Nina Wakeford’s Art on the Underground commission celebrates London communities past, present and future
Senior Tutor in Contemporary Art Practice and Reader in Contemporary Art, Nina Wakeford has created a publication 'Our Pink Depot: The Gay Underground FLO-N202-236000000-TRK-MST-00002-SAY-HELLO-WAVE-GOODBYE-KEN-NIE-BPS’, which brings together her activities during two years as Artist in Residence for Art on the Underground (AoTU). In 2018 Nina was commissioned to create a new body of work as part of the Northern Line Extension. This commision has included archival and ethnographic research, an exhibition of work in progress at StudioRCA, several performances and interventions within the tunnels, and a poster displayed along the Underground’s Northern line stations.
The work of the current engineering and mining teams, along with communities – past, present and future – were at the heart of Nina's research. This reflects her artistic practice, which begins with what she considers the unfinished business of past social movements, and the challenges of revisiting the demands and energies that these movements created. Nina spent time researching in TfL’s archives and delving into the history of the London neighbourhoods of Nine Elms and Battersea where two new stations are being created for the Northern Line extension.
Published by AoTU in collaboration with Book Works, 'Our Pink Depot: The Gay Underground FLO-N202-236000000-TRK-MST-00002-SAY-HELLO-WAVE-GOODBYE-KEN-NIE-BPS’ is a collection of annotated accounts derived from Nina's conversations with LGBTQ staff who will operate the new line; the tunnel engineers, rail laying teams and the miners building the new line; and those who frequented The Market Tavern, a pub formerly located at 1 Nine Elms Lane that served Flower Market traders and porters but was also a club venue for the LGBTQ community. Memories of these populations are gathered in the book alongside photographs found in drivers’ and DJs’ personal collections and the Covent Garden Market Authority archive.
The title of the publication refers to the discovery of informal ‘pink depots’ on the Underground in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably at Parsons Green station – which were train depots that had a reputation for large numbers of LGBT drivers, guards and managers. Nina proposes the new tunnels for the Northern Line extension as a ‘pink depot’ for London Underground – by activating the spaces through her performances and research.
As part of her AoTU commission Nina also created a poster displayed across all Northern line stations in Autumn 2019. The posters featured vibrant cyanotypes that were made in the new tunnels using the final hours of sunlight before they were sealed. The objects exposed on the photo paper tell the story of the Pink Depots – including flowers from the flower market, archival flyers from the local nightclubs, bolts, clips and pins used in the construction of the tunnels.
Other outcomes from Nina’s commission include a series of performances. In the summer of 2019 Nina led a 'Historic Trackwalk’ with LGBTQ drivers, a former Market Tavern DJ and TFL’s Head of Tunnelling Mark Thompson. Nina soundtracked this commemorative night walk with songs the drivers had picked that celebrated the 1970s and 1980s club culture, as well as the rebellions being waged in mining communities around the UK.
Earlier this year Nina exhibited Work In Progress at StudioRCA. The event weaved together sounds of the current construction site with memories of the LGBT scene in the 1980s and 1990s, with recordings of a local drag king performing in the new underground tunnels that run below Nine Elms.
Find out more about Research in the School of Arts & Humanities at the RCA.