In 2014 a new linear art project was publicly launched, the initiative of curator Megan Piper and urban regeneration trailblazer Clive Dutton OBE, who sadly died in 2015. The Line would follow the Greenwich Meridian along the banks of some of East London's waterways, including the River Lea, placing works of contemporary art at intervals, the purpose being to encourage visitors to look not only at the works themselves but also at the environment in which they were situated – to engage with its history, its flora and fauna, and its future aspirations. Since May 2015 this ambitious project has exhibited works between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham and the Greenwich Peninsula across the Thames, dominated by the O2. Sculptures are essentially loaned to the project – by an artist, gallery or dealer – for a period of two years, and past exhibitors whose works are no longer in place include Eduardo Paolozzi and Martin Creed. The initial selection of nine sculptures was made from an open submission, a number of high-profile artists, art critics and arts professionals participating on the selection panel or championing the project. By March 2016 there were plans for 13 works to be sited. Still in the early stages with a way to go,The Line has huge potential, with an educational programme in development, funding permitting. An added bonus is that it draws attention to other works of art already in place – for example works commissioned for the opening of the Millennium Dome in 2000 by Antony Gormley and Richard Wilson.
The Line certainly fulfilled its goal from my point of view – the pleasure in following this linear sculpture trail was getting to know landscapes along the way, revisiting some and discovering others as yet unexplored. My two highlights were unearthing a memorial garden I have long wanted to find and discovering an exceptional new community garden. A trip across the river on the Emirates Air Line was another treat!
We started from the north, veering off Stratford High Street to reach the Leaway Path and northerly entrance to Three Mills Green – signage could be improved upon! The first sculpture to be encountered was Thomas J Price's 'Network of 2013', a black figure in silicone bronze intent on his mobile phone screen, standing by the side of the path. Three Mills Green has matured into a pleasant small park with fitness equipment, including a hammock to relax in, and near the southern entrance a memorial sculpture by Alec Peever and plaques recalling those who lost their lives in tragic accidents, which called to mind the GF Watts shelter at Postman's Park in the City.
The route then led past Three Mills Heritage Centre, its chimneys the perch of cormorants and other birds. Before progressing towards Bow Creek, a slight detour was called for at Twelvetrees Crescent, where the nearby gasholders recalled my unsuccessful past searches for the Memorial Garden created by the Gas, Light and Coke Company to commemorate the dead of both World Wars. Following closure of the gasworks in the 1960s, the site became neglected, but this hitherto derelict land is now publicly accessible, thanks to the development of a new business park. The Memorial Garden was a place of relaxation for the staff, and now hopefully fulfils the same function. Set in a clearing the garden comprises a bronze statue to Sir Corbet Woodall, Governor 1906–16, a picturesque pavilion and a tall column topped with a flame, originally lit by gas.
Returning to the riverside path, the next work on The Line is 'DNA DL90' 2003 by Abigail Fallis, a somewhat bleak double helix tower of shopping trollies. The last work on the north section of The Line is 'Sensation', 2003 by Damien Hirst, an enlarged anatomical model of a slice of human skin. Nearby we discovered Cody Dock, a redundant dock in the process of regeneration through an outstanding community initiative under the auspices of Gasworks Dock Partnership. In just a few years, its achievements include a beautiful Sensory Garden and Outdoor Classroom Shelter, created by local young people through construction charity Build Up, a Pergola Garden, café boats on dry land and in the water, activities and events, and last but not least five elderly chickens. This wonderful space is surely a contender for Open Garden Squares Weekend!
The South section of The Line begins at Royal Victoria where Sterling Ruby's cannon–like 'Consolidator #654321' points towards the Royal Docks. Crossing the Thames courtesy of the Emirates Air Line, Gormley's 'Quantum Cloud' is seen to advantage from the air, before we skirt the perimeter of the O2 to see old and new works along the riverside. The two works for The Line, Gary Hume's 'Liberty Grip', 2008, and Thomson & Craighead's signpost 'Here', 2013, are either side of Richard Wilson's millennial 'A Slice of Reality'. We reached the final work of art at dusk – Alex Chinneck's inverted pylon, 'A Bullet from a Shooting Star', commissioned by Greenwich Peninsula in 2015 – the perfect time of day to see this 35m-high steel tower against the darkening sky.
All photography © Sally Williams