Image: Zadie Xa presents new public works in London
Portrait of Zadie Xa. Photo: Benito Mayor Vallejo
Public Commission

Zadie Xa presents new public works in London 'Griffin and Guardian' and 'Underworlds Connect'

21 March 2023
Aldgate East Underground station, London

Griffin and Guardian and Underworlds Connect, are 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

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. 

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.

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. 

 (Xa states:) "I’ve always imagined the many tunnels, networked below the city as an unknown space of infinite storylines, histories and lived experiences. I hoped to create work that would spark imagination and curiosity into the various characters seen and unseen taking their journeys below the city." 


About Art on the Underground

Art on the Underground invites artists to create projects for London’s Underground that are seen by millions of people each day, changing the way people experience their city. Incorporating a range of artistic media from painting, installation, sculpture, digital and performance, to prints and custom Tube map covers, the programme produces critically acclaimed projects that are accessible to all, and which draw together London’s diverse communities. Since its inception, Art on the Underground has presented commissions by UK-based and international artists including Jeremy Deller, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Wallinger, and Tania Bruguera, allowing the programme to remain at the forefront of contemporary debate on how art can shape public space.

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