search bars close map-marker arrow-right tags twitter facebook

12 November 2016: London Public Art

Event led by John T
Attendance: 13 men and 1 dog
Distance: 7.4 miles
Time: start 11.16am, end 4.10pm, lunch 51 minutes
Terrain: Pavement
Elevation: start 6m, high 30m, low 1m
Weather: Rain followed by drizzle, 9°C, winds light
Target number of art objects to see: 85
Actual number of art objects we saw: 69 of the target 85, plus 2 not on the target list.
Total number of art objects we could have seen: pfff…. 400, apparently.
Number of Pret  Mangers: didn’t count them, but it felt like two on every street corner.

This was a point-to-point route of 7.4 miles from London Waterloo station, platform 12, Pret  Manger, headed S towards Lambeth Bridge, W to Westminster Coroner’s Court, N to Christchurch Gardens, E to Victoria Tower Gardens, N to Trafalgar Square, SW to Buckingham Palace, W to Hyde Park Corner, a circle S around a few embassies, then N to Marble Arch.

On a gloriously wet and grey November Saturday, we traipsed around London looking at a surprisingly high number of statues, art installations, memorials and similar dotted around London.  For those of us who feel (felt?) we knew London well, it was quite an eye-opener.  Objects that you’d walk past every day, without realising their existence, had quite a story to tell.

Particularly noteworthy for this group:

  • The Burghers of Calais, by Auguste Rodin, a critically-acclaimed piece of art (at least for an opinion in the Guardian) exhibited the self-sacrifice of 6 citizens on the order of the English king Edward III during the siege of Calais of 1346.  Orthodoxy demanded that the portrayal be heroic, upright, allegorical; Rodin made them suffer pain, anguish and fatalism, presenting raw and unavoidable emotion in sculpted detail.

  • St John’s Gardens, a former burial ground, re-opened as a public garden in 1885.  A fountain of 2001 replaced a derelict C19 original, featuring a collection of fish spouting water into a pool.  An elegant design, its modest contribution to the garden is to attract visitors who then notice the occasional tomb and tombstones embedded into the garden’s external wall.  Very tall, old trees dominate the garden, while buildings as tall as the trees enclose three of its four sides.  A beautiful site.

  • “Apples and Pears” (see “fruit sculptures”), a number of pears, apples, half-pears and half-apples installed in the middle of a quadrant within a Peabody Trust social housing estate off Abbey Orchard Street.  The placement of this artwork, the elegant simplicity of its surroundings and the history of the site made this artwork memorable.

  • The Wellington Monument, being primarily a statue of Achilles, a buff young man, naked except for a fig leaf.  Guess the interest...

  • The 7 July Memorial triggered a sudden volte-face of emotions.  The memorial is 52 columns of steel, one for each of the victims of the terrorist attack on 07 July 2005.

At the end of the route, our group split into two pubs.  Two men and a dog dropped into The Portman, Seymour Place.  The pub being too full to fit the remaining seven of us, we headed off to the Lord Wargrave (aka the Wargrave Arms).  The Wargrave served 14 real ales and had countless whiskeys on show, alongside a rather focussed and attractive menu.

That said, we were close to Edgware Road, known for its extensive choice of Lebanese and Middle Eastern eateries, so six of us headed into one of the five Al Arez restaurants on Edgware Road and enjoyed a superb two-course meal for <£20 each.  The food was also plentiful: we ended up taking home the excess food!

Given the lighting conditions of the day, many of our photographs failed.  Most of the artwork was elevated, resulting in excessive backlighting and a wet camera.  All the same, we did get 18 viable shots for publication.

On reflection, London was an excellent choice of route for such a wet day, because of a distinct lack of mud.

In September 2016, event leader John took up a challenge that he had spent years inching towards.  Taking data from a variety of sources, John plunged into the depths of artistic data - the most ephemeral substance in the universe, almost an oxymoron - and waded his way to designing a route to include as many of them as he found interesting, including the easily-overlooked ones, off the beaten track.

As a result, John found that London is extraordinarily rich with public artworks.  His target list of 85 was possible as a small group, but in a group that wanted to stop and critically appraise each artwork, the target began to look a bit ambitious.

During a number of test routes, he discovered just how ephemeral art data is.  Just as quantum mechanics says you can see either the position or the momentum of a particle, but never both, art data tells you either where or when artwork might be, but never reliably both.  Such certainty isn’t terribly… arty.

John also discovered how quickly public artworks can move.  It’s quite amazing to think that a few tonnes of metal can move so swiftly.

  • For example, the installation of the memorial to Mary Seacole is so recent (30 June 2016) that not even OpenStreetMap had yet marked its location (as at 12Nov2016; when it appears it should appear in between the Fountain and the Florence Nightingale Museum, as described in the Wiki page, a provocative placement!)

  • For another example, he had been quite keen to show us another piece of artwork at Marble Arch: it was present on the walk’s final test one week earlier, but by the weekend of the actual walk, the artwork had disappeared.

John’s sources of data included:

John has kindly allowed publication of his route data, for personal use only, available to download as follows:

  • for a GPS device, a GPX which contains all of the errors & omissions of GPS, including our miraculous ability to walk through brick walls, apparently (quantum theory again);

  • for Google Earth, a manually re-drafted KMZ route by Peter O’Connor, which obeys a more common sense approach to the material world.

For any other use of the route, John reserves all available rights to his route.

Words by Martin Thornhill.  Pictures by Peter O’Connor.

Related posts

Join Now…