Ways of Seeing

A partnership with Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019

Launched in April 2019, Ways of Seeing was an exciting partnership between the Government Art Collection and Waltham Forest, the first London Borough of Culture, a Mayor of London funded initiative. Supported by additional funding from Art Fund, 68 artworks were displayed in Chingford, Leyton, Leytonstone and Walthamstow over four months. Find out more about the project here.

Late in 2018, Abigail Viner, Senior Producer at Waltham Forest Borough of Culture (WFBoC) approached Eliza Gluckman, the GAC’s Deputy Director with the proposal to loan artworks from the Collection for display across the borough. Setting out to offer ‘art on every corner’, the idea was to show artworks in public, and largely non-museum, democratic spaces where people could get close to works that ordinarily hung on government and embassy walls.

The request was one the GAC couldn’t turn down, despite the fact that we were about to embark on a major temporary move of our own Collection. Over the following months, the combined GAC and WFBoC curatorial and project team of Eliza, Abby, Hannah Ford, Chantal Condron and Claire FitzGerald, visited a range of different sites, assessing the physical spaces for access, lighting and talking to as many of the people who used the spaces. Over the next few weeks, everyone at the GAC, plus a skilled technical team from Momart and an external registrar, Renee Pfister, ensured that all 68 artworks were safely transported and installed at 28 venues.

Small child walking in front of works of art

12 prints from Folio, 2004 by Michael Craig-Martin at Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre © Thierry Bal

Melanie Manchot sitting in front of a large monitor

Melanie Manchot, seen sitting in front of her video work Cadence, 2015 at the Lee Valley Riding Centre © Matt Crossick / PA

Just as the Collection usually operates by placing artworks in active government or diplomatic environments, we looked for the most frequently visited areas of a building. Thinking about who used a space and what they did inside it, we set out to place artworks carefully to create unexpected and inspiring direct encounters. For instance, at the Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre, we placed Folio, a set of twelve bold prints by Michael Craig-Martin on an expansive wall above the soft play area en route to the swimming pool and cafe. And a first for the GAC was placing an artwork in a community riding centre! In the waiting area of the Lee Valley Riding Centre, just before the entrance to the stables, Melanie Manchot’s quietly absorbing video, Cadence, offered a mesmerising moment of equestrian movement with a horse creating a ‘drawing’ in the snow.

The GAC’s curatorial selection of works was also shaped by ideas around craftsmanship, production and nature, major themes that were central to the Waltham Forest annual programme. Chiming with the theme of ‘the forest’, The View, Epping Forest Visitor Centre,Chingford, is the gateway to Epping Forest, providing the best spot for Sir Jacob Epstein’s watercolour, Epping Forest, one of 100 studies he painted while renting a cottage locally in the summer of 1933. ‘In conversation’ with his work was Clare Woods’ contemporary painting, Grim’s Ditch, a beautifully evocative work that continued the rich tradition of English landscape painting.

3 art technicians installing a large painting on a wall

Installing Grim’s Ditch, 2007, a painting by Clare Woods at The View, Epping Forest Visitor Centre, Chingford © Thierry Bal

Activating the Artworks

Ways of Seeing was enhanced by a free learning and engagement programme for young people delivered by GAC curator, Chantal Condron. From May to July, 37 activity workshops took place directly in front of artworks at 11 schools and colleges from Chingford to Leyton, with the participation of over 730 students.

Big Creative Education, Walthamstow

Two artworks, You Create What You Will, a lightbox wall sculpture by Nathan Coley, and Mitra Saboury’s compelling video, Trailer, welcomed and intrigued students and visitors in the entrance area of Big Creative Education, an arts and media training academy for 16–24 year olds in Walthamstow. These contemporary works provided the starting point for a wellbeing session that explored everyday mantras and got everyone creating three-minute sculptures from domestic objects.

Lammas School and Sixth Form, Leyton

At Lammas School and Sixth Form in Leyton, Year 7 to 10 students worked together to design and create a permanent mural based on Love, a print by Bob and Roberta Smith from the London 2012 portfolio. Working collaboratively in combined year groups, students discussed and agreed inspirational messages before designing and cutting stencils which they used to produce a text-based mural on the wall beside the school’s art room.

Chase Lane Primary School, Chingford

Over at Chase Lane Primary School, the entire school, from nursery to Year 6, boldly explored fossils, time and the universe, inspired by Goshka Macuga’s sculpture, Oak 2010. GAC-led activities included introducing the concept of time to the nursery classes. Children were asked to create a timeline (with the help of Post-Its on the floor) of the oldest to youngest people and things they could think of. Their suggestions included grandparents and old clocks to babies and chicks!

Artist David Leapman looking at artworks made by school children

David Leapman at a ‘no glue’ sculpture making workshop, Mission Grove Primary School. © Crown Copyright

Teenagers creating a text-based mural on to a yellow wall of their school

‘Paint your future’ and ‘The possibilities are endless’, two of the messages chosen by students for the Lammas School mural. © Daniel Booth

Mission Grove Primary School, Walthamstow

In July, it was brilliant to have artist David Leapman come to visit and talk about his painting Receptacles at Mission Grove Primary School. After answering questions at an enthusiastic morning assembly (‘Why did you become an artist?’ ‘What’s the best thing about being an artist?’) David helped out at a workshop before enjoying a tour by the school’s very own student art ambassadors.

Walking tours around the borough

Engagement activities for adults were led by GAC curator, Claire FitzGerald who delivered four walking tours across seven participating venues in July and August. Her conversational tours introduced the artworks to audiences from 18 to 75, including young people, students, young professionals and retired audiences.

Taking visitors on journeys of discovery, Claire’s tours included visits to see Hew Locke’s monumental photograph, Serpent of the Nile (Sejant) at Walthamstow Central Library; and at Leyton Library, getting up close to Simon Patterson’s iconic ‘90s work The Great Bear, a print inspired by the London Underground map, itself originally designed by Harry Beck, a Leyton-born electrical engineer. Other works featured in the walking tours were Simon Faithfull’s video, 13, shown on the Big Screen in Walthamstow Square, and Emma Hart’s enigmatic and playful ceramic sculpture, Get Back in Your Shell Like, at Leytonstone Library.

A group of people looking and talking in front of an artwork resembling the London Underground map

GAC curator, Claire FitzGerald leading a discussion about The Great Bear by Simon Patterson at Leyton Library © Hannah Ford

Four people looking at an artwork by Hew Locke on the wall of Walthamstow Library

Visitors on a Ways of Seeing walking tour in front of Hew Locke's photograph Serpent of the Nile (Sejant) at Walthamstow Central Library © Hannah Ford

Innovative, inspiring and unexpected, ‘Ways of Seeing’ was an amazing partnership that challenged us in the best way possible, and at times, it was fascinating to see how the GAC’s existing working practices to select and curate artworks for working buildings translated to public sites in Waltham Forest. We look forward to reading the evaluation findings later this year!