diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 20, 2023

The wall opposite platform 3 at Gloucester Road station is often used to display Art on the Underground.

As of this week, and for the next year, it looks like this.

The display kicks off with five disc-shaped sculptures, each four metres across, populated with beetles, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles and tortoises. At one end is a lizard of some kind holding something like a toadstool. It's a bit bonkers. And you're probably not going to guess the meaning unless you read the blurb.

The disc creatures, it turns out, are constructing sections of the Crystal Palace. Sculpture number 2 gives you the best chance of confirming this unlikely scenario. And the upright creature is a salamander holding an Amazonian lily pad as a parasol, because such is the imagination of the artist Monster Chetwynd.

She really is called Monster Chetwynd, she changed her name in 2018, having previously been known as Spartacus Chetwynd and also (when nominated for the Turner Prize) Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. Her commission for an artwork at Gloucester Road led her to note that the surrounding area contains Albertopolis, the Victorian museum quarter, and that this was funded by the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851, at which the central structure had been a huge glasshouse designed by Joseph Paxton, who had based this temporary marvel on the successful design of his Lily House at Chatsworth, which had a glass roof inspired by the veined structure of the recently-discovered waterlily, a natural wonder now ripe with themes of colonial appropriation. The end result, artistically-speaking, is Pond Life: Albertopolis and the Lily.

If you're at the station the basic gist is explained in posters stuck to pillars, specifically on platforms 2 and 3 where you get the best close-up view. There's also a link to a 25 minute explanatory video, accessed via QR code, which "uses humour to subvert broadcasting norms and open up the political implications of the story". If the thought of a pink witch on a broomstick discussing the spoils of Empire while hovering behind Adam Hart-Davis offends your narrow mind, perhaps don't press play. More usefully dozens of copies of a full colour leaflet are available upstairs in the ticket hall, complete with full and excellent historical background and details of a detective challenge in the local area. I gave that a go.

The Fact Hungry Witch's word hunt is inspired by the book 'Masquerade' by Kit Williams. Seven artworks have been created with appropriate text around the edge and some of these letters have been highlighted. Your task is to unscramble the yellow letters to make the name of something depicted in each poster, then use a numerical clue to select one letter from each puzzle and create one final seven-letter anagram. This word "will point you to a masterpiece hidden in plain sight inside the Natural History Museum, not far from the entrance", and also allegedly unlocks additional information via a separate QR code. If you have a curious child with the ability to spell, it might make an interesting half term challenge.

The artworks aren't at Gloucester Road, they're spaced out along the South Kensington pedestrian tunnel. They won't be hard to locate, but I imagine pausing to scrutinise each and write down the yellow letters might peeve the passing throng of museumgoers at busy times. Unscrambling the seven words is relatively straight-forward, given the pictorial clues, but the ultimate anagram is unexpectedly hard and might require parental intervention. Getting into the Natural History Museum might also prove a challenge at busy times, especially now that non-ticket-holders have been relegated to the slow queue. I can confirm that the final location is indeed "a masterpiece hidden in plain sight" (and relevant to the overall theme), but the hunt's grand finale can only be fully appreciated if you reach the QR-protected page on the Art on the Underground website.

And the QR code doesn't work, it leads to an error page. They've gone to all this effort to create an intricate arty puzzle and then been let down at the end by printing thousands of leaflets with an incorrect QR code. I think the issue is the use of dots to abbreviate the URL, indeed I think I've been able to work out what the correct address should be, but if you're standing in the Hintze Hall you'll never reach it. This may actually be for the best, because the webpage kicks off with a full list of answers which means you could have jumped straight from picking up the leaflet to landing upon the solution. I won't link to it because I don't think anyone deserves to get there with no effort, but it does go to show the importance of getting the delivery right.

Monster's got it right, delivering an artwork that can be interpreted as a multi-layered commentary on the politics of architecture or as a startling tableau outside your tube carriage window. Just don't trust the technology to get you to the ultimate conclusion.

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