The notion of art as a way to lift people’s spirits perfectly captures the message behind London’s latest outdoor exhibition trail, Wander Art. Curated by Alter Projects and commissioned by Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, the trail takes in the London boroughs of Mayfair and Belgravia, showcasing the work of 12 UK-based and international artists.

GREAT invited two of the participating creatives, British-Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Yinka Ilori and Canadian visual artist Jordan Söderberg Mills, to share their thoughts on the UK as a country of innovators, their experiences of living, working and studying here, and the places and stories that inspire their designs.

Yinka Ilori

Yinka’s ‘In Plants We Trust’ in Mayfair emphasises the beauty and significance of the natural world within our urban spaces. Inspired by the plants he nurtured during the UK’s first national lockdown, his installation aims to remind us that no matter how hectic our lives may become, nature remains all around us, and it is vital that we take care of it.

What is it that makes the London creative scene so special and unique?

London is the absolute definition of a cultural melting pot. We all come from different places, with different perspectives, different influences, and different stories to tell. This is what makes it special when we come together to discuss our ideas in public spaces and galleries – we are all different.

What is your favourite UK museum or gallery?

That’s easy: the Victoria Miro gallery in London’s Islington. They’ve had some great exhibitions of Grayson Perry, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. It’s also just a great place to go and relax and meditate. It has such a beautiful architectural space.

Where are your favourite places in the UK outside of London?

I live in West London and I was going to Epping Forest every other week during lockdown, when it was still allowed. It’s a great place of nature, with wide green spaces, birds and trees.

Your work has always been bright and playful, which the world needs more now than ever before. How much has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your work?

My work has always been about people and how they interact and create memories with my work. It has always been about creating hope and belonging. Now, it’s also more about emphasising people and the importance of communities.

There is a Nigerian proverb by King Sunny Ade: “People are the clothes that I wear that make me”. The pandemic has brought us all together as a community: we are all in it together. Every one of us can be affected, no matter how rich or poor. Through my work, I want to emphasise the themes of hope and togetherness and do a lot more work in public spaces: I want to create work that is accessible to everyone.

There is not enough accessibility within art, but now, for the first time, many galleries have been bringing art to public spaces, or spaces they hadn’t thought about before. I want to work in spaces that celebrate hope and optimism.

Jordan Söderberg Mills

Inspired by the original name for the ancient crossroads that is now London’s Belgravia, Jordan’s ‘The Five Fields’ plays with a sense of a threshold and layered spaces. Curved sculptural columns house optical mirrors, which open portals to five different fields of view around Halkin Arcade – offering new perspectives from which to view the area and reflect upon its ancient history.

You hold a Master’s degree from London’s UAL: Central Saint Martins? What made you choose to study in the UK?

The UK has the best art and design schools in the world – if you look at the talent that has come out of these institutions, you see global leaders, true innovation, and beautiful, well-considered bodies of work. My mom studied at Christie’s (the world’s leading art auction house) in the 1980s, and I think this had some bearing on my decision as well, as I knew that British institutions hold their students to a high standard.

The United Kingdom embraces the creative arts, challenges its practitioners, and pushes you to create a viable profession – I wanted this to be my career, rather than a hobby.

What is your favourite UK museum or gallery?

I could live in the Victoria and Albert Museum if there weren’t terrible legal and conservation consequences. You can arrange special handling sessions with their curators and archivists to see some of the objects up close – an incredibly valuable resource for anyone curious or wanting a deeper dive into object history.

Where are you favourite places in London or the UK?

Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow is a collective makers space with a fantastic community of creatives. Access to woodworking, metal fabrication, and short courses on a variety of skills were invaluable to me, and I highly recommend a visit when that’s safe again.

Columbia Road Flower Market in London’s Bethnal Green was near my old flat and is great for the aroma, the colours, and the inspiration. I also loved taking little wanders through the Cotswolds and the spaces in between villages, staring down the sheep…

What else did you discover about the UK in your research for this piece?

The United Kingdom is like sedimentary rock – layers upon layers of lifetimes, built environments, artefacts on top of one another. Dig in a Tesco car park and find the body of a king.

Belgravia had slightly rough origins – it was a popular spot for duels, had a crossing known as the ‘bloody bridge,’ and harboured all sorts of thieves and scoundrels. There is no indication of this lineage nowadays – I love the idea of these secret histories lying just under the surface, anywhere you dig.

Wander Art will continue to run until Autumn 2021.

All views expressed in this post are the views of the guest artists and do not represent the views of the GREAT campaign.