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 the Art Fund, 68 artworks were displayed in the Borough in Chingford, Leyton, Leytonstone and Walthamstow, over four months. 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.

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 we do when we place artworks in active government or diplomatic environments, we looked for the most frequently visited areas of the buildings selected for  installing works. Keeping in mind who used a particular space and what they did inside it, we set out to place artworks carefully to create unexpected and inspiring encounters for people, with these works. 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 Collection, we installed one artwork in a community riding centre! Melanie Manchot’s quietly absorbing video, Cadence, offering a mesmerising moment of equestrian movement with a horse creating a ‘drawing’ in the snow, was displayed in the waiting area of the Lee Valley Riding Centre, just before the entrance to the stables.

The works selected by the Collection’s curators were also shaped by ideas about craftsmanship, production and nature, themes that were central to the Waltham Forest annual programme. The View, at Epping Forest Visitor Centre, the gateway to Epping Forest, that lies within the Borough, provided an ideal spot to install Sir Jacob Epstein’s watercolour, Epping Forest. This was one of 100 studies Epstein painted while renting a cottage in that area, in the summer of 1933. In conversation with his work was Clare Woods’ contemporary painting, Grim’s Ditch, a beautifully evocative work that continues a 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

The Ways of Seeing project was enhanced by a free learning and engagement programme that brought original works of art directly to young people. Over 730 students participated in a total of 37 activity workshops, between May and July. These took place directly in front of artworks at 11 schools and colleges from Chingford to Leyton. The programme was delivered by Chantal Condron, Curator (Public Engagement and Research), and these are some of the schools and colleges that were involved:

Big Creative Education, Walthamstow

You Create What You Will, a lightbox wall sculpture by Nathan Coley, and Trailer, a compelling video by Mitra Saboury, 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 had everyone creating three-minute sculptures from domestic objects.

Lammas School and Sixth Form, Leyton

Year 7 to 10 students at the school, 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

The entire school, from nursery to Year 6, explored fossils and ideas of time and the universe, inspired by Goshka Macuga’s sculpture, Oak 2010. Collection-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, old clocks, 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

students making a mural in a 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

Artist David Leapman visited the school to talk about his painting Receptacles. After answering a questions at an enthusiastic morning assembly, including ‘Why did you become an artist?’ and ‘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

Four walking tours were led across seven participating venues in July and August by Dr Claire FitzGerald, Curator (Modern and Contemporary). 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, the 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 1990s work The Great Bear. This print was inspired by the London Underground map, which was itself designed originally by Harry Beck, an electrical engineer born in Leyton. 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

A partnership at work

Ways of Seeing kicked off in 2018, with a proposal from Waltham Forest Borough of Culture to loan artworks from the Government Art Collection for display across the borough. The request was one the Collection couldn’t turn down, despite the fact that we were about to embark on a major temporary move. Over the following months, the combined teams of curators from both institutions, led by Abigail Viner, Senior Producer at Waltham Forest Borough of Culture, and Eliza Gluckman, Senior Curator and Deputy Director at the Government Art Collection, 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 Collection, plus a skilled technical team from Momart and an external registrar ensured that all 68 artworks were safely transported and installed at 28 venues.

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 Collection’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!