Blog : Posts tagged with 'London' : Page 1

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Collodion

In which we go to London for the photography


Back in the mists of time, I used to think it would be a nice idea to move to London. There’s always something going on, of course. Always plenty to do, and always plenty to keep me entertained.

When I lived in a remoter part of the country, with not much to fill my spare time, this seemed like a Good Plan. Now that we live in a reasonably-civilised city, though, we have far too much to do as it is. And I just know that, if we did live in London, it would go one of two ways. Either we would spend all our time feeling sad about the events that we just didn’t get chance to make it to, or we’d retreat into a bubble and never do much at all. When we do visit, we can easily manage to fill a day and have plenty of things left over that we could have done.

Yesterday, for example: we almost managed to avoid the day’s main event and tourist attraction, the Pride March.* We did have to scoot around a few barriers, though, and avoid a few crowds of pre-march spectators, because the main reason we wanted to go to London was for the current exhibition at the Photographers Gallery: The Family And The Land, a retrospective on the American photographer Sally Mann. Mann became well-known** for a series of photos she took of her children, growing up, twenty-five years ago. From there, as the exhibition title suggests, she moved on to the past of her homeland, taking landscapes of American Civil War locations, before, more recently, producing a series on death and decay, literally: decaying bodies, outdoors, at a forensics research lab. Much of her work has been produced using 19th-century techniques: the wet-plate process, which requires its own portable darkroom. The photographer dips a glass plate firstly in a solution of nitrocellulose, then in one of the usual photographic silver salt solutions; then it is exposed, quickly, before it dries.

When we look at a photograph, we respond to subconscious cues as much as we do to our conscious view of the image. That’s why photos taken with tilt-shift lenses, or fiddled to look like they have been, look like photos of tiny models. Moreover, wet-plate photographs have a very particular look to them: a sharpness of grain but a softness from the antique lens; a time-exposure blur and a particular tonal range. So, if you know a little photography and you look at a Sally Mann photograph, it looks like something that has jumped out of the past. A valley whose river is time-blurred to mercury smoothness looks like something produced by a 19th-century war reporter; and a decaying corpse could have died decade after decade ago.

After visiting the Photographers Gallery, we wandered across London to the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, to see the Free Range graduation art show, collecting new art graduates from all over the country. It is an utterly massive show, its displays changing weekly, and each display enormous in itself. We were amused to see places we recognised in a handful of the works: line-drawings of buildings in Bristol, and photos of UFOs over Inverkeithing.*** Being a graduation show, it did seem slightly discordant and mixed-together; possibly even patchy in parts. I found myself wondering, at one point, what art students do when their ideas don’t match their budget, and if any of them ever felt constrained by the limits of their budget and their courses’ deadlines. I wondered what the photography graduates would have done with a wet-plate camera, and whether modern photography is the better for being less of a craft.

By the time we left Free Range, we were, I have to say, almost entirely arted out. We did manage to fit in another couple of smaller shows; but the amount of art we’d seen had filled our heads up to the brim. We filled the rest of our evening by ambling around on London buses; again, avoiding the crowds. London might be a nice place to visit; but if we lived there, we’d end up always finding too much to do. Best to keep it at a distance: we can always pop over for a day, when we want to be inspired

* although we did spot one butch lesbian in bondage gear and rubber hotpants having her photo taken by a passing tourist.

** indeed, infamous.

*** The UFOs over Inverkeithing were by an Edinburgh College of Art graduate called Andrew Jay Harvey; and we think the Bristol buildings were by Emily Ejderos.

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Plug

In which we advertise something, albeit something we think ought to be advertised


Still in internet limbo, and keeping up with things as best I can via my phone. This, really, is just a quick advert.

About a year ago, we saw a gig by a crazily inventive Japanese musician called Ichi, featuring stiltwalking, steel drum, beatboxing, half a double bass,* a glockenspiel, ping pong, and (at one point) musical eating. Well, he’s back in the UK again with some other performers, and playing two gigs. This Saturday, June 19th, at somewhere called Cafe Oto in Dalston; and Sunday, June 20th, at the Scout Hut, Phoenix Wharf,** Bristol. There’s also a photography show, and (in Bristol) Japanese food. Both start at 7.30pm. Go there: it will be fun.

* Mathematics suggests that that would be “a bass”, then.

** The black building midway between Redcliff Bridge and the Ostrich.

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Art And Sex

In which art gets commercial and sells out


We jaunted off to London the other day, for the “Pop Life” exhibition at Tate Modern. I would link to details; but, well, it closed on Sunday, so you can’t go and see it now. The subtitle was “Art In A Material World” and the concept was to review artists who have embraced commerciality over the past 40 years or so, starting with Warhol and taking things on from there. It followed two strands that Warhol pioneered: on the one hand, the commercialisation of art; on the other, the objectification of the artist. From there it moves on through, on the one hand, Keith Haring, Emin & Lucas, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami; on the other, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Andrea Fraser.

Put like that, these sound like rather disparate threads; but they’re two sides of the celebrity artist. After all, when an artist’s name becomes bigger than their work, then their life is their biggest work of all. In the show, though, they did seem rather disparate, moving on from artist to artist between rooms with no firm connections between them. It took a few day’s reflection for me to tease together the themes. Arguably, of course, this is a Good Thing: an art show that doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to be seeing but lets you work the themes out for yourself. You might, after all, always spot something the curators didn’t.

We were expecting the Big Famous Art Names like Warhol and Hirst, as advertised, and we were expecting their most reproduced and commercialised images. What we weren’t expecting was for the show to be so, well, pornographic. Particularly, the Jeff Koons room: essentially, floor-to-ceiling pornography in an almost-empty, behind-closed-doors space. Most of the visitors seemed to not even notice it was there: in a busy exhibition, it was the one room we had to ourselves. From Jeff Koons’ porn stills repackaged as art, the show moved on to Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanni Tutti, and the scandal that her pornography-as-art shows caused in the 1970s. That artwork was, as far as I could tell, far, far tamer than Koons’ hardcore sex: it shows just how much society has changed in 35 years or so. And neither Koons nor C-F-T were disturbing, in the way that Andrea Turner’s prostitution-as-video-art piece was disturbing: a bare room housing a barely-styled video, showing Turner having sex with the art collector she had sold the piece to. Shot by a single fixed camera, it was cold, clinical, unemotional, the business relationship removing any passion.

That work of art was, you could argue, a culmination. As far as an artist can go in their own self-objectification.* It was followed by a room devoted to Takashi Murakami, at the extreme end of art commercialisation, two separated strands starting out from Warhol. Interesting to see how far they had diverged; and was Warhol really a clear starting point, or just a place where two trends intersected? For some artists, art can be a business; for others, it can be life. It can be martyrdom. It left me thinking, secondly, that maybe money and devotion don’t have to be that far apart.

The first thing it leaves me thinking of, though, is the genitals of Mr and Mrs Koons, blown up to wall size whilst hard at work. And the thought: “I’m glad I didn’t invite The Mother.”

* Going back to Jeff Koons, the show’s notes deliberately stressed that Koons had been objectifying his own body, and not just his wife’s; not having the porn-star physique early in his career, he had to buff his muscles up a bit.

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And more on art

In which we look at some non-inflatables


Something else that got done in London the other weekend: we popped along to the Serpentine Gallery, to see the Jeff Koons show that’s on there at the moment. His first major show in Britain, apparently; his first major show in a 20-odd year career.

The Serpentine can seem quite a small gallery, at time, and we both soon realised that it wasn’t going to take us very long to get around the Koons exhibition. Before long, it felt like we’d seen all he had to say; before long, we were back at the front door.* The sculptures in the exhibition consisted of pristine replicas of inflatable toys, balanced precariously, or suspended from chains. According to the captions, all were made from cast aluminium, carefully finished to look exactly like the real thing. We had a hard time, in many cases, believing that they weren’t the real thing. Some were strangely interlaced with garden chairs or decorative ironwork; in those cases it was obvious it would be very hard to get real inflatables to behave like that. It was hard to think, though, that the other, uncorrupted inflatables shouldn’t be gently swaying in the breeze. We wanted to do some forbidden poking and prodding, to see if the sculptures genuinely were made of heavy aluminium.

I thought little again about it until the other day, when, in a quiet moment, I read Waldemar Januszczak‘s Sunday Times review of the show. In which he said:

Poking one of the show’s infla­table lobsters with my finger — which you, of course, are not allowed to do, and I was not supposed to, either — I found it solid, weighty and metallic, its convincing sense of weightlessness achieved with obsessive trompe l’oeil paintwork.

Hurrah! It wasn’t just us who wanted to prod the things: a respectable art critic wanted to do the same! Moreover, being a famous and well-respected art critic, he got away with it without being chucked out. I suspect that we wouldn’t quite have got away with it.

Januszczak, incidentally, found that the show put dark S&M thoughts in his head. It wasn’t something that immediately came to mind when we were there; but, the more I look back, the creepier the show felt. The juxtaposition of plastic, heavy chains, images of cartoons and trains spliced behind and in front of chopped-up pictures of bare skin, all has a disturbing weight behind it. The Koons show we saw was superficial on the surface, but there is always a risk of it coming back to haunt.

* after which we went on to spend rather longer in the gallery bookshop.

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Repetition

In which art is repeated, repetitively


In amongst the brief list of things we did last weekend, I realised there’s something of a gap, one thing I missed out on listing. It was, though, one of the most distinctive things of the weekend. An exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery: Fabiola, by Francis Alÿs.

Fabiola is, in essence, a fairly simple idea. Two rooms filled with closely-packed paintings, green walls with not much room for the green to show through. Each piece of art is made by hand, and each shows the same image: a woman in profile, usually facing left, veiled, usually in red. Most are paintings, some are works of cross-stitch or embroiders; one is a collage of seeds and beans.

It’s a simple idea, a collection that Alÿs has gathered over the past couple of decades and is still adding to. But, there’s something ever so unsettling about the whole thing. The same image, repeated over and over and over but never the same. The same image, tiling every wall. The same image, with so much effort put into its repetition. As I said, it’s unsettling. Like something from an M. R. James story, or possibly from a more-creepy Doctor Who episode. Of all the things we did last weekend, Fabiola is the one most likely to haunt my dreams many years from now.

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Synopsis

In which things are described, briefly


Underground; wandering; the Ministry of Truth; Trafalgar Square; bridges and cabmen’s shelters; a model home; inspirational food and drink; black and white photos; tourist crowds; Soviet badges; gay icons; the wrong pizza; a missed film; gin and vodka; a walk in the park; strange inflatables; shopping streets; more photography; a nice cup of tea; long queues; very big pancakes; even bigger plaster casts; and another cup of tea.

And then, home again. I should write some of it all down, before I forget it.

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Photo Post Of The Week

In which we compare analogue and digital


It took me a while to catch on to the idea of digital photography. “Bah,” I thought, “you can’t spend hours in the darkroom with a digital photo. And I’ll always need to keep buying more and more disk space.” Both slightly false excuses, to be honest: it’s years since I’ve had easy access to a darkroom, and the disk space doesn’t get burned up that quickly. Generally, though, it was a good thing that I didn’t rush into it; I saved up, until I could afford a good camera, rather than jump in at the cheap end. And I’m pleased with what I got.

This post, though, follows up from the previous Photo Post Of The Week, in which, as I said, K and I walked up through London from Tate Modern to Clerkenwell, retracing a route I’d done a few years before. Both times, I took photos. Three years ago, I had my cheaply-grabbed-on-Ebay Nikon F801 with me. Here’s one of the photos:

Grand Avenue, Smithfield

This time, we took K’s nifty little compact Panasonic. Remembering the last trip, I deliberately retook that last photo with it:

Smithfield Market

I can see straight away which is the better photo. That doesn’t mean I regret waiting until I could afford a good digital camera; but it does make me wonder what opportunities I missed, and what I could have improved with my film shots.

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Photo Post Of The Week

In which we visit a small corner of London


Regular readers might recall that recently, we visited the London Zine Symposium, and I mentioned it on here. That post, after lots of rambling about the aristocratic “anarchists” of the zine world, ended with us leaving the zine symposium and heading off into the big city, with no hint of what we might do next.

Well: we explored. I took K on a walk something like one I’d done before, from Bankside up past St Pauls, through a deserted Smithfield, past Farringdon and up into Clerkenwell. And on the way, we passed somewhere I wasn’t aware of three years ago when I last passed it. So, we went in.

Postman's Park, London

This is: Postman’s Park, right in the centre of the City, on King Edward St; a 19th-century park made from former graveyards and churchyards which abutted each other. A small patch of green. I’d heard about it from Nothing To See Here, which has featured Postman’s Park and its most distinctive feature. The Watts Memorial, to commemorate the bravery of ordinary people.

Memorial, Postman's Park, London

It consists of 47 tile plaques, under a lean-to shelter, commemorating ordinary people who died saving the lives of others, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The painter G F Watts created it, from the late 1880s onwards; he delved into the archives for some of the plaques, commemorating deaths from 25 years earlier.

The rest of the park has its own air of strangeness, being lined with headstones dating from its days as a group of churchyards. Especially on a summer Sunday evening, it is a quietly mysterious place, the art-nouveau plaques of the memorial lending it a subtle neogothic touch.

Memorial, Postman's Park, London

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Symposium

In which DIY is the only way


It had been a while since I’d been to London. We stumbled out of bed early to get to the Zine Symposium, to give us time to get to the station and get the first London train of a Bank Holiday Sunday. The guard didn’t bother to unlock the whole train; he unlocked one door and stood by it, so he could manage the queuing passengers and let us wander along the inside to find our seats.

It didn’t take long to get there; none of the “Bank Holiday Travel Chaos!” that the media loves. We nipped across to the Underground platforms,* before trundling across town to Spitalfields, where the symposium was being held. Beforehand, we explored a bit of the area, from the fashionable and gentrified Old Spitalfields Market to the more traditional junk stalls at the north end of Brick Lane. We squeezed through the Sunday market crowds, as a couple of construction workers looked down on us from atop the bare concrete of the new railway bridge there.

The Zine Symposium was, when we found it, even more crowded than the market had been, a crowd of independent-minded people squeezing between stalls and studying what was on offer. We rather liked the sound of one of the symposium talks, on the problems of running zine libraries; unfortunately, it seemed to be the weekend for promising-but-disappointing discussions. There was little on the distinctive and problematic aspects of zine libraries, like archival, conservation or cataloguing; and it was dominated by a chap called Chris from the 56a Infoshop, who had originally been planning to talk about a different topic, and largely did just that. He started with an extremely narrow-minded and prescriptive view of “zine culture” and worked from there: zines must be radical, political and ephemeral, and therefore “institutions” such as public or university libraries** should be discouraged from collecting them. This is a slightly tricky position for the curator of a zine library to hold; I was left with the impression that he only approved of libraries that he could be in charge of.

On reflection, though, there was a strong link with the class hegemony of the previous day – a stronger link than “disappointment”, I mean. Chris Of 56A disapproves strongly of anybody making money from zines, of zine-writers becoming publishers, or trying to do anything resembling a career with it. Which, essentially, is an extremely aristocratic position.*** Writing is only socially acceptable, in radical/anarchist society, if you have enough time and money to be an amateur writer, because any other approach would be a betrayal of your assumed values. It’s an interesting complement to Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie‘s “who can afford to be an art worker?” approach.

More importantly, though, Chris’s view was completely contradicted by the rest of the symposium itself, a broad range of stalls from all corners of self-publishing. Serious tracts on politics and anarchy rubbed shoulders with silly cartoons; touching memoirs next to artists’ books and prints. Much, indeed, was not too dissimilar to things we’d seen at the Bristol Artists’ Book Event a month before. I avoided the Serious Political Zines but did go for the Serious Political Vegan Cake (Lemon & Ginger Variety), which was very tasty indeed, but did in one aspect leave me slightly worried. I’m not entirely sure what the Serious Political Vegans are going to think of us submitting a dairy-heavy cake recipe to the Symposium Zine.

Full of cake, and with rather less cash on us, we escaped from the throng of zine-fans. It was a very enjoyable event, despite the politicising; and hopefully next time we go back we’ll have things to sell ourselves. We disappeared away down Brick Lane, and went off to explore some more of London.

* of the former Bishop’s Road station, Underground fact lovers

** even somewhere like The Women’s Library, which I would have thought sufficiently radical, but which Chris specifically mentioned as being tainted by institutionality. I wondered if he had a specific gripe.

*** Compare with pre-revolutionary France, where it was perfectly acceptable for aristocrats to have craftsman-like hobbies. Louis XVI’s favourite hobby apart from hunting, for example, was locksmithing. If any aristocrats actually needed to make money from crafts or trade, though, they might suffer the penalty of dérogeance, or, being stripped of their title and status.

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Break time

In which we produce something


Yesterday was the London Zine Symposium 2009, as a result of which we were up at 6am, straight on the train, and not back until midnight. Hence, I don’t really feel like telling you all about it right this minute.

However, we did try to take part in one section of the symposium: a zine created by symposium attenders, one page each. And this is what we produced:

Zine page

It’s not very good, but it did get done in something of a hurry.

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