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Retail theatre: art students celebrate Heal’s at 200

22 February 2010

Slade student Nina Rodin at work on the glass in Heal's window

Students from the UCL Slade School of Fine Art took up residence in the windows of Heal’s flagship store in February to create a unique piece of retail theatre.

Sir Ambrose Heal, founder of the iconic furniture store, had a keen interest in fine art and attended classes at the UCL Slade School of Fine Art. Heal’s has been at the forefront of modern British design for 200 years and worked with UCL as part of its bicentenary celebrations from 1–7 February.

The inspirational design project saw interactive art installations being created day and night by 18 Slade students in Heal’s 27-metre showcase window on Tottenham Court Road. The short film below features some of the students at work:

  • Alex Springer built a vintage pinhole camera to take 200 portraits which he collated and displayed
  • Nina Rodin produced a multi-layered abstract forest of trees painting on the glass of the windows in a continual marathon seven-day session
  • Gavin Weber screen printed 200 prints on a large 1830s wood block printer where wood blocks were carved, printed and displayed
  • Jayne Wilton created the installation ‘Catching Breath’ in which 200 breaths were caught as copper plate etchings, acid washed and displayed as a large-scale collage
  • Julia Vogl created the installation ‘200 Units For 200 Years’ comprising 200 small wooden shapes and tessellating decals based on archive Heal’s prints
  • Jeremy Hutchinson, created a propaganda Anglo-modernist office installation within the windows using decals and posters


John Aiken, Director of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, said: “I think increasingly students are becoming very conscious that they have to look outside the institution and engage with the wider public. We thought it would be interesting to transport the activity of the Slade into Heal’s for a week to open the celebration for the 200th anniversary to encompass all the activity that is happening at the Slade.”

Up until the 1980s Heal’s held an exhibition space, the Mansard Gallery, on the fifth floor of the Tottenham Court Road store which was opened in 1919 by Ambrose Heal. It was the White Cube gallery of its day, the first place to exhibit Modigliani in the UK, where Aldous Huxley first met Virginia Woolf and where the first room sets were presented by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Maxwell Fry. ‘Artists In Residence’ reflects Heal’s rich design heritage, and its ongoing links with the art and design community on its doorstep.

To find out more, follow the links at the top of this item.

Image: Nina Rodin at work producing a multi-layered abstract forest of trees on the glass of the Heal's windows

UCL context

The UCL Slade School of Fine Art is concerned with contemporary art and the practice, history and theories that inform it. It approaches the study and practice of art in an enquiring, investigative, experimental and research-minded way. Slade facilities and infrastructure for research support the discourse around painting, sculpture and fine art media. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, 70% of the department’s research activity was recognised as being in the top two categories of 4* (‘world leading’) or 3* (‘internationally excellent’). This result confirms that the Slade is one of England’s leading university departments for research in Fine Art.

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