If we can say one thing about our fellow MBTA travelers, it’s that—no offense—you rarely seem like you’re enjoying your morning commute. That was especially true for regular Red Line riders this past winter, when checking Twitter for two minutes showed a stream of complaints about delays, stuck trains and crowded platforms.
But Somerville’s Matthew Borowski is not your average commuter. A self-described “patient guy” and everyday subway traveler, he turned his daily trips into a sort of community art project last year when he began cataloging the tiles decorating the walls of the Davis Square Red Line station on Instagram. Using the hashtag #DavisTileArt, he individually shared each of the 250 squares designed by Powderhouse Community School students in the late ’70s. “I just wanted to kind of bring it to life and maybe show more people,” he says. “What is Instagram? It’s a vision of what you see every day.”
That’s kind of a meta statement, as the tiles themselves (the original Instagram?) offer an interesting glimpse into what Somerville’s kids saw or did in their daily lives. Many depict sports, television sets, ice cream cones or animals. Trends began to emerge as Borowski worked through the tiles, beginning at the College Avenue side of the station. He’d share photos of cars for two weeks, boats for three, and then have a full week’s worth of birds.
Other tiles are more imaginative and less down to earth—literally, in the case of the ones depicting spaceships and UFOs. And then: “There’s one with a skunk—I think it’s farting—that’s pretty funny,” Borowski says, chuckling.
An engineer by trade, Borowski says that while his interests are varied, he was never particularly focused on art until he began sharing these works. “But I am pretty observant, and I like to be part of the community,” he adds. Multiple thinkpieces have suggested that social media is causing us to withdraw into ourselves, but the Davis Square tile art project actually helped Borowski connect with his neighbors, including a Somerville-based artist named Lisa who began liking his photos. The Insta-friends eventually met up at Diesel Cafe, and for Christmas last year, Borowski asked her to paint custom mugs for his wife and in-laws.
It’s Lisa who, in a comment on the final tile photo, asks what’s next for Borowski. He does have a plan for next year, and it’s also related to the MBTA—his commute now takes him to Kendall every day, where tiles on either side of the station spell out a history of the square and of MIT. He hopes to begin sharing those pieces this January.
For Borowski, projects like this are a welcome relief from the times that we’re too overstimulated, overwhelmed or bogged down with the stress of daily life (or the daily commute).
“It’s fun to just stop and focus on one thing and get everything you can about it,” Borowski reflects. “I wish life was like that more, where we could just block out a lot of the noise and focus on what’s relevant and what’s current.”
For more information on the people behind these tiles, check out the Davis Square Tiles Project website.