The What? Never heard of it? Neither had I before a recent jaunt to London. Whilst trips to this great city are usually consumed by reunions with family and friends, I try to find one new thing on each visit. A search for ‘London Walks’ threw up this one….
THE LINE is a dedicated public art walk – London’s first surprisingly. The 7.7km (4.8mi) route stretches through 3 boroughs from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the O2 in Greenwich. It incorporates 19 art installations – some preexisting and others temporary (loans and commissions) – but is also about exploring the waterways, docklands and wildlife.
So…. sounds good….
Our starting point is Stratford – and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I was so wrapped up in getting there and finding the trail that I missed the obvious – this was the site of the 2012 Olympics! (Come on – Olympic Park could mean anything!!). With a 3 hour walk ahead of us and the hope of some last minute retail therapy before heading to the airport, there isn’t time to linger but I would have liked a proper look around…
Well the start is easy – you can’t miss this!!
#1 ArcelorMittal Orbit (Anish Kapoor, 2012)
This steel structure – UK’s tallest sculpture at 115m – was commissioned as a permanent observation tower for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was inspired by the Tower of Babel and consists of two parts – the TRUNK, a vertical tower which houses the elevators and stairs etc. and the TUBE which consists of an open lattice of red steel surrounding the trunk.
Designed to cope with 700 visitors per hour, the tower has two observation platforms – each with a capacity for 150 visitors.
Apart from being the focal point of the Park during the games, it was hoped that the tower would continue to attract visitors on a permanent basis. While it received some praise for its bold design, its overall reception was mostly negative however and its merit as a public art project has been called into question!
#2 The Slide (Carsten Holler, 2016)
In 2016, a permanent slide was added to the sculpture as a way of attracting more visitors to the tower. At 178m long, it is reportedly the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide and offers a 40-second descent, 12 twists and turns, and speeds of up to 24km/h.
Open Friday – Sunday ( we were there on a Monday). Admission £16.75 for Observation Deck and Slide
Signage is to become a bit of a problem along the way. The art pieces are, in most cases, accompanied by an info board…..
….but finding the trail is to present a challenge on several occasions. We can’t find the promised directional signs and logo to even get going but a passing park employee helpfully points out the red/blue bands on a nearby pole and we’re off….
A short walk along the Waterworks River brings us to….
#3 Nature in Mind (Madge Gill)
This is a name you will become familiar with – Madge Gill is responsible for 5 sites along the route.
Born Maude Ethyl Eades in London in 1882 to a single mother, Gill was placed in an orphanage at the age of 9. Aged 14, Barnardo’s children’s charity sent her to Canada where she worked as a servant before returning to England four years later and finding work as a nurse in London. She married her cousin in 1907 and went on to have 3 sons. Following the death of a son and a stillborn daughter, as well as the loss of one eye through illness, her mental health deteriorated.
An aunt had already introduced her to a form of Spiritualism. At the age of 38, as her health began to improve, she was first ‘possessed’ by Myrninerest – her spirit-guide. In somewhat delirious trance-states, she embraced bursts of creativity- music, knitting, writing and especially drawing. She was to maintain contact with Myrninerest, whose signature regularly appeared on her drawings, without interruption up until her death in 1961.
Gill is best known for her hundreds of postcard size drawings of Myrninerest. In a single evening, she was capable of getting through a dozen or more cards, working in pen and ink and often continuing on through the whole night by candlelight.
She also produced works on rolls of calico – so large they had to be rigged up in the back garden.
Her work often featured a human form – a female in flowing robes. Suggestions that this is Myrninerest, her stillborn daughter or a self-portrait are mere speculation.
She did participate in exhibitions but refused to sell anything, believing the works to be the property of Myrninerest and not her own. After her death, hundreds of drawings were found in her home, stacked in closets and under beds.
You won’t spot these enlarged reproductions of pen and ink drawings in the underpass until you’re virtually on top of them. Mostly featuring a floral motif, the overall effect is a bit dull I’m afraid – not to mention that they have been charmingly defaced by a somewhat less gifted artist!
We eventually do spot the occasional blue (northward) or red (southward) logo…..
The trail takes us along Three Mills Wall River. Across from us is Danes Yard Tower. The tower, resembling the Olympic Torch, was constructed as just a temporary symbol for the regeneration of Sugar House Island. Well received by the public, it is now a permanent structure and lights up at night.
You certainly won’t see all the blue/red markers unless you go looking for them…..
#4 Reaching Out (T. J. Price, 2020)
This is one of very few public sculptures of a black woman in the UK. Standing 9 foot tall, she is depicted holding a mobile phone and the piece is a nod to the themes of isolation and connectedness and the influence of technology in our lives.
I’m feeling rather small!!!!!
#5 Untitled Postcard (Madge Gill)
One of her drawings featuring a young woman in flowing robes….
#6 Untitled (Juniper) (Virginia Overton, 2014)
This fully functioning weathervane features a juniper tree. The tree is overlaid with gold leaf which catches and reflects the light as it tracks the direction of the wind.
This area is known as Three Mills. There are references to mills on this site in a survey from 1086, it being an optimum location due to the strong tidal flow that allowed a good eight hours of power per tide. Down through the centuries, grain for bread for London’s inhabitants was milled here – as well as grain for gin! Gunpowder was also available when the need arose!
#7 A Moment Without You (Tracey Emin, 2017)
5 bronze birds (only 4 here now!), on top of poles, serve as symbols of hope, faith and spirituality.
#8 Living Spring (Eva Rothschild, 2011)
Rothschild is interested in the way we give meaning and symbolism to inanimate things. This steel construction is placed at the end of a line of mature trees, its branch-like form reminiscent of a sapling.
The interactive LINE map tells me that that this is an Egyptian Goose!
#9 DNA DL90 (Abigail Fallis, 2003)
Consisting of 22 shopping trolleys in the shape of a double helix, this was commissioned by a supermarket chain in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure. Fallis believes that modern society’s consumer culture has become entwined in an individual’s genetic make-up – hence the trollies!
You might welcome a seat along the way….
#10 Nature in Mind (Madge Gill)
This 60-metre installation over the River Lea (London’s second river) displays a section of a drawing highlighting Gill’s use of free-flowing leaves, petals, abstract forms and spiderwebs. She often included floral elements in her work and once stated ‘If I were a man, I would have gone abroad and studied botany’.
There’s a bit of a display here featuring biographical details, examples of Madge’s work and some photos. Alas, there was no sign of the promised cafe so a caffeine fix will have to wait!
We’re away from the river now and there is little of interest in an increasingly industrial landscape….
Aaaaahhhhhhh….I’d murder a coffee but there’s nowhere to sit…..
11. Nature in Mind -Red Women (Madge Gill)
This installation graces the fence of Europa Trade Park at Star Lane DLR Station. The 9 metre work had never been displayed in its entirety before this due to its scale. Drawing along a roll of paper, Red Women was incredibly created in a single evening. Including at least 50 faces, Madge wouldn’t have been able to see the full drawing as she worked on it.
There’s now a gap in the trail. The landscape is not particularly interesting and I’ve seen several recommendations re hopping on the train for a stop or two.
We walked on. About a half mile or so brings you to Canning Town. At least there’s a chance of coffee – and the loo!!!
It’s most of another rather uninteresting mile to our next stop …
#12 Nature in Mind (Madge Gill)
This series of six untitled works reflects Madge’s intricate drawings and her use of vibrant colour.
#13 Bird Boy (Laura Ford, 2011)
Vulnerability or menace? Well I’m going with ‘menace’! Standing motionless on a pontoon in the Royal Docks. this lost child is wearing a bird costume which could appear as a protective disguise or some sort of satanic curse. Immobile, he hopes to go unnoticed but, despite his miniature scale, his almost sinister presence commands attention.
#14 Sanko-time (Larry Achiampong, 2020)
This audio piece was composed to accompany the trip on the Emirates Air Line cable car that links the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula. It reflects on the historical context of the River Thames during the journey across the water.
Well that’s exciting we think …..
We look at our options before trudging back to Canning Town Station for the one stop tube ride across to Greenwich Peninsula.
Sorry Larry – I know your work is hosted on-line but we haven’t followed it up – it’s just not the same thing as listening to it in a cable car!!!!!
The Tube brings us to the O2 – another venue that is new to us – we’re seeing a whole new side of London today….
The good news is that the remaining installations are clustered along the path circling the stadium…..
#15 Quantum Cloud (Antony Gormley, 2000)
At 30m high, this was Gormley’s tallest sculpture to date (the Angel of the North is a mere 20m!).
‘The steel sections were arranged using a computer model with a random walk algorithm starting from points on the surface of an enlarged figure based on Gormley’s body that forms a residual outline at the centre of the sculpture’. (Wikipedia).
I couldn’t really capture the body form from this angle.
This, I presume, is the non-running cable car system…..
….and there, in the distance is the ArcelorMittal Orbit where we started off… doesn’t look that far does it…(actually the time log on my photos tells me it is 3 hours 25 mins since we were there!)
#16 Liberty Grip (Gary Hume, 2008)
Each of the three separate sections is based on the arm of a store mannequin. The result, we are told, is a sculpture of the human form caught between representation and abstraction.
Through the wire fencing there are glimpses of the damage done by recent storms (well – not glimpses exactly – there’s no missing the massive hole in the roof!)
Manhatten it isn’t but it’s not a bad skyline across the Thames!
#17 A Slice of Reality (Richard Wilson, 2000)
This is a 1/8th slice of what was originally the Arco Trent, an ocean-going sand dredger. Wilson carved a vertical section of the ship, intentionally exposing the living quarters and engine room. Wilson describes the work as a ‘sound bite’, communicating Greenwich’s rich maritime history, whilst referencing the manner in which the line of the Meridian slices through the Greenwich Peninsula (The Line Website).
The Prime Meridian
The Prime Meridian marks Longitude 0 – running from North to South Pole, straight through Greenwich. Every location on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west of this line.
The Prime Meridian is also the centre of world time, serving as the reference point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which provides a standard measurement for how time is adjusted in each different time zone.
#18 Here (Thomson & Craighead, 2013)
This marks the 24,859 mile distance around the earth and back. The placement of this sculpture is particularly relevant in its location on the Greenwich Meridian.
There’s the last one, up ahead…….
#19 A Bullet from a Shooting Star (Alex Chinneck, 2015)
25m foundations were used to anchor this 35m tall structure. It takes the form of an upside down electricity pylon, balancing on its tip and leaning at a precarious angle as though shot to earth from the sky.
It appears to be fenced off so I can’t get in any closer to it…..
Well – there you have it – the London Line.
What do I think?
It brought me to parts of London’s docklands and waterways that I wasn’t familiar with – so that’s a good thing. Despite struggling with the route, and retracing our steps on more than one occasion, we managed to find all 19 pieces (excluding the cable car of course) which I really hadn’t expected.
The interactive map is good for info at each installation and has extra snippets about wildlife etc. Something needs to be done about signage – searching for the route distracts at times from the enjoyment of the surroundings and scenery. To make the trail more appealing, artworks need to be added to the long, empty stretch between Star Lane Station and the Royal Docks.
My personal favourite is #9 with honourable mentions going to #12 and #17!
So who should do the trail?
In the days leading up to our walk we met with several Londoners and London Irish – NO ONE had done it and only a few had even heard of it! Anyone who is a regular visitor to the city and looking for something new should enjoy it. Also, for anyone on an extended trip to London, it makes for a nice alternative to the city centre highlights. However, if it’s your first visit to London then it’s not really for you – you’ve enough to keep you busy!
North > South
Stratford Underground Station (Central / Jubilee Lines)
South > North
North Greenwich Station (Jubilee Line)
Things to Consider:
The full route takes circa 3 hours minimum plus a cable car crossing.
Apart from Canning Town, food options and loo facilities are scarce between Stratford and North Greenwich.
Cost: Free except for the Emirates Airline Cable Car (£5)
Website: THE LINE
Before you go…..
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