‘I think that particularly while museums and galleries have been closed, and people have really been starved of that cultural input, The Line felt even more important over this period,’ said Megan Piper, the project’s Co-founder and Director.
The Reset: Megan Piper
Watch the video interview or read on for the highlights:
The Line, London’s first dedicated public art walk, runs from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the O2. Loosely following the Greenwich meridian, all the works along the route are sited next to water. Abigail Fallis’ ‘DNA DL90’ (2003) 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: twenty-two shopping trolleys rise up in the shape of a double-helix. Meanwhile, Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ (2000) expands like a mirage amidst a bed of tall reeds on the Thames.
"As people have been encouraged to stay local, they have found things on their doorstep that perhaps they had never realised were there"
‘As people have been encouraged to stay local, they have found things on their doorstep that perhaps they had never realised were there,’ she said. ‘We’ve got lots of stories from colleagues who have bumped into people and had really inspiring conversations about how they discovered The Line. That is something about the project – this sense of discovery. You’ve got an interesting mix of nature and heritage and layers of history and different architectures.’ Not to mention the range of art work, from Richard Wilson’s sliced vertical section of a sand dredger, aptly named ‘A Slice of Reality’ (2000), to Thomas J. Price’s 2020 slice-of-life work ‘Reaching Out’, a bronze statue of a young woman holding a smartphone in her hands.
While Price questions the way that technology mediates our everyday lives, The Line’s latest exhibition Madge Gill: Nature in Mind celebrates the inspiration the artist found from natural surroundings.
‘This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of [Madge Gill’s] death’, Piper explained. ‘She spent the large part of her life up until she died living in Newham, and that’s where she produced this extraordinary body of work. She was known to produce hundreds of postcards in a single sitting, working in a very frenzied, frenetic way.’ A number of these postcards have been reproduced at a larger scale and installed along the route; one drawing has been translated onto vinyl and stretched across a 60-metre bridge over the River Lea.
Madge Gill’s second son sadly died in 1918 during the influenza pandemic. A year later, Gill gave birth to a still born girl. After her fourth pregnancy, her health deteriorated, leaving her with multiple issues including losing her left eye. ‘She’s somebody who had a really traumatic life, from her childhood through to adulthood,’ Piper said. ‘She really used her work as a way of managing her own mental turmoil.’
Piper hopes that this exhibition ‘will encourage people to discover The Line and be outdoors and enjoy that time in nature’, but also to explore ‘the relationship between art and mental health and how Madge Gill used that as a positive force in her life.’ The Line’s new programme of wellbeing walks ‘One Step at a Time’, which will run until September 2021, will also give participants a chance to engage with wildlife, art and heritage with the hope of improving fitness and mental health.
"speaking about mental health is extremely complex. It’s not something you can X-ray. The more research that comes out in support of the positive relationship between the two will build investment in those programs."
Still, does Piper sense a lingering suspicion about art’s therapeutic uses in our society? Despite research that shows the arts promote mental health (including an evaluation by the Arts on Prescription project), does she sense any scepticism? ‘I think our relationships [with art and with mental health] are changing, and that’s a good thing, and long overdue,’ she said. ‘More progressive local authorities are embracing social prescribing, and art programs have a really interesting role to play in that.’
Having said that, ‘speaking about mental health is extremely complex,’ she said. ‘It’s not something you can X-ray. The more research that comes out in support of the positive relationship between the two will build investment in those programs.’ She hopes The Line can serve as something of a ‘case study’.
In the meantime, Piper is focusing on making sure The Line is relevant and resonates with local communities along the route. ‘We often talk about how The Line is free and open and accessible to everyone; that certainly doesn’t mean it’s accessed by everyone,’ Piper said. ‘It’s really important to think about how you make programs relevant to non-traditional museum-going audiences.’
"there’s a really important process of listening that needs to happen"
By way of thinking through these questions, The Line has initiated a program called Visible Invisible, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and London College of Fashion. ‘It’s really looking at themes of identity and representation and particularly thinking about the digital and public realms,’ Piper said. The Line is working with young people in Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Hackney and running workshops with year nine students. Alongside ‘One Step at a Time’ and ‘Visible Invisible’, The Line is recruiting 60 young people ‘to be ambassadors’ to talk about the works’ as inaugural youth guides.
‘It’s really through programs like that, and establishing a community forum this year, where I think there’s a really important process of listening that needs to happen,’ Piper said. Through a process of attentive listening, eventually you can establish ‘new models of co-production and co-curation.’
By Sammi Gale
Banner image: Gary Hume, Liberty Grip (Photo credit Luis Veloso)