The Line is an ambitious public art trail designed to make contemporary art more accessible and engaging to people of all ages. Starting from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the trail snakes its way through east London’s waterways to – as of this spring – London City Island, with the recent unveiling of a vibrant new installation by artist Rana Begum. To commemorate our involvement in this unique initiative, and the launch of Catching Colour by Rana Begum, The Islander caught up with The Line co-founder and director, gallerist Megan Piper to discover more…
TI: In a nutshell, what is The Line?
MP: The Line is a public art walk in east London. Its route runs between Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2, following the waterways and the line of the Greenwich meridian. Its outdoor exhibition programme offers a journey through a dynamic urban landscape where everyone can explore art, nature and heritage for free.
What is your professional background and why did you start this initiative?
I co-founded The Line with the late regeneration expert Clive Dutton. Prior to setting up The Line, I had my own gallery in the West End. The Line’s mission is to connect communities and inspire individuals through an ambitious programme of installations and engagement activities. Not only does the route connect different areas along the waterways, our work also connects with local communities, with cultural partners (for instance, we are collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery and London College of Fashion on a three-year programme with local young people), as well as internationally (we are working on a new commission at Greenwich Peninsula that involves collaborating with Foundation for Contemporary Art – Ghana and primary schools in Accra).
Megan Piper, photo Sam Roberts
Why did you decide to focus the art trail in east London and, in particular, the waterways and docklands around this area?
Clive was the executive director of regeneration and inward investment at Newham Council from 2009-2013. He was here in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and his understanding of the importance of the legacy of the Olympics, particularly thinking about art and culture, was a driving force in the development of The Line. The waterways offer a route that is away from heavily trafficked roads – spaces that are cycle-friendly, pedestrianised and family-friendly – and there is something very special about being next to water. It is proven to be good for your wellbeing.
What has the feedback been like over the years and what do you want people to take away from visiting The Line?
The Line is an experience. The changing tides, seasons and weather mean that it’s impossible to have the same visit twice and the regular introduction of new works gives visitors reasons to return. I hope that The Line allows people to discover contemporary art on their own terms, in a way that is meaningful to them, and that it allows them to explore areas that they may not have previously discovered.
Richard Wilson, A Slice of Reality, Photo Emily Jane Lovell
‘I love the way art becomes experienced as part of a journey, as a way of navigating through a city.’
Rana Begum, artist
Did you notice an increase in visitors during lockdown? Do you think that art can help people during difficult times?
Cody Dock, a hugely inspiring example of community-led regeneration north of London City Island, saw an increase in annual footfall from 65,000 to over 200,000 as people sought out walking routes during lockdowns. There’s a growing body of research that highlights the benefits of spending time with art and nature, and 2021 was the perfect time for us to develop our programme of wellbeing walks. These take place every Thursday, allowing participants to enjoy a gentle walk, conversations with a friendly group, as well as mindfulness exercises. People are referred by their GP or social prescribing link worker, or they can self-refer. We made a film with Olympic champion and Newham resident Christine Ohuruogu about the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time on The Line, which you can find here.
What are your personal highlights of The Line?
I love Cody Dock and Three Mills – one is a very contemporary site and a hive of activity, the other a collection of historic buildings that make you feel like you have stepped back in time – both are enchanting and feel like a real discovery as you walk The Line.
Madge Gill, Cody Dock, courtesy The Line, Photo Simon Myers
You are in the process of expanding The Line to London City Island. What artwork can we expect?
We are soon to launch a new commission – Catching Colour by Rana Begum – at London City Island. Clouds of suspended coloured mesh, partly inspired by childhood memories of the forms and reflections cast by fishing nets suspended over water in Bangladesh, are a fitting response to the natural environment of London City Island and the River Lea that surrounds it. The launch of the work includes a collaboration with English National Ballet, and a specially commissioned performance choreographed by Stina Quagebeur will respond to Rana Begum’s work, with the dancers wearing clothes by Roksanda. The performances will take place at 12pm and 2pm on 9 April and I hope Islanders will be able to join us.
What is significant about experiencing public art outside of the “normal” gallery walls?
Unexpected encounters with art, spontaneous conversations with people who may not normally visit museums and galleries, and the democratising nature of discovering art outdoors.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the future of The Line?
I hope that both our exhibition and engagement programmes continue to grow and embed themselves locally. Collaborations are at the heart of what we do, so I would like us to continue to develop new partnerships with local charities and community groups, as well as local, national and international cultural partners. And to expand our health and wellbeing programmes so that the benefits of engaging with The Line have an enduring impact locally.
Catching Colour by Rana Begum launch event. Photography by ASH, courtesy The Line.
Artist Rana Begum
ARTIST RANA BEGUM COMMENTED: ‘I am really excited about this project. It has been the product of years of experimentation and thought, travelling in many directions before it arrived to what it is today. While challenging, designing this outdoor, large-scale installation has allowed me to push this body of work in new directions beyond the studio. I am so excited for the work to be outside and for it to be transformed by the changing seasonal landscape and variations in light. I think these environmental changes will make the work come alive, creating a new experience for the individual every time they pass by and encounter the work. It is a privilege to have my work included in The Line’s public art walk. I love the way art becomes experienced as part of a journey, as a way of navigating through a city. The work becomes embedded into its urban habitat, surprising us and making us reconnect to our surroundings.’
You can experience ‘Catching Colour’ by Rana Begum at London City Island for free, all day every day. Discover more about The Line and download the map by visiting the-line.org
Top image: Catching Colour by Rana Begum at London City Island. Photo by Angus Mills