This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014). Part two of a two-part article.
Read part one here.
As a gallerist, Megan Piper has been fascinated for years by the extraordinary amount of artwork that exists in vast storage facilities, tucked away from public view. Only a small percentage of it has the opportunity for exhibition at any one time, and therefore the rest is carefully stored when not on show. Piper wanted to think of a creative way to look at existing art, bringing it out from the dark and presenting it in a new and interesting context.
The area was perfect for bringing to life her novel idea, and the footpaths along the waterways seemed the ideal spot for ‘The Line’ - a permanent, yet ever-changing and evolving, outdoor exhibition of existing artwork, presented outside the conventional context of a museum or gallery space.
“The idea of a sculpture walk, as opposed to a park, is that it links places. One of the great appeals of bringing work outside is that it democratises its presentation. People don’t have to go to a gallery or a museum; instead they can discover artwork while on a walk, a run, or a cycle. A walk is also free for everyone.” Piper continues, “a walk - ‘The Line’ - should open itself to a wider audience and become a valued, integral part of the local community, becoming a catalyst for local enterprise.”
So how was the artwork chosen? Artists and collections were publicly invited to suggest existing works to be used for ‘The Line’. A few days after the opening for submissions was announced, proposals started to pour in. From subtle interventions in the public spaces along the docks to large scale works by established artists, over 70 proposals were assessed by a selection panel including artist Mark Wallinger, critic Richard Cork, collector and co-chair of ‘The Legacy List’ Anita Zabludowicz, Whitechapel curator Omar Kholeif, CEO for the charity Gasworks Dock Partnership Simon Myers, and 'The Line' co-founder Megan Piper.
Ten artworks were chosen for installation in 2014, including pieces from both emerging and established artists. Martin Creed, Gary Hume, Thomson&Craighead and Sterling Ruby are just some of the names that were selected. Another 10 have been sited for exhibition next year. With ‘The Line’ aiming to be a dynamic exhibition, the plan is for the works installed this year to be replaced by new pieces and returned to lenders after two years, with another set of artworks taking their place. This maintains the sense of diversity and variation, keeping the exhibition innovative and alive.
The pieces have all been selected to cater for a wide variety of public audiences, whether that is residents, who might experience modern and contemporary artworks of this calibre for the first time, or art enthusiasts that would perhaps be familiar with some of the pieces but not in this setting, or even tourists who are new to the area.
The works all vary in size from small sculptures to massive installations, and have been selected and installed depending on the available sites along the docks. The emphasis is on creating a perfect match between the art and the setting. As part of the exhibition, the artworks are all required to remain outdoors continuously; therefore issues of maintenance and safety were also considered during the selection and exhibition process.
It has not been entirely plain sailing as far as projects go, though. Installing the works was a complex task in itself, especially as the local council required planning permission to be obtained for each piece. Negotiations with private owners also had to be undergone. Moreover, there was the issue of funding; perhaps the biggest challenge for any project of this size. The first phase of ‘The Line’ was supported through a crowd-funding campaign, although the project still depends on support given by foundations and private sponsorship. The House of Fairytales and Gasworks Dock Partnership have also given a substantial amount of creative support to the exhibition.
With such artistic initiatives pushing forward the development of Newham, it is possible to see the borough becoming something of an artsy area. That being said, while an eastward movement has been going on in the London art scene for some time, David Allies-Curtis from Rosetta Arts, a grassroots initiative offering local people opportunities to develop creative skills, does not think Newham will become a new Shoreditch - a place he still considers a bit elitist and cliquey. “I don’t think the trendy East London scene will move here,” he says. Instead, he imagines a thriving artistic community, in which residents feel more involved.
Hopefully ‘The Line’, as well as other local community projects in Newham such as The House of Fairytales, Gasworks Dock Partnership and Rosetta Arts, will all be able to succeed in helping residents feel included in the wider regeneration of East London, and will encourage greater engagement from the community in the grassroots activities of the area.
Art really can be a powerful strategy for bringing local people together and offering them a platform for open dialogue about the problems they face. With its broad scope, ‘The Line’ has the potential to be a real draw to Newham, but also a way of educating and enlightening residents about the scope and variety of art; high hopes are held. While it is likely that results won’t be visible until several years time when more pieces of the huge puzzle in the development of Newham are connected, as Clarke says when talking about Arch 1: “If you build it, they will come.”
Archive: PETRIe INVENTORY 66
Words: Sorana Serban
Image source: The Line