Frogs, salamanders and tortoises take over a disused tube platform, part of the latest Art on the Underground installation.
Pond Life: Albertopolis and the Lily by British artist Monster Chetwnyd spans the 80m-long disused platform at Gloucester Road station, which has previously been home to installations including Heather Phillpson's My Name is Lettie Eggsyrub.
The new artwork take two forms; a series of five 4-metre diameter sculptures, and a new film, and it is inspired by local history. The Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 which took place in nearby Hyde Park, was designed by gardener-turned-architect Joseph Paxton and based on the giant Amazonian water lily.
As a result of the Great Exhibition, much cultural redevelopment took place in the local area, including the construction of what we know now as the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and the Science Museum. South Kensington and Gloucester Road tube stations opened in 1868 to offer access to the new museums.
Each of Chetwynd's sculptures depicts frogs, salamanders, tortoises and dragonfly larvae which appear to be constructing the Crystal Palace from submerged lily pads, as if the viewer has stepped beneath the surface of the water. There are nods to the coins, medallions and souvenirs that were created to commemorate the Great Exhibition, as well as the terracotta animal sculptures which feature in the Natural History Museum's building.
I have always loved the London Underground... I feel oddly proud that the London Underground is one of the earliest ever built. I knew this when I was growing up in London but I didn't know the local history of Gloucester Road and South Ken Tube stations. I only read this story recently when I was invited to make an artwork for Gloucester Road Tube station.
Alongside the sculptures, a new short film, Who Named The Lily? is screened in the station. Chetwynd herself features as a flying witch narrator, using playfully staged interviews with historians and academics to unpack the story of the lily pad and its link to engineering. It was filmed at locations including the London Transport Museum and the Natural History Museum.
Eleanor Pinfield, Head of Art on the Underground, said:
Chetwynd's exploration of the area local to Gloucester Road, the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition has culminated in an artwork of extraordinary scale and ambition; a visual presentation of a history little known, creating visual stimulation as part of daily journeys.
Keep your eyes open next time you're on the tube passing through Gloucester Road.
Pond Life: Albertopolis and the Lily is in situ at Gloucester Road tube station now, until May 2024.