Apr 102016
 

Yesterday I went to London for a day out. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I didn’t really plan it, so I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to mooch and wander about, and see if anything caught my attention. Sit in a café and watch the world go by.

It wasn’t the best start to the day when my train didn’t even get out of  Leicester station because it had a fault. Forty minutes later and I was tucking into my breakfast, but it should have been an omen for the rest of the day really.

Coffee Festival Queue

Coffee Festival Queue

First destination was Shoreditch, and it’s easy to get the Tube to Liverpool Street, and then a short walk through Spitalfields market. As it was early there was still a lot of setting-up being done. Lots of stalls, but to be honest, they were all selling things that can be bought any day. If you are into chain cafes and restaurants I suppose Spitalfields has some pull as a destination, but it’s become as much a generic shopping centre as any other.

London Coffee Festival

London Coffee Festival

Heading over to Brick Lane I wanted to pop into Rough Trade – I bought the new Parquet Courts album. Getting to Rough Trade meant walking past the queue to get in to the London Coffee Festival. It snaked down the street and around the block. So many people interested in coffee that has been regurgitated by gerbils!

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane has the feel that Camden Lock has, with standard food stalls, vintage market stalls and tat shops. It’s good but I did feel that I should have tweaked a moustache and brought a fixy-bike with me.

The next thing I wanted to do was visit Tate Modern, so I got the Tube to St Paul’s then walked over the Thames to the South Bank. It’s a pretty impressive approach and the views up and down the river are cool. The problem with the Tate is that it is so busy all the time that it’s almost impossible to make sense of what you’re looking at. The special exhibition fees are way too much as well. It’s like the art is given second billing to the numerous gift shops and cafes.

St Pauls

St Pauls

Tate Print Shop

Tate Print Shop

I ended up thinking it will be just as easy to read an exhibition catalogue than wander about trying to get some appreciation of the otherwise iconic works.

I then wandered over to the West End, through Covent Garden over to Foyles, where I got a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire and a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott. What I wanted to do was sit somewhere and relax for a couple of hours, but obviously this being Soho it was massively intense and every café seemed to be busy.

Tate Art Demo

Tate Art Demo

The problem is that I hate chain cafes and restaurants. Anything that has a ‘brand’ is just dreadful, and London is dominated by corporate brands. I used to look forward to finding small, independent cafes and restaurants, but they seem to have vanished from the West End. Indicative is the chain The Breakfast Club. London used to be serviced by proper cafes. Now people queue in the street to get into The Breakfast Club for a bacon cob!

I can’t complain entirely, the French House still resists the corporate onslaught and offers a more traditional environment of association with no music, no theme, just people sitting drinking and chatting without being instructed in how they should feel about themselves, which is too often a priority of the ‘we-are-all-so-wonderful-and-amazing’ types. It’s rare to find a space that isn’t dominated by a surfeit of ego and self-entitlement.

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

I think the problem is that London has stopped being a city and has instead become a destination. What was once a place that people congregated, cheek-by-jowl to do their business and live their lives, has now become a corporate enterprise that has to be managed and homogenised so that the maximum efficiency can be squeezed out of the place.

The problem is it is so boring. The West End bustles, there are millions of people wandering about, but the script has been laid-out for them. Go see a show. Have a dinning experience. See the iconic landmarks. Visit the galleries and stare at the picture postcard exhibitions. Shop in the same stores you get in the rest of the country. Travel efficiently between well laid out points of the map. Have the ‘London Experience.’

I have to say by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored and couldn’t wait to get on the train back to Leicester. It’s going to be a while before I go back to London for Leisure. It’s just not worth it. I couldn’t even buy any interesting postcards. They were all the same as well.

Jun 222013
 
Jan 092013
 
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Fellini’s La Dolce Vita

At the weekend I had a couple of late nights in London, but as I’m well past the age of clubbing I wanted to find a late night cinema and watch an off-the-beaten-path movie. It was pretty disappointing that that vast majority of cinemas in central London don’t seem to run any films past midnight at the weekend. I’d have thought that there is a massive market in London for people who want to spend a few hours in the cinema catching-up with an art film.

Perhaps I am an old romantic, but I was in the mood for a Fellini, a Bergman, a Truffaut or a Hitchcock. Instead the films on offer in central London where the same that I can get back at home – only slightly earlier than the screenings in Leicester. Even that bastion of cultural naffness Time Out is getting a sense of the decline of the London art cinema scene. “A mood of doom and gloom has descended over the London film scene.”

Perhaps there isn’t really a market out there any more for art cinema in public places, with the rise of home cinema and the import of global cinema via the internet our film culture is very different than it was. I can’t help thinking we are missing an essential alternative to the booze-fueled club and bar culture that soaks up so much of the late night life of our cities.

I pray for the chance to walk from a late night showing as the rain beats down on the dusty city, the collar of my coat upturned against the cold, Woodbine in hand and a head full of cinematic dreamscapes.

Jan 062013
 
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Tate Britain – Blockbuster Gallery

I crammed in four exhibitions yesterday. Each good in their own way, but with some clear highlights. I started in the morning at Tate Britain, and the second-to-last day of the Turner Prize. Opening 10am there was a huge cue for the box-office as the Pre-Raphaelite blockbuster exhibition was on. I love the spaces in Tate Britain, particularly the Sackler Octogon. They manage to be intimate and relaxing while also showing a wide range of contrasting work in an accessible while reverential setting.

Elizabeth Price’s video installation The Woolworths Choir of 1979 was a worthy winner of the Turner Prize 2012, with it’s careful and dedicated examination of the events surrounding the Woolworths store fire in the heart of Manchester in 1979. Price uses a montage of images and sounds to re-examine the media coverage of the event, and in the process questions the ‘elasticity’ of the digital image. I’m quite pleased that Alastair Smart writing in The Telegraph was only able to make a link between with the “rhyming connection between “choir” and “fire” alluded to in the title,” and that he “failed to find any meaningful link between the two halves.” To confound an art critic in a national newspaper is surely high praise indeed.

If the digital image is fashionable for it’s malleability and animated performativness, then what is to be said about the contrasting analogue photographic image and what it has been capable of for the last two hundred years? Inelasticity? Graham Gussin’s piece in the Tate’s Art Now rooms was a fascinating contrast, and a challenge for digital installation enthusiasts. A similar installation set-up to Price, but rather than video, Gussin uses an out-of-focus film projection showing fog permitting and shifting around various empty room spaces. I actually found this absorbing to watch, and with the clicking and whirring of the projector, this had a suitable, if low-key, sonic accompaniment.

A quick Tube ride and I was at the V&A to look at the permanent photographic exhibition. I wish that the V&A could make more of this permanent display, because the standard of the selected images and the contextual thread that run’s through the display is modest and precise. The prints are handsomely mounted and given a brief yet focussed description of what ties them together. This is an exhibition with a clear sense of connection, development and continuity. The romance of work by Robert Frank and John Deakin, and their street-based images of Parisian life, contrasts superbly with the nonchalance of Curtis Mofat’s modernistic expressionism of American life.

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Retrospective Russian Underground?

Next stop was the Satchi Gallery, which is without doubt one of the best exhibition spaces in London. It’s an immediate experience with open galleries that have plenty of light and space for visitors to circulate. The main exhibition was Breaking the Ice: Moscow Art 1960-80s, which gave-in to my expectations and stereotypes of Russian life. The Soviet era hardships, the present day privations, and the post-modernist contortions and re-workings of mass-communication iconography. Boris Mikhailov’s photographs are particularly challenging and grim. Depicting the “social disintegration ensuing from the break-up of the Soviet Union – both in terms of social structures and the resulting human condition”. Mikhailov “documents the social oppression, the devastating poverty, the harshness and helplessness of everyday life for the homeless.” One can only feel compelled to ask what forces drive people to sink to such a low ebb, but then what forces drive a photographer to document their experience?

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Hong Kong Eye

Standing out against this gloom was the far more playful was Hong Kong Eye 2012. This was playful, light, energetic and clever. The tricks employed where simple and honest, and there was a distinct lack of bombast in the arrangement of the spaces and the pieces that where collected. With the Russian work the questioning of the mediated representations was heavy-handed. With the Hong Kong collection, the remediations where playful and engaging. The difference between a grunt and a wink.

Rapidly moving on, my next stop was The National Gallery and the Seduced by Art exhibition. This exhibition was said to explore “early photography from the mid-19th century and the most exciting contemporary photographs, alongside historical painting”, and in doing so it’s aim was to take a “provocative look at how photographers use fine art traditions, including Old Master painting, to explore and justify the possibilities of their art.” In the end this was an underwhelming experience as the idea of ‘seduction’ was clearly misplaced. There was no sense of the transgressive potential of photography in this exhibition. Instead, it was an extended Art History 101 lecture/slide presentation that was destined to be informative but never sensual. Perhaps it was the cramped space of the exhibition rooms. The audio guide was a good innovation.

Overall, this was a busy day and one can only absorb so much information in such a short time. Locating meaning is not always easily done, especially when work is displayed in environments that are so heavily controlled as these. London is a city that thrives on iconography and appearances, are we not all performers in our own photo-exhibition now?