How art and design can transform the daily commute

From BBC - January 22, 2018

When Crossrail opens later this year it will change how hundreds of thousands of journeys are made through London each year. It's Europe's biggest civil engineering project, designed to shift people quickly and efficiently. But will the art and architecture of Crossrail - officially now the Elizabeth line - also appeal to the eye?

Chantal Joffe considers herself a private person but her new artwork will be big and defiantly public. She's one of the artists chosen by Crossrail to provide pieces integrated into seven of the 10 big new stations for London.

For Whitechapel she's designing 20 images of people in a bold cut-out style. Each will be roughly two metres by three and positioned behind benches on the new line's subterranean platforms.

What's rare for public art is that her images feature not abstracts or VIPs but the ordinary people of Whitechapel.It's a once poor area long favoured by migrants, though like much of London it's changing rapidly.

But the Bangladeshi community, which arrived in large numbers in the early 1970s, flourishes here and they are one of the things Joffe wanted to celebrate.

"It's a beautiful and diverse place and these are the kind of characters you see out on the street. The images will be made of very thin metal but I hope they will feel almost like paper cut-outs, which is how I worked on them."

Initially she did her research in the busy street market immediately outside the station.

"But I soon realised it was actually too crowded and mad for taking the photographs in. So mainly I went on Sunday afternoons when the market is not open. I was often with my daughter who was brilliant at pointing out a particular person or a scene.

"I did not set out to reproduce individual faces or figures - though I admit I did take inspiration from people's footwear. There's something intimate and vulnerable about what people have on their feet, especially when it's sandals.

"I was working with a proper camera as I needed to come back to my studio and print off high-quality images.But because we are all now surrounded by people taking endless selfies on their phones no one really took much notice of what I was doing.

"I wanted an array of different people but it was especially interesting doing Asian head-scarves because they work so well in an image. And they have a real echo of the veils in Renaissance art: there's always the formal consideration of how you place a head within the head-scarf."

Joffe says she's never before made public art.

"So I spent a lot of time in the British Museum, looking at wonderful sculptures and images from the Greeks or from Ancient Egypt - I wanted to see how they handled images for public show. It's a big leap from showing in a small gallery.


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