Showing posts with label culture vulture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture vulture. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Ice Ageism

So I went to see the British Museum exhibition about Ice Age art.

It's brilliant, and the skills and craftsmanship of people 40,000 years ago with the most primitive of tools left me slightly freaked out. These were NOT primitive people. These were sophisticated, intelligent, skilful, artistic human beings.

Not only were they able to craft amazingly beautiful and evocative pieces of art, but they also came up with some amazing bits of engineering. There is a doll with moving limbs. There is the use of levers to increase the effectiveness of their spears when hunting. There were cave drawings that behaved like movies in flickering firelight.

So I'm really not sure why the British Museum thought these amazing accomplishments were in any need of modern art to jazz them up.

If that was the intent, then I'm pretty sure they've failed - all that it has made me think is that the now-famous modern artists like Moore, Mondrian and Matisse are just a bunch of derivative copiers.

It's also amazing to think that the finest artists using techniques developed over thousands of years have failed to find a way of recapturing motion in painting that cavemen in front of a flickering fire could manage. We needed to get motion pictures before we finally outdid that.

But the most powerful emotion that gripped me was a creeping sense of fear and of wonder: what happened 40,000 years ago that turned us from apes into fully-fledged humans with such incredible talents apparently overnight? That question remains unanswered and still haunts me powerfully.

Unusually for art, it left me questioning the very essence and origin of humanity. It is quite possibly the most powerful art I've ever seen.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Light Show

The Hayward Gallery has once again come up trumps with the amazing Light Show.

A collection of different presentations of the effects of light, ranging from the quiet, simple beauty of David Batchelor's "Magic Hour" or Francois Morellet's "Lamentable" through Leo Villareal's strangely fascinating "Cylinder II" to Bill Culbert's sneaky "Bulb Box Reflection II", there is an endless array of light-related trickery on display.

Some fascinating optical illusions are on display, especially in some of the larger pieces.

There was a massive queue for James Turrell's "Wedgework V". I'm not convinced it was worth it, but it did give you ample time to study one of the cleverest pieces on display: Jim Campbell's "Exploded View (Commuters)" which looks like a collection of unassuming, twee, twinkling lights, until you see it from the correct angle. At that moment you realise that the patterns of the lights switching on and off randomly turns into you watching the random motions of morning commuters going to work.

However, the most amazing bit of light-trickery was definitely the strobe-lit water garden by Olafur Eliasson, "Model for a Timeless Garden". A constant high-speed strobe reveals the extraordinary, fascinating, ever-changing beauty of the simplest of fountains, mists and sprinkler jets.

A strange mixture of peaceful stillness and fascinating motion, visual trickery and stunning simplicity, there is something here for everyone, from the innocent toddler to the seasoned aesthete.

Go see it.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

More Strange Hungers

The wonderful, naughty, witty Sadie Hennessy has a small exhibition of more of her Strange Hungers at the A Brooks Gallery.

Prolific and unpretentious, Sadie makes engaging art that is thought-provoking, funny and surprisingly affordable. Although the A Brooks gallery is quite small, there's a lovely selection from Sadie's work and many of her seedy, dodgy postcards and badges are there too. Good enough to frame, cheap enough to use as a genuine postcard, her art is easy to consume and well worth a quick trip to Hoxton.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

What is wrong with the curators at Saatchi?

The Saatchi Gallery is one of the best spaces for displaying art in London. A beautiful building, with large (but not too large) spaces, big enough to do justice to any artist or genre, but small enough to get through in a reasonable time. The Tate, for instance, can be overwhelming. The Saatchi, size-wise and location-wise is really just about perfect.

But they really seem to have no fucking taste when it comes to art.

I do realise that art is a very personal thing, and that modern art is more about the reaction that it provokes than about the quality of the work, but really, the Saatchi seems to give far too much preference to slap-dash, half-assed "craftsmanship".

After the creative brilliance of the Hayward's Chinese exhibition, I was really looking forward to the two Russian art exhibitions at the Saatchi: GAIETY IS THE MOST OUTSTANDING FEATURE OF THE SOVIET UNION and BREAKING THE ICE: MOSCOW ART, 1960-80s.

While the photos in the "Gaiety" part of the exhibition were technically accomplished and Mikhailov's horrifying and graphic pictures of Ukrainian poverty were thought-provoking, there was a depressing lack of effort displayed in the paintings and installations. I feel that if an artist leaves their art looking like it was thrown together without any effort or thought, I'm not particularly inspired think about what the artist might be trying to say. I find it hard to get past the slapdash nature of the work.

I always walk out of the Saatchi feeling a bit like the artists have said: "That Saatchi will show any old shit, so that's what I'm going to give them."

It's just as well they don't charge, or I'd be asking for my money back.

Monday, 11 February 2013

A damper squib

So, A Bigger Splash.

I was really looking forward to this. I found it to be irritatingly pretentious tosh that left me wanting to punch someone. It belongs in the Saatchi Gallery, it's so fucking stupid.

Don't bother.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Jay Gun / Hello Friend

On Tuesday night I went to the private viewing of the new combined exhibition at the WW Gallery.

Jay Rechsteiner is a Swiss national living in London. His half of the exhibition is "Jay Gun: The Most Dangerous Man on the Planet" and his exhibition mocks the fetishism of guns, particularly in American culture. I was prepared to find it a bit sanctimonious, but after chatting with Jay, I found that inside he still considers himself a little boy who likes to play with guns. ArseAnal's video clip probably only needs "Yakkety Sax" over the top to make it into a Benny Hill-level spoof and he has even brought a BB-gun to the exhibition for people to shoot.

I enjoyed the workmanship and the humour (and the chat with the artist!) but the art didn't really speak to me.

Moving over to Siobhan Barr's exhibition, "Hello Friend", I was much more engaged. Siobhan's work is very much my idea of fun, based on her experiences of dealing with spam, and using Google auto-complete.

Witty, clever, well-researched and most of all, very, very funny, I was once again inspired to buy a piece (and maybe even two!) as they were so apposite to my life.

Since we all spend our lives dealing with google and spam and the vicissitudes of the Internet, her work is both current yet somehow timeless. Even when the Google auto-completes move on, we will still all understand and get the humour of these pieces.

I think it's fair to say that the WW Gallery have a winner on their hands with this exhibition. Some of the art is in the "very affordable" category and I'd be amazed if some of the stuff there doesn't speak to you.

Go and see it!

More here. And here.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Klein / Moriyama

I eventually made it to the Klein / Moriyama exhibition at the Tate Modern last weekend. The exhibition runs until 20 January, so there isn't a lot of time left to see it.

And see it you most assuredly must.

I had heard of Klein, but not of Moriyama, so my attendance was very much focused on the former's work.

Extravagant, multi-faceted and in many ways as large, brash and vulgar as New York itself, Klein's art is much more than just photography. He created abstract art as well as some intriguing films. However, his art and films struck me as a little self-indulgent and pretentious, very much on the edge of vulgarity.

There can be no doubt, however, that as occasionally pretentious and ostentatious as Klein's photo's could be, he had a marvellous eye for composing photos and for capturing subjects at moments that overflow with pathos, drama, emotion and excitement, while retaining beautiful simplicity and power.

This left me entirely unprepared for Moriyama's work. Described as a member of the "avant-garde" photographers of the late 1960's, I had been expecting something like the tosh I occasionally knock out on Instagram.

Not realising how the two exhibitions merged into one another, I, walked into a room and thought: "Blimey - Klein stepped it up a gear here." Then I realised I was in the first room of Moriyama's pictures and I was absolutely transfixed. Every one of his photos, despite their apparent "happy snap" nature told a story, or provoked questions or both.

Their rough simplicity and use of texture occasionally left me reeling with the power of the emotion they raised in me. From casual eroticism to fish being filleted to cats, Moriyama's work left me quite stunned. So much so that I went back to the start and saw the whole exhibition again.

Go see it. I think I could probably spend a week in the Moriyama exhibition alone.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ansel Adams vs Dayanita Singh

Last weekend, I headed over to the National Maritime Museum for their extensive Ansel Adams exhibition.

Ansel Adams was a sickly child who was given a Kodak Brownie camera as a young teenager and immediately displayed a remarkable talent for the relatively new technology of photography. Even his earliest photos reveal an "eye" for taking a superb composition, despite having only the most primitive of cameras.

The exhibition spans a number of different themes of Adams work, spanning static and dynamic views of the countryside, with a distinct emphasis on the grand vista. All of Adams's work is in black and white, and much like Chris Orr, he believes that half of the process of his art is in taking the photo, and half of it is in the printing process. He frequently reprinted prints over the years.

The photos are impressive and the NMM have made a real effort to make the exhibition comprehensive, with a movie of an excellent interview of Adams, books and also user-submitted content inspired by Adams.

You know there's a "but" coming, don't you?

But after all that, the photos themselves left me completely underwhelmed. As impressive and well-composed as they were, I left the exhibition feeling like I'd been looking at someone's holiday snaps. There was no emotion apparent, the photos were simply technically good photos.

Possibly one of the omissions from his photos is the absence of any human element to give scale or emotion to the pictures.

In contrast to this, Dayanita Singh's File Museum exhibition at the Frith Street Gallery is full of humour and humanity, despite the claustrophobic and monotonous subject matter.

Basically, just a collection of snapshots of people at work in a paper archive in India, and yet somehow there's a warmth and variety of texture and tone that was somehow was absent from Adams's work.

So if I had to choose which one to go to, I'd definitely advocate a free visit to the Frith Street Gallery rather than pay to go to the NMM.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Those who dream by night

This weekend I saw some art that truly astounded me. At the Haunch of Venison, I saw Patricia Piccinini's extraordinary exhibition Those who dream by night.

After the surreal weirdness of the Art of Change I wasn't expecting to see anything that blew me away quite so much for a while yet, but the Haunch of Venison certainly pulled one out of the hat.

Patricia Piccinini's speciality is to create incredibly complete, realistic models of creatures that don't exist; a sort of surreal taxidermy of creatures of her imagination. Most of these are organic creations and I was childishly amused by her apparent obsession with sphincters. The first couple of creations are relatively small, but remarkably detailed. However, when you venture further into the exhibition, the creatures get more complex and more astonishing.

Upstairs, the jewel in the exhibition's crown must be The Carrier, which was disturbing in the extreme after seeing "In The Blink Of An Eye" at the aforementioned Chinese exhibition. A vaguely humanoid primate carrying an old lady on his hands is done with such incredible attention to detail that it's hard to believe it's not real.

But even though the organic creatures are jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly impressive and accomplished, it was her piece called The Lovers that truly blew me away as an accomplishment. It is so flawlessly created that I could have sworn it was a cunning bit of massaging of real equipment.

It's not a massive exhibition, but by heaven it is some of the most extraordinary work I've every seen and even if you aren't taken by the whimsy or horror of the creations, you will be stunned by the craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Definitely one to see!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Art of Change - New Directions from China

Yesterday, I nipped out in my lunch hour to grab a viewing of the Art of Change exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

And rather than start off by telling you why you should go, I'm going to start by saying: stop fucking reading this and get your arse off to the Hayward right away. DO NOT MISS THIS EXHIBITION which ends on Sunday the 9th December 2012.

Right, now that's out of the way, let me congratulate the Hayward for another outstanding, witty, amusing, intelligent, provocative, superlative exhibition. This show is everything that contemporary art should be.

First and foremost, don't be put off in any way because the works are Chinese - there are some cultural nuances that add flavour to the work if you consider them, but the exhibition works wonderfully well on all levels: just as some amazing things to look at or experience, as works that make you contemplate your own life and society in the light of others and then as works that make you reflect on a culture you might not know or understand.

Some of the works are a bit "right-on" (Revolution Castings), some are amusingly interactive (Xu Shen's Untitled featuring exercise machines), some are genuinely surreal (Actions of Consciousness made me piss myself laughing), some of them are clever (I didn't notice what I am doing), some of them are provocative (Sleeping, In Between and Patience) and I couldn't possibly do any of them justice by trying to describe them.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't highlight Yingmei Duan's haunting and beautiful Happy Yingmei, which required me to crawl through a little hole in the wall into a dark cavern with a nightmarish landscape and wonderful aethereal singing by the artist. I stood at the end of the room, delighting in her voice and she haltingly and eerily came over to me singing all the time, folding and unfolding and reading a piece of paper and handed me the piece of paper with a handwritten message on it:

It seems that everyone gets a different message, so you actually walk away with a memento artwork as part of seeing the work!

So, if you want to spend an hour or two being challenged, amused, entertained, baffled and enthralled: GO!


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Null Object

Last week I went to a private viewing of Null Object: Gustav Metzger thinks about nothing:

NULL OBJECT will exhibit the results of the collaboration between London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson) and internationally celebrated artist Gustav Metzger to create a sculptural work by linking a computer-brain interface with industrial manufacturing technology.

Using bespoke software, London Fieldworks produced 3D shape information from EEG readings of Metzger’s brainwaves as he attempted to think about nothing. This data was translated into instructions for a manufacturing robot, which carved out the shapes from the interior of a block of stone to create a void space.

As well as the sculptural representation of Gustav Metzger thinking about nothing, exhibits will include a film of the carving of the stone as well as other documentation of the development and delivery of the work.

Conceptually, it sounded pretty interesting, although it clearly had the potential to be incredibly pretentious.

And sadly, so it turned out. The work itself was merely a jagged hole in two pieces of granite that had been cemented together to make a block. The much more interesting cast of what was removed was represented by a tiny 3-D printing of the removed space. The shape of this object was fascinating and intriguing, but only available in the smallest of models so you couldn't really analyse the consequences of thinking about nothing.

The accompanying video of the carving process and soundtrack of running water was disappointingly trite and uninformative.

There was no indication of the technology or methods used to interpret the brainwaves and no information on what the brainwave patterns produced or how they were represented. A classic example of an interesting and unusual idea generating more heat and smoke than light and really a rather disappointing experience. As an idea, it was so exciting, as an experience, it failed to deliver.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Chance would be a fine thing

Saturday was a good day. On my way back from the Wunderkabinett, I serendipitously wandered in to the Mile End Art Pavilion to see the London Independent Photography exhibition "Chance would be a fine thing".

The works on display were from a wide range of photographers, all with their own styles and their own take on what constituted "chance". Some of the blurb accompanying the photos was pretentious tosh, but the photos themselves were rather good.

Ranging from homeless people to the surreal patterns of architecture to the intersection of geometric buildings with people wandering about doing nothing in particular, it was interesting to see how many ways you could interpret chance and what the consequences of your interpretation would be.

I was particularly inspired after an afternoon out savouring and photographing the rich colours of autumn to see that one of the photographers had gone out in search of a colour and then followed the person wearing that colour around, snapping them, until someone else came along wearing that colour. It was an amusing conceit that actually led to some incredible pictures.

I may give that one a shot myself!

Monday, 19 November 2012


I don't even remember where I saw the link that led me to 11 Mare St in Hackney, but I thought it would make an interesting diversion for an idle Saturday.

A gentle stroll along Regents Canal left me peckish, so I tried the Hackney Bureau for a fryup sarnie and a generous supply of eye-candy. Then I wandered over to the Last Tuesday Society.

There is a nominal £2 charge to wander around the cluttered collection of weirdness, but it is more than worth it. There is also a £5 fee to allow you to take photos, which, oddly, I'm glad I didn't spend. There is no way my humble photography skills would have done this place any justice at all.

The shop is a curious reflection on birth, life, death, sex and the tangled mess it all is: crammed with books, trinkets, mementos, mounted insects, pictures and taxidermy in an unstructured omnishambles, empty old medicine bottles are side by side with large bottles containing fish fairies and other eerie creatures. Winged cats, mounted butterflies and bird skeletons vie for place with vintage erotica and gothic tat. A curious metaphor for life: messy, beautiful, scary, ugly and weird.

There are a number of pieces of what is clearly intended to be art, but because they're just rammed in with everything else, it's possible to say that they elevate everything in the shop into a form of art, or perhaps they become expensive and improbably useless fripperies like all the other objects in the shop.

I was fortunate enough to be inside the shop on my own, which made the visit downstairs particularly eerie. It was a peculiar combination of the Hunterian Museum and the Natural History Museum, curated by someone off their tits on mind-altering drugs.

I cannot commend this place highly enough, I will be dragging everyone I know off to see it.

And truly, you haven't lived until you've seen a stuffed lion sitting at a table, as though waiting for a cup of tea!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Times Have Changed

It's been a while since I bought any music, mostly because I got into house music, which changes so fast that it's almost pointless buying anything and because I get all the house music I like from podcasts.

However, my twitter mate the Pillsbury Doughboy, who, I must stress, still owes me fucking lunch, took the ballsy step of releasing an album called Times Have Changed and eventually I succumbed to him nagging like a fucking bitch and bought it.

Much to my surprise, it turned out to be pretty good.

A mix of grimy blues, bitter-sweet "singer-songwriter" and some haunting ballads work together really well. It has stood up to repeated listening and I actually liked all the songs.

My favourite tracks are probably "Dirty Blues" and "Kingdom of Dust", but even the ones I wasn't entirely sure of at first, like "If I Don't See You Tonight" have grown on me.

So, head over to Amazon or iTunes and hand over the readies. Maybe if he becomes minted from this, the fat fucker will finally buy me the lunch he owes me!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Long View - reflected

On Tuesday night I was lucky enough to attend a lecture at the Geological Society by Chris Orr, called "The Long View - reflected"

Chris is an artist who specialises in creating turbulent visions of cities, with drawingy / paintingy pictures brimful of details that expose themselves as fascinating tales.

As a Londoner, Chris has very strong views about the importance of the River Thames and, indeed, any river, in the definition of the character and nature of a city.

The work that gives the name to his talk is based on the ancient and famous painting above, The Long View of London from Bankside by Wenceslaus Hollar. Purely by chance, Chris found himself in a venue where the view was very similar to that of Hollar's painting. He attempted to create a modern overlay of today's London on top of Hollar's picture, but it simply didn't work, too much had changed and it was impossible to work out what was going on, so he revisited the work purely as a current representation of the view from that point.

Chris's work spans many styles, from the sleekly natural through bold monochrome "graphic" through Giles-like cartoons to chaotic, almost cubist representations. One of the key aspects of his work is that he prefers to make prints of his paintings and generally sells to people who he either knows or comes to know. His passion for making prints was particularly striking and his description of the difference between making the original painting and making the prints was a bit of a revelation for this uncultured lout, who had always assumed that the business of print-making was about maximising profit.

His talk, focusing on the importance of and history of the Thames in defining London's very existence and nature was unusual in that it didn't focus on individual pictures, but rather tumbled, very much like a river, over an ever changing backdrop of pictures both by himself and by others, of London and of the Thames in London.

His thoughts on how London almost used to be ashamed of the Thames, how it used to be hidden from almost everyone unless you were crossing a bridge; how pollution and smog conspired to make it unattractive; and how, since it had been cleaned up, it has opened up and become an attraction was thought-provoking.

Chris is convinced (and makes a pretty compelling case for his conviction!) that cities with rivers through them tend to be better at making the connections that make cities such important and interesting places and providing a better definition of the city, a more engaging environment for people to live.

Although this appeared to be a one-off talk at this venue, I'm fairly sure the talk, or parts of it, will be repeated and it's well worth the chance to hear Chris speak.

There is a much better discussion of the talk here.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A day out

I had a day out in London, stopping off at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to experience the Bruce Nauman sound installation, Days.

The installation consists of a number of suspended acoustic panels (speakers, to you or me!) which each play a random pattern of one of several voices reciting the days of the week.

This may sound (ho! ho!) like a pretentious nonsense, but as you walk around the installation, the patterns, rhythms and cadences of the different voices have different effects, varying from a general hubbub to a hypnotic drumbeat to an insistent clamour.

I was amazed at how the effect changed depending on where you stood, often the smallest change in location leading to a dramatically different effect.

Overall, the effect was mostly one of curious, light-hearted whimsy and I left the ICA with a broad grin on my face.

If you're near the Mall, stop in and be diverted.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Show me the Monet

Set over several floors in the Albert Dock, Tate Liverpool is currently hosting a comparative exhibition of the later paintings of Turner, Monet and Twombly.

Although the space at the Albert dock is a lot smaller than, say, the Tate Modern, it has been very well structured and the rooms are airy and bright and do justice to some enormous works quite comfortably.

Unfortunately, my visit was a bit of a rush, so I didn't have as much time to reflect on individual works as much as I would have liked.

However, I very quickly identified that I had a strong response to the three artists, which remained consistent as I explored both levels of the Later Paintings exhibit.: Monet's work was absorbing, beautiful and stood out in every room for its vibrant colour and the aching beauty and romance; Turner's was much more opaque, but some of his larger works like his Hero and Leandro showed surprising and arresting details, drawing you in and rewarding more than they would superficially appear to; and Twombly ... well, it did provoke a fairly consistent reaction, which was irritation.

So, let's get Cy out of the way: while one or two of his works had an interesting use of colour and a hint of composition that made me think that I'd have them on my wall, most of them left me thinking either "pretentious twat" or "that looks like someone tipped a bucket of paint over a canvas and decided to sell it".

I couldn't really see what the hell Twombly's work was doing there, other than he'd apparently made a conscious effort to associate himself with painters who were much better than he was.

My take on Turner was a lot more mixed. He is known for the beige opacity of his paintings, moody and vague with (in many cases) only the faintest hint of structure and detail, but the longer you regard them, the more ghostly hints appear ... and disappear when you try to fix on them!

Technically, Turner's work is quite thought-provoking and intriguing, but the overall beigeness of his art led to me feeling equally beige about looking at it. Some of it was beautiful (I'd love to have his Hero and Leandro!) but somehow I didn't feel an emotional response to it. I could appreciate it as being "pretty" or "beautiful" even, and I could really appreciate the technical achievement and how he plays with your mind and your eye, but somehow when I walked away, I just didn't give a shit.

Monet, however, was an entirely different kettle of fish. Although his water lilies are probably his signature (ha! ha!) works, there were some of his less well-known (to me, anyway!) seascapes, like the Pyramids at Port Coton or Côte Sauvage leapt out at me as I walked into the gallery. I found myself moved by them, their wildness and romance lifting my heart. If I must be totally honest, I found myself somewhat less moved by the water lilies, probably due to over-familiarity.

I constantly found my eyes wandering over to Monet's works, even when I was consciously trying to focus on a Turner or a Twombly.

So, it was a very interesting exhibition overall, I'm not sure Twombly's inclusion particularly added anything, but I suppose there will be others who will feel I am just a snobbish Philistine!

On the 2nd floor of the gallery, however, a particular surprise awaited me - a sponsored exhibition called "This is Sculpture", which included a piece made of iron and braided leather that had me completely and utterly stymied as it appeared to float in mid-air! It took me a damn long time to figure it out, so I'm not going to tell you the trick!

Although called "This is Sculpture", the exhibition included paintings by Dali and Warhol and Duchamp's "Fountain" as well as Dali's "Lobster Telephone". I was quite stunned to see so many incredible, important and famous works in such a relatively small exhibition.

There was also an extensive display of the moulds and forms Philip Treacy uses to make his famous hats and fascinators.

My ultimate emotion after seeing this museum was regret - regret that I hadn't more time to spend there! There are so many amazing, absorbing pieces of art there that I don't feel it would be unreasonable to spend the best part of a day there just taking it all in.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Merseyside Maritime Museum

Well, when in Rome and all that.

I toddled off to the Merseyside Maritime Museum for a quick squizz specifically at the International Slavery Museum.

On the way up I popped in to see the exhibition "Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story". Basically, the untold story in question seems to be "we have this model of the Titanic, let's jump on the Titanic bandwagon".

This left me slightly irritated.

My mood did not improve in the slightest when I when to the slavery exhibition. It was a "vibrant celebration of African culture" with loads of words carved into walls, loads of twats talking UTTER shit on video screens and only a handful of exhibits that actually related to slavery.

I really can't see where Liverpool gets its reputation for mawkish sentimentality from.


Monday, 20 August 2012


Rather crossly, I discovered that someone AGAIN beat me to this one, despite me not seeing any evidence that it had even been noticed.

This left me a rather grumpy clown.

However, worse things happen at sea and I braved the hottest day of the year to walk from Kings Cross to see Traces.

This turned out to be one of the worse things. It was hot. Damn hot. Hotter than this was my pants. I was doing a little bit of crotchpot cooking.*

Anyway, I had already reviewed all the clues and worked out where the venue was (which is an interesting situation when you consider it!) and after crossing Hoxton's main drag, I came to an anonymous building with a green door.

The building looked like it was condemned, or if not, as though it should have been. With some trepidation, I walked in and found myself in a dingy room, occupied by achingly cool Hoxton hipsters.

Dank and hot and very dark, the room was the recreation of a Victorian speakeasy, with serried ranks of gin bottles behind the bar. A lovely lady took my ticket and then explained the deal - the room I was in, and then the rooms upstairs. The walls of the "pub" were battered and there were fragments of adverts and notices that related to Victorian jobs and services.

The catalogue for the event was disguised an issue of The Borough of Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer - a newspaper dated August 16th, 1878. Stories of the time describe the crimes and grumps of the day. If anyone labours under the illusion that tedious sermonising is something new, trust me, it is almost impossible to tell this newspaper apart from today's Daily Mail.

In trying to find my way upstairs, I feel it's only fair to point out that I managed to stumble, Clouseau-like, into the broom closet. But luckily, I don't think anybody noticed, so I got away with it.


Anyway, I did make it upstairs eventually. There were basically three rooms upstairs. One was just a collection of gubbins that were for sale. Some were interesting and though-provoking, some were rather mundane.

The next room was the crux of the exhibition to me - two desks with letters and books, created to look for all the world like the desks of two Victorian entrepreneurs - one running the bar downstairs, one running the brothel upstairs.

The bar owner's was an uncomfortable, uncompromising metal desk. I can't actually imagine someone buying such a nasty piece of furniture, but maybe as a practical, cheap desk from the time, it would have done the job. The letters were really banal, or perhaps the banality is just because the problems described are happening to someone else. I recognised almost all of his life in my own.

The other desk was more what you'd expect a Victorian desk to look like, somewhat plusher and more suited to the appearance of a brothel. The book contained a surprisingly detailed record of who'd been schtupping the "girls" (in the case of Lulu, "girl" was very much the active word).

The last room was evidently supposed to be a room where a "girl" might entertain a gentleman. Smelling of dried flowers and a hint of citrus, and decorated with trinkets and pictures (of the girls) it was very much a female place. Incongruously, the bed was strewn with flowers and a stuffed Jack Russell terrier.

Although the point of the exhibition was to read the letters and books and derive the tale of the place, unfortunately, by the time I got there (which really wasn't that late!) everything had been scrambled, and the fact that it was incredibly hot and humid and there was a steady stream of people who were waiting their turn to get their hands on the exhibit, left me feeling uncomfortable with the time it would take to do the detective work properly.

Consequently, although I could appreciate the amount of effort that went into creating the environment and I appreciated the technical skill of workmanship, I didn't "get" the whole thing in the same way as the lovely @clareangela did.

This was a real pity to me, as I glimpsed that there was a hint of genuine fascination there, but I just didn't feel comfortable taking the necessary time to explore it. When you go to a gallery, it pretty much doesn't matter how busy it is, you can get to see everything and make a reasonable judgment of the art.

Because you really had to do a lot of detective work riffling through letters (which had all gotten mixed up) it doesn't really work too well - there's a lesson to be learned there for future iterations of the exhibition!

I left the exhibition ultimately unfulfilled and slightly disappointed - I felt like I had missed out on something with a lot of potential. Hopefully, the next iteration of the project will deliver something as interesting and challenging, but that can cope with the number of people traipsing through.

*Copyright Robin Williams

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dies Irae

On Monday night, I entered the London Guildhall for the first time to watch the awesome EC4 Music perform Verdi's Requiem.

It's now the third EC4 Requiem I've heard, and I have to say, it was a stunning accomplishment. It must be murder on the choir and the soloists, because it's such a demanding and complex piece of music. I was exhausted when it finished, God only knows how the musicians must have felt!

However, they soared through the work with so much passion, enthusiasm and enjoyment that it was truly a pleasure to behold.

The show started off with us all singing Psalm 100 to the old tune - the irony of a dirge-like tune accompanying a "joyful noise" was not lost on me!

The Requiem proper is an awe-inspiring piece of work, with the Dies Irae "catchphrase" repeated several times - which is good, because it's such a lovely bit of music.

Unusually, this Requiem has a lot of "solo" i.e., non-choir, singing. The four soloists were incredible and they delivered their parts wonderfully.

Although the Guildhall is a beautiful venue with surprisingly good acoustics, I did find that not being able to see the choir properly was less than ideal. I also felt that the orchestra slightly overpowered the vocals, possibly as a consequence of the shape of the venue, apparently it was a lot more demanding to project voices in there.

As ever it was an amazing experience to see this extraordinarily talented amateur musical force. I can't commend them highly enough!