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The Art Wall

A once uninspiring old wall in Old Street is now a whimsical contemporary artwork that gives people something truly compelling to look at: themselves.

It started with an ugly brick wall. As part of the redevelopment of The Bower in Old Street, Helical wanted to revitalise a public area next to the site, by replacing that wall with something more inspiring – namely, a new artwork.

Artists and designers were invited to pitch their ideas. The commission went to DeMakersVan, a Dutch design group which has been making waves on the international art scene. One of their pieces is in the permanent collection at Moma in New York.

DeMakersVan has a way of melding the contemporary with the traditional to achieve something eye-catching and fantastical.

For this project, they took inspiration from the steel-framed industrial windows that are common features in the Victorian and early 20th century industrial buildings around Old Street and Shoreditch. To De Makers Van, those windows represented portals into the long and evolving history of the buildings.

“It was all based on the stories behind those windows,” says DeMakersVan’s Jeroen Verhoeven. “The buildings were built in the 1800s, and they have stayed the same but the stories behind them have changed.”

The group made geometric panes using the same manufacturing process that would have been used to make the original windows at The Bower. The panes form a 21-metre-long light box backed by an equally long mirror.

‘We put a mirror there so that everybody becomes the stories of this new wall.’

“Since it was about the stories behind those windows that evolve to make new stories, we wanted people in front of the windows in the Art Wall to also be the people behind the windows,” Verhoeven says.

The Art Wall is DeMakersVan’s first public installation in London. But it won’t be their last. They have five more public installations set for completion around London in 2017.

Verhoeven says: “I don’t think there is a better place in the world for an artist to be now than in London. Because the per-square-metre prices are so high in London and there’s so much wealth around, there’s a lot of art and culture around, too. Because in the end art needs people with budgets. And London has that. In Amsterdam, it’s a beautiful city and it’s almost a little cute metropolitan village. In London, they’re going for it. They’re moving with ambition, and I like that.”

The Art Wall is visible from the Old Street roundabout. Find it at the City Road entrance to The Bower.