After our small family sojourn we got on a hugely expensive train for two hours to London. For some reason the public transport in the UK, particularly regional trains to and from London are excruciatingly expensive. Luckily we booked relatively early because I saw same day tickets to London from Manchester for over 100 pounds, that is more than $200! After a stream of precise English countryside and small, cute villages we were back in the city and transferring through the underground. Heading to Bethnal Green where we were to be living for the next week. We quickly learned that Bethnal Green was a really multicultural area very close to the centre of London. It was also a popular gay area and home to a lot of artists and general hipness.
We soon arrived out our flat to be greeted by Marc, one of our housemates who was studying to be an interpreter and was originally from Belgium and had lived in New Zealand for quite a while before settling in London. His boyfriend Jose, originally from Chile and having grown up in Sweden was at work at his new position as a medical product representative. Just another example of the closeness and cross-cultural nature of Europe. After a quick chat we headed out to a recommended restaurant for an early dinner and were pleasantly surprised by the absolutely amazing Indian food. Dotahn had a desert which he quickly devoured, but is still not sure if he liked. It was icy, sour, sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time.
For this leg of the trip through central Europe we wanted to witness first hand many of the artists and institutions we had been studying for the last few years. As well as getting off our provincial island down under and seeing what is happening in the western art world.
So be prepared for the repetitious art onslaught for the next few blogs 😀
We launched ourselves into London with the decision to go for the big guns and headed into central London to visit the Tate Modern. We decided to take the scenic route and took a stroll over Tower Bridge to get a feel for the city. It was picturesque and beautiful with a thrilling mixture of ancient and strikingly modern. The Tower of London seemed to have a giant shard of a tower sticking through it into the clouds.
The Tate Modern loomed above us in all it’s foreboding toweriness and we wasted no time in getting inside. The museum itself was true to the era it represented with a traditionally Modern white cube layout and there was unfortunately nothing in the great hall at the time. It is however, an amazing collection filled with many familiar masterworks as well as some new finds.
Needing a break in the midst of our Tate times we walked across to St Paul’s cathedral to visit this grand architectural monument to God. Which had to be rebuilt four times since it’s first incarnation in 604AD due to multiple fires that have swept through London. The cathedral also housed an artwork by one of our favorite video artist Bill Viola. A piece called Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) which was installed in one of the antechambers.
We wandered through the ornate main area and then decided to climb to the top of the dome so Emmily could get a badge which proves that we “Did the dome.” Up countless stairs at about half way up we reached the Whispering gallery, a circular internal balcony that looked down upon the main hall. A choir began to sing below, filling the dome and making us sit for some time listening and contemplating. After our short break in beautiful song we ascended further for greater and greater views of the rain-filled London town below us.
That night we went to experience another cultural institution which played an important part in our lives. We went clubbing! London is home to many important historical bass movements which were instrumental in our upbringing. We went to Fabric, a seminal drum and bass place of worship, danced our asses off and came home at 4am, delirious and sweaty.
The following day saw us heading out into the local neighborhood to Broadway market. The market was bustling, but not overcrowded and filled with amazing food, clothes and various things. The crowd was diverse and the market had a lovely feeling. We drank juice and wandered for a while before deciding to go looking for some small art spaces. With the assistance of internets we found a nearby gallery and spent some time wandering around what seemed to be a bunch of shuttered industrial workshops and flats. Determind to find the galleies we could clearly see in the digital world we began poking our nose around and walking up random steps. Turns out we were in the right place because we found a gallery behind a closed door and another hiding around a corner. It seemed that space is at such a premium in London that artist run spaces as galleries are a rarity. We had a chat to one of the artists, Seb Camilleri, whose work was amazing. Intricate line-work which was generated from detailed study of the angles and negative spaces within photos.
We continued our exploration of the neighborhood passing by a canal filled with house boats, some of the locals idea of solving the housing shortage problem. Brother Aaron came to mind and we mused that he would be very at home here. Further along and under concrete bridges we came out onto a main street again and spied an unusual shopfront called The Last Tuesday Society, The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities.
We walked in to find a small bar with all manner of curiosities decorating the walls and a taxidermied fez-wearing lioness sitting at one of the tables. A small spiral staircase corkscrewed under the bar with a sign inviting us to venture down to a world that would revel itself as rooms overflowing with an AMAZING collection of………… well it’s hard to describe. But we knew we hit the jackpot of curious oddities. Again we lucked out in chancing upon a cherished artist Tessa Farmer. Her work was woven throughout the various cabinets with cheeky faeries and insects causing trouble no doubt. But things only got better from there, some of the animals seemed incredibly lifelike and, hey look that one moved! Iguanas, chameleons, snakes and tarantulas reveled themselves. Tim Maynard was visiting with his mini zoo of exotic reptiles, amphibians and bugs! Tahn being a huge chameleon fan got to hold one of the critters and Emm became familiar with Delilah the snake.
Time for more markets!
Jose and Marc recommended we check out the local Columbia road flower market. Yep, that’s right, a market just for flowers. Seeming to be quite the popular place to be the floral street was jam packed with people on a mission for flowers. It was a gorgeous sight seeing so many people walking around the neighborhood clutching bunches of flowers.
We quickly went back to the apartment to drop of the orchards we bought for the guys and then…… we went to more markets. Yay! said Emmily. Yay (sarcastic tone) said Dotahn.
The Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch meandered on forever splitting off in all directions with mini markets spawning off around and within. We had definitely hit the gooey centre of London’s hipster central. Speaking of gooey Emm bought the most delicious chocolate truffles EVER and her new favorite green skirt.
What, no art gallery today? you might say. Of course! We can just fit in a visit to Whitechapel galley at the end of Brick lane, how convenient.
So, next on our itinerary was to go to the Serpentine galley. We had also bought tickets to a large theatrical installation called Utopia so we thought we would knock these two out in the same day. Both were on the other side of town and Utopia didn’t open till midday so we took up the advice of Jose and decided to visit the Childhood museum just down the road.
The museum was brimming with children smearing their sticky fingers on the glass cabinets filled with toys throughout time, with areas for them to dress up, draw, and play. There was also a display of the outfits children wore over time. The main exhibit was of dolls houses, one of the most amazing houses was passed through the same family for 170 years from mother to oldest daughter. Until recently the last owner had had no children and donated it to the museum.
Next stop Utopia!
Well, to be perfectly candid it was definitely a dystopia, but aren’t they all. An installation by Penny Woolcock, a filmmaker and artist from the UK, Utopia was a detailed and fascinating work which was generated by talking to people. Recording conversations with people from London, from all walks of life, Penny had constructed a horrifying world to represent the wealth gap in London. A tower of consumerist ideals, a crumbling backstreet complete with broken cars, an old bookstore and a phone box all spoke the stories of people she had interviewed. A lot of the gaps presented had to do with access to quality education and the ability to study in cramped living conditions. A dense factory floor complete with work stations and dark towers of boxes told more stories of injustice. We had heard similar stories about the wealth gap in London. The public transport is so prohibitively expensive, but more so for those who are forced to live far from the centre. Those that live further away can’t afford housing in central location and have to use public transport, so most of their wages are stolen for transport. It seems to be the direction Australia is heading and Utopia painted a scary picture of a system designed to force a class system on a society struggling to retain a sense of community.
After returning into the day light our stomachs demanded lunch so we thought we may as well check out the famous Camden markets just down from Roundhouse. Yay Dotahn, markets markets markets. London sure knows how to do markets. This one was even more chockablock and sprawling then Brick lane.
Anyhoo, we needed to move on to the next galley so we took a walk through Hyde park coming to Serpentine in it’s centre. But it was closed 😦 There was, however, a colourful sculptural pavilion outside serving icecream.
With a free afternoon on our hands and being so close to Buckingham palace we decided to go and pay the Queen a visit. After all she is our Queen too.
Getting into the spirit of Downtown London touristing we headed over to Westminster to see the glory that is Big Ben. During our wanderings Dotahn became intrigued by all the surveillance in contrast to all the historical buildings. It really was true that every square space of London is under surveillance. Of course we stopped by Trafalgar square and the West End as well but Wicked wasn’t playing that night. Instead we ate substandard, expensive Mexican food and went home tired.
Next up, the Saatchi gallery. Once a commercial gallery opened by the billionaire Charles Saatchi it has now been handed over to the people of England as a centre for the contemporary arts priding its self on finding the next big thing in the art world. Although we found the space and curating a little sterile there was some excellent work exhibited. Afterwards we were feeling knackered and went back to the apartment early where we were invited out to the movies with Jose and Marc to see the brilliant action masterpiece Mission Impossible 6 or 17 whatever. It was a great way to give our brains a rest and it was entertaining fodder. Afterwards the four of us went to a local bar in some cellar to partake in some boutique brews.
For our final day in London town we decided to go to the Hayward gallery to experience one of the hot names in art in Europe, Carsten Höller and his exhibition titled ‘Decision’.
The exhibition was truly amazing and innovative. Albeit a little filled with lining up for things. At first we were greeted with two possible entrances, ‘1’ or ‘2’. These entrances constantly shifted their markings between the numbers and made the choice both more difficult and pointless at the same time. We entered and felt our way through a dizzying maze of pitch black metal corridors to finally emerge in a room with a large kinetic sculpture of mushrooms which required human power to turn and to never quite resolve itself. We followed the path and found a large pile of red and white pills with a drinking fountain and therefore our second decision.
Further on we were confronted with the 3rd decision, do we wait in a line for a really long time or not? So we decided to wait in a couple and were pleasantly surprised. The first time with a dance of hospital beds ending in a virtual reality forest which shifted constantly. The second with reflections ending in a mask which shifted the world upside down and make us look like we were from the future.
Then we made our noses grow, or attempted to, some more successfully than others and got to ride a crazy slide out of the exhibition.
After the play of Holler’s exhibition we continued in the spirit of curious amusement by wondering along the Thames into the Love festival. With events celebrating youth throughout various generations to carnival rides, circus and theater. The river bank was a sunny place of happening. Emm even convinced Dotahn to go on the spinny swing.
We made our way home with confidence that we had made the right decision involving both slide and swing and enjoyed a scrumptious home made dinner prepared by the lovely Jose and Marc.
We misjudged you London. You are way more awesome then we thought you would be.