Frieze Projects East
Oversized door handles, a self-destructing sand fountain and a giant inflatable Betty Boo. From pools to parks, Time Out follows the Frieze Projects East public art trail
It's a damp Wednesday morning and I'm on the Frieze Projects East tour bus, en route to see four of a series of six new, site-specific artists' commissions installed in the Olympic host boroughs for the London 2012 Festival. This is just one of many public art projects, produced in conjunction with arts organisation Create, that have sprung up in the capital this summer. Part of Frieze Art Fair, London's flagship annual art showcase, Frieze Projects has a ten-year history of commissioning fun and provocative works. Fair audiences expect their art to be challenging, but how will such highly conceptual art sit in public locations, in some of the capital's least affluent boroughs?
First stop is the disused Poplar Baths on East India Dock Road in Tower Hamlets, where Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne have positioned their installation 'Love'. A former bathhouse, music hall and theatre, the building, on a rather unprepossessing stretch of high street, has been closed since the early 1980s - and looks it. Inside, however, it's far more inviting. Within the framework of the building's bare brick walls and high arched ceiling are six giant inflatables, including a towering representation of late-1980s popstrel Betty Boo and another featuring an image of Rodin's sculpture 'The Kiss'. With Jeremy Deller's bouncy Stonehenge currently on its nationwide tour, air-filled art seems to be having something of a moment. You can't jump up and down on any of these but you can clamber into the largest, a three-dimensional representation of Robert Indiana's famous word sculpture 'LOVE', where a monitor is playing a film featuring a mash-up of art and pop-culture imagery, all to a manic harpsichord soundtrack.
Verdict: Accessible, appealing and slightly baffling, but all in a good way.
Next stop is the other side of the river, to the more suburban South London Borough of Greenwich and a rather windswept Charlton Park where artist Gary Webb has just completed his sculpture 'Squeaky Clean'. The single permanent commission, Webb's is also the only work to have a practical use - it's a fully functional children's playpark. Constructed around the framework of a snaking metal tube, sweetie-coloured blobs made from powder-coated and lacquered aluminium are skewered, kebab-style, from swinging poles, while chunky discs cast in translucent resins are threaded like giant beads. Even in the drizzle it's a bright and shiny addition to the park. There is a slight paradox to its location, though, which is adjacent to three other, older playparks. To ensure that it could be properly maintained, the sculpture had to be placed somewhere that was already an established play area, rather than somewhere that had no play facilities and arguably would benefit from them more. Even with playparks it seems there's safety in numbers.
Verdict: Will be highly popular with pre-teens but its practical disguise may result in no-one realising that it's art.
Back on the bus we're returning east to Sugar House Lane, on the opposite side of the road to the Marshgate Lane entrance to the Olympic Park, and into an empty space within an ongoing building development. In terms of materials it's an appropriate setting for Klaus Weber's 'Sandfountain', a traditional tiered concrete fountain that, instead of spouting water, spews out grains of industrial sand. Despite the sculpture's ironic theme and the pleasing hissing sound the sand makes as it's sucked up through the structure, its reference to images associated with global warming adds a dystopian overtone, not least because the process used to power the fountain is similar to sandblasting and, in theory, over time the fountain will eventually erode itself away.
Verdict: The perfect antidote artwork to one of the wettest summers on record, just a shame it's not in a more visible location.
Our final destination is Walthamstow, where we're treated to a sneak pre-launch look inside the newly refurbished William Morris Gallery, the final phase of its extensive £5.5 million renovation still very much in progress. The gallery is one of 12 public buildings in Waltham Forest in which Turkish artist Can Altay has attached grapefruit-sized silver doorknobs. Including a set of sculptures - 20 in total - and a series of subtle architectural interventions, his work, entitled 'Distributed', will also operate as the starting point for workshops and discussions about the function and use of public space and the power and presence of public art within it.
Verdict: The simplest but most cleverly self-reflective of the projects, with the irresistible comedy factor of being essentially a load of giant, shiny knobs.
Frieze Projects East runs until Aug 31. For details of all the projects, including dates and times, go to www.friezeprojectseast.org