Commuters on the London Underground passing through Gloucester Road station are in for an unexpected treat. On a disused platform, British performance artist Monster Chetwynd—born Alalia Chetwynd, and formerly known as Spartacus and Marvin Gaye—has installed giant statues of lily pads, toads, and other amphibian creatures.
The exhibition, titled “Pond Life: Albertopolis and the Lily,” is on view until May 2024. It’s inspired by the history of the station as it connects to the Great Exhibition of 1851, staged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, held in nearby Hyde Park in the famed Crystal Palace designed by the architect Joseph Paxton.
A former gardener, Paxton drew on the structure of the water lily and its ribbed veins to come up with his modular design for the groundbreaking building. In Chetwynd’s work, the animals—beetles, lizards, salamanders, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, and tortoises—are working together to build the Crystal Palace.
“Normally my work is linked to bad taste and disarming humor, but these look oddly delicate, almost like Wedgwood porcelain,” Chetwynd told the , marveling over the craftsmanship of the original Crystal Palace. “To read that each pane of glass was individually hand blown—I get really genuinely excited about things like that.”
The first performance artist ever nominated for Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize, in 2012, Chetwynd is known for her offbeat works. She has enlisted both friends and strangers to take part in elaborate costumed parades, built a creepy indoor children’s playground called in East London, and has an ongoing film project, , about a transgender detective investigating a woman who died from orgasming on a dildo seesaw.
For her new Art on the Underground commission, the artist was on hand for the unveiling, clad in a glittery pink body suit and a blonde wig. This was Chetwynd’s costume for the Fact-Hungry Witch, a character in her film , currently on view in the station. It presents a history not only of the Amazonian lily and the Crystal Palace, but also of the subway, architecture, industry, and colonialism.
“The poetic connection between a Lily from the Amazon (that smells of pineapple and entraps beetles in its pink interior overnight) and the arches and rumbling tunnels of Gloucester Road, this connection needs to be brought forward,” Chetwynd said in a statement. “How history is re-examined and allowed to be accessible is also in need of discussion.”
The installation also includes seven poster artworks in the station, which each hide clues for an interactive detective hunt that the artist hopes will engage local families.
“I’m hoping that when people see the work on the platform that they’re delighted, and they get some joy from it, because it’s quite fun and playful,” Chetwynd told the BBC. “I also hope that are interested and intrigued into the history that I researched.”
See more photos of the installation below.