Chantal Joffe: A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel | Whitechapel Station

I’m a major train geek, but even I wasn’t ready for the opening of the Elizabeth Line, London’s biggest public transport event in decades, to be so joyous. The huge, cool, beautiful stations were filled with joyriders the first day it opened on Tuesday. By later in the week, the stations were still packed, but by now almost everybody seemed to be using the line for what it’s intended to be: a much quicker way of getting across town.

I’m gobsmacked that I could get from my gym in West Ham to the Hélio Oiticica show at Lisson Gallery, close to Paddington, in half an hour - like I did yesterday. That’s a small, art-oriented example of the across-the-board opportunities the line has opened up. The beauty and utility of the line led to a palpably celebratory mood, which reminded me of the 2012 Olympics; a mood I can’t help contrasting with the last two shitty years of lockdowns, poor governance and increasing cost squeezes.

Chantal Joffe: A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel - installation view

Of course, there’s another artistic angle to this post, beyond the line’s ability to get me to certain galleries faster. There are a few public art works in the stations, the latest in a long line that includes Eduardo Paolozzi’s murals at Tottenham Court Road, and temporary exhibitions like Heather Phillipson’s unforgettable egg-inspired phantasmagoria at Gloucester Road a couple of years back.

The best is Chantal Joffe’s set of collages in Whitechapel, vibrant paper cuts of typical locals, inspired by the artist’s habit of walking through the neighbourhood on Sundays with her daughter. They’re mounted on aluminium, following the curve of the platform and therefore looming over the benches that each one is set against.

“Whitechapel is a bustling, inner city place,” Joffe has said. “I really wanted you to feel that aliveness… to feel really strongly that you know where this is. This is Whitechapel.”

I first visited and saw the works on Thursday, day three of the line’s opening. I walked along the platform looking at and taking pictures of each one - a headscarfed mum, a willowy girl in a yellow dress, a nerdy white guy in shorts. A single other photographer did the same. Everyone else was waiting for a train, facing away from the artworks. Many resembled their collaged counterparts - I know me and the other photographer repped the nerdy shorts wearer pretty well. We’re Whitechapel, too!

But the collages contributed to the atmosphere - of newness and collective celebration, rooted in a bit of London pride.

Chantal Joffe: A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel is at Whitechapel Elizabeth Line station