than satisfied that the piece went well and all my fellow collaborators performed their tasks impeccably.  Ann was brilliant at keeping me calm, Alex was brilliant at keeping us on our toes and Cally was brilliant at slapping the paint on perfectly in record time.  Even getting a substantial splash of white paint on my black pants didn't hold up the transformation.

While walking round the roundabout there were a number of highlights:

I will always remember the expression on the face of one driver as he waited to let me pass - wide-eyed, bemused, disbelieving.

By the time of my second or third circuit there were people waiting for me to come along the path, obviously they had seen what was going on and thought that they would lay in wait in order to take their photograph.  As I came around a building three young girls were blocking my route.  Smiling and respectfully they took their photographs as I walked around them on my way to the next crossing.  At a similar point in my circuit, it was me who surprised a mother with a pushchair and children, as I suddenly appeared from around the side of a building.  She was taken aback as she struggled with her encumbrances but was clearly amused by our encounter.

At the end of my last circuit the silver van man who nearly drove into me said that he was sorry mate - he hadn't notice me and roared with laughter.  He got the point I think. His relationship with zebra crossing and driving was not entirely as defined by the Highway Code. He followed me slowly as I walked around the roundabout, incidentally holding up a patient queue of cars, as he tried to take a photograph of me with his mobile phone. I think he yelled his approval as he motored off but I may have been mistaken. I have come to embrace the need that people have to record in images anything they see that is extraordinary. I admit to the urge to do the same whenever I see anything body oriented in the street.  In fact I am disappointed when people don't want to take photographs. Mobile phone photography is approval, interest, recording a memory and implies that they will be talking about what they have seen with others.

Philip Lee
14 May 2011

Part of Remarkable and Curious Conversations

The vision behind Remarkable and Curious Conversations is that we will create a network of interactions between artists. These interactions may range from the tiny impact of a single comment to a full-scale collaboration. Each artist will allow the possibility of someone else having an effect on their work. The project, which is curated by Cally Trench, ran over three years from 2009 to 2012.

time-lapse film by Cally Trench (available on DVD)

Documentation video edited by Cally Trench, filmed by Alex Dewart

Photographs by Ann Rapstoff

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