Art on the Underground with Whitechapel Gallery present ‘Griffin and Guardian’ and ‘Underworlds Connect’, two new public artworks at Aldgate East Underground station by London based Canadian-Korean artist Zadie Xa. Launching 21 March 2023 and on view for one year, this new work focuses on mythologies and the history of the Tube environment, in dialogue with her solo exhibition at the neighbouring Whitechapel Gallery titled House Gods, Animal Guides and Five Ways 2 Forgiveness which runs until 30 April 2023.
The research for this new work at the eastern exit/entrance of Aldgate East is also inspired by the mythical griffin, which was used as an official symbol by London Transport from 1933 until the late 1950s. The griffin features on the tiles at Aldgate East station and was the work of designer and craftsman Harold Stabler (1872–1945) who designed a series of 18 bespoke embossed tiles that are interspersed along the platform level walls.
The resulting two paintings, reproduced for Aldgate East in vinyl, are titled ‘Underworlds Connect’ and ‘Griffin and Guardian’. The artworks present two scenes of animals acting as guardians or portals at the station entrance. Xa’s work often uses the presence of tigers, foxes and seagulls as animal guides, disrupters or tricksters to lead us or inspire new journeys, as embodiments of ecological, political and social shifts.
‘Griffin and Guardian’ reimagines the TfL griffin as a seagull and fox hybrid, two everyday London creatures taking the place of the majestic lion and eagle. This new griffin appears with a haetae, a Korean mythological animal and both stand like custodians or guards of the station. For Xa this new griffin shifts the power status of the original symbol to a more day-to-day contemporary emblem. The fox/seagull griffin is aligned to how she and many Londoners manoeuvre around the city and negotiate London as a social and economically complex place.
The second work, ‘Underworlds Connect’, shows a three eyed white tiger stepping out of a conch shell echoing the evocation of an animal guide into a portal or entrance way. Conch shells are often used in Xa’s work, representing a time travelling device, a communication receptor and a home. The conch and the third eye of the tiger are used as mythical visual references; to Xa they suggest time travel, speculative futures, pasts and worlds. The work asks us to consider how we learn from multiples places and times, live in between them and forge newness. This connects to how Xa’s work often explores the multiple narratives within hybrid and diasporic identity.
In both works there are wave-like cloud paths representing the tube tunnel systems or other pathways of journeying, cosmic or urban. These backgrounds draw on Xa’s sense of travelling under the city as some type of interstellar time travel, as passengers sit in capsules speeding through the known and unknown.
About Zadie Xa
Zadie Xa was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1983. She has an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art and a BFA from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Recent solo exhibitions include: Whitechapel Gallery (2022). The Box Plymouth (2022), National Gallery (2021, Leeds Art Gallery (2021), Remai Modern (2020). Group exhibitions and performances include: Jeju Biennale (2023), Somerset House (2023), Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2022), Hauser & Wirth, London (2022) Jeffrey Deitch Gallery (2022), Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong (2022), Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles (2022), Castello di Rivoli (2021), Haus der Kunst (2021), Shanghai Biennale (2021), Frieze London (2020), AGO Toronto (2020), Art Night (2020), Venice Biennale (2019), Hayward Gallery (2018) and Serpentine Galleries (2018 & 2017). Xa lives and works in London.