Virtual Gonzo 3 - Reaching for The Line - whynow

First, we went to Italy, to visit Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ‘Floating Piers’ installation. Next, we traded lockdown for lock up, with Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. This time, we explore closer to home. The Line is a public art walk which follows the Greenwich Meridian connecting Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich.

On Monday (27th April), it was announced a Finalist in the ULI Europe Awards for Excellence – so we thought, what better time for a visit? It’s a journey through art, nature and heritage, which makes us consider how the physical landscape has been impacted by the political one.

Sammi Gale walks the line in this week’s edition of Virtual Gonzo

I’m walking the public sculpture trail known as The Line. But when I say walking, I mean on Google Street View, which is glitching out on me. Instead of a line, it’s more dot-to-dot. A case of dangling the yellow man over the map and dropping him down, like some cruel god.

 A tube ride and a loosening of lockdown measures is all it would take for me to be in East London for real. So close yet so far. It’s the kind of wistful thought which could belong to the woman I find in the Olympic Park, in 2016. She’s sitting on a rock, in her Parka jacket, her hands anxiously in her lap, a short distance from Anish Kapoor’s gargantuan Orbit tower.

Thomson and Craighead’s HERE, Greenwich Peninsula (Credit Vassilis Skopelitis)

‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’ (2012). An awkward structure with an awkward name. That’s part of its charm. Its colossal coils put the viewer in orbit — you circle the structure, in search of another angle that might make sense of it all. ArcelorMittal, Google tells me, is a global steel company, headquartered in the tax haven of Luxembourg. Commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, the Orbit is a strange collision of art, politics and wealth. 

Like the Orbit, The Line draws footfall to a lesser developed area of London. Between the Olympic Park and the O2, contemporary art transforms quiet waterways, teasing out their industrial past.

These works are linked geographically, though not necessarily by theme. Still, what might they have in common? Maybe this is informed by the way I’m viewing them — moving from my living room to an omniscient, aerial view of a map, before jumping in on ground level — but lots of the sculptures seem to involve a similar process of overextension.

Kapoor’s ‘Orbit’, for example, rushes from skyscraping heights to a subcutaneous level — its carnal red tubes like exposed arteries. A little way south, Abigail Fallis’ ‘DNA DL90’ (2003) takes the submicroscopic and blows it up for a macroscopic take on consumerism. (Damien Hirst’s ‘Sensation’ (2003), which was previously featured on The Line, did something similar, enlarging a 2-3mm section of human skin to a baby-rhino-sized bronze monument.)

ArcelorMittal ORBIT by Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond

Fallis’ sculpture faces an old warehouse and repurposes a material you might more readily expect to find at the bottom of the River Lea, upon which it sits. That is, twenty-two shopping trolleys rise up in the shape of a double-helix. Is consumerism so insidious that it has become part of our genetic make-up? Quite possibly.

Hitch a cable car ride over to Greenwich — or in my case, fling Pegman and touch down in long grass — and you’re looking out at Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ (2000). Gormley’s emphasis on the ‘quantum’ takes us even smaller than submicroscopic, in a sculpture that towers up 30 metres, as a glitch or a mirage. Tetrahedral sections condense to form the shape of a body at the centre of this chaotic mass — or is it that the cloud radiates out from the body?

Antony Gormley, QUANTUM CLOUD Greenwich Peninsula (credit Emily Lovell)

Antony Gormley, QUANTUM CLOUD Greenwich Peninsula (credit Emily Lovell)

Further down the path, adjacent to the O2, is Gary Hume’s ‘Liberty Grip’ (2008). This bundle of limbs — each modelled on the arm of a mannequin — pointedly cannot reach. Again, there’s a mischievous manipulation of scale: gigantic as showroom arms, yet not grand or reverent enough in subject matter, compared to the classical Colossus-type statues it infers. 

Click along the foreshore of the Thames, and discover Richard Wilson’s work, which invites the viewer to overextend. ‘A Slice of Reality’ (2000) is an eighth of an ocean-going sand dredger, with living quarters and engine room now exposed to the elements. As the viewer imagines the missing seven eighths of the ship, she also considers its excerption from the Greenwich Peninsula’s maritime history.

Gary Hume’s LIBERTY GRIP, Greenwich Peninsula (Credit Adam Kaleta)

Onwards. I mistake Thomson & Craighead’s ‘Here’ (2013) for a road sign. In a way, it is. Reading ‘Here 24,859’ — that is, miles — it points you in the direction of itself, requiring the viewer to do a quick mental loop of the Earth’s average polar circumference. 

Completing the trail is Alex Chinneck’s ‘A Bullet from a Shooting Star’ (2015). (Trickier to aim at with Pegman — I keep being teleported inside the Blackwall Tunnel.) Clicking my way along the Driving Range’s hoarding, I spot it — an upturned electricity pylon, as if shot like an arrow from space. An act of god.

Alex Chinneck A BULLET FROM A SHOOTING STAR Greenwich Peninsula Credit Vassilis Skopelitis

Laura Ford BIRD BOY Royal Victoria Dock Credit Vassilis Skopelitis

Following the Greenwich Meridian, The Line invites a thinking of time. And as it has landed me next to the O2 – formerly the Millennium Dome – I feel I’ve journeyed towards and away from the millennium. Gormley’s and Wilson’s works were commissioned to mark the occasion. The Dome, with its twelve yellow support towers — one for each month of the year or hour on a clock-face — was the centrepiece of Britain’s 2000 celebrations. Yet the project ambitiously over-reached; deemed a failure by the press, it was sold five years later. 

In subsequent years, after the financial crisis, the UK saw the introduction of austerity measures, which brought with them a sense of restriction — that perhaps not everything was as within reach as it might have seemed to a New Labour-era Britain gearing up for a monumental party.

Richard Wilson’s A SLICE OF REALITY, Greenwich Peninsula (credit Matt Cuzner)

A scan of The Line’s new interactive website (launched earlier this week, suggests its upcoming installations will reflect this economic and political shift. Anne Hardy’s work looks set to examine the rich flora of the local area, for example, while Thomas J Price’s new sculpture will explore interpersonal relationships (titled ‘Reaching Out’ (2020), it fits neatly with our theme.) These installations seem more limited in scope, at least compared to the work’s we’ve looked at – of course, that’s not to say they will be lesser in their impact.

So close yet far. Between once toxic gasworks, car parks, canals, shrub, and duckweed, The Line transforms a landscape as physical as it is political. The next time I walk it, I won’t be over-reaching from my living room, and Pegman will stay at home.

Twitter / Instagram / Facebook: @TheLineLondon

Rampa  They Will Be