Monday, 23 April 2012

Rain, rain....

I’ve had a very quiet last 10 days thanks mostly to the free gift of a chest infection that came with my cold two weeks ago. A strongly worded talking to from Mum sent me to the doctor on Monday and I’m now working my way through a heavy dose of antibiotics. Oh the joy. I think because I tend to diagnose hypochondria before anything else I didn’t actually stop to consider my inability to breathe properly and what that might mean. I’m still quite exhausted, wan - in that fabulous Victorian sense of being both weak and white – and going through the tissues, but am stubbornly on the mend. And would be pushing on even if I wasn’t.

Thankfully the weather has co-operated marvellously and provided ideal indoor weather throughout – we’re talking heavy rain with thunder and lightning, single digit temperatures and a bracing wind. Delightful. And they’ve just forecast the coldest May in a hundred years so that should be something to look forward to. Or should I say to look forward to escaping. See you soon New York.

I wish I could say I took this with an arty filter...
The weather has been rubbish since Easter really. The winds and spitting rain on Easter Sunday that accompanied us on our trip to Hatfield House only gave the big, dark manor an even more austere feeling. And last Friday when we went to dinner in Notting Hill it was the chillies in the Pad Thai at the Churchill Arms and not the should-be-balmy-season that warmed our bones.

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
I’m not sure if I’ve written about the Churchill Arms before. It’s this totally quirky pub in Notting Hill, on the 27 bus route towards Kensington High St and is probably best known for its evolving foliage. At Christmas time it’s covered in small fir trees and lights – in Spring (otherwise known as now despite all evidence to the contrary) it looks like this:

Inside it’s a hoarder’s delight. Everything hangs from everywhere a la higgledy-piggledy – ceramic pots and pewter jugs dangle from the roof; signs, certificates, photographs and strange charts jostle on the walls, skewed perilously, and throughout the bar and into the always-busy Thai restaurant out the back, there’s even more foliage. Heading to the loos feels like an amble through someone’s neglected greenhouse. And because of all this and more, the place is something of an institution and is thus regularly jammed with people. We were there with some freshly betrothed Aussie friends for an overdue catch up and had a grand time talking wedding planning survival strategies between mouthfuls of noodles.

Inside The Churchill Arms
This weekend has also been punctuated by some great meals. On Friday we had Argentinian steak at Buen Ayre on Broadway Market with an extended collection of some of my most favourite Antipodeans and then last night we caught up with Tor and Andy at Wahaca, the ultimate triple treat of great friends, guacamole and salty margaritas.

Today has been blissfully uneventful. I’ve pottered about the house while Lovely Boy’s been out and I have unapologetically enjoyed having the whole house to myself. Space is such a rare commodity in London – headspace, personal space, regular old space space – that lately I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to be home alone. I did occur to me today that next weekend I might take myself off to Regents Park for a picnic with the papers and to find some open space to occupy. But then of course I looked at the forecast. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Martin Creed crush and a date to Sketch

I rather love the work of Martin Creed. There’s a manly sort of whimsy to much of it, leaving aside his more-realist-than-needs-be Sick and Sex films, which I encountered for the first time at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 2008 while still studying my MA. There are times when an image really shouldn’t get stuck in your head…

But there’s a deftness too in the way he ascribes art amongst the ordinary and everyday and a sense of amusement too, more than perhaps humour. I’m not sure if you would call it conceptual art punctured by an unpretentious realism or realist art with a witty and knowing surrealist bent.

Martin Creed, Work No. 227, 2001
Creed is perhaps most famous for winning the Turner Prize in 2001 for his Work No.227 – the infamous room with the lights that turned themselves on and off. But I’m thinking of his 2008 Duveen Commission for Tate Britain, Work no. 850, where an athlete ran the length of the Duveen Galleries, full pelt, every 30 seconds, every day from July to November and Work No. 409 (2005), that’s now installed in the JCB lift at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. Here, a recording plays every time the lift is used: a group of singers’ voices rise and fall as the lift ascends and descends. It’s both theatrically daggy and unapologetically it is what it is that you can’t help but like it.

Martin Creed, Work No. 850, 2008
Aaaanyway. Creed’s latest work can be found at Sketch on Conduit St. Sketch is many things – achingly cool among them – but in amongst the kinetic sculptures, members bars and impressive cocktail lists there’s also a restaurant. I’ve been to Sketch once before – to the bar with someone who knew someone who worked on the door and I caught a glimpse of the restaurant then on my way to the famed bathrooms (google it to believe it). At the time, it had wallpaper in the form of some sort of video art, with deer ambling their way across the walls. Now, the restaurant has Martin Creed.

Specifically, it has Work No. 1343 and Work No. 1347, two works specially commissioned in the first of a programme of artist-conceived restaurants at Sketch. The commission specifically is to create an environment that is “at once an exhibition, an artwork and a restaurant” and that was all I needed to know to make a booking for Lovely Boy and myself over the Easter long weekend. Tori would be horrified, chef Pierre Gagnaire would likely be offended, but I didn’t even bother to look at the menu before making the booking, such is my Commitment To Contemporary Art.

Martin Creed redefining a pop-up menu at Sketch
Lovely Boy thought we should postpone, what with my hacking, gagging and trailing tissues but I was nothing if not charmingly stubborn. And I’m so glad we went. And not just because the food was as good as the art.

Martin Creed Work No. 1347 & Work No. 1343, 2012
(With the lights on....) Image c/ Sketch
Creed’s two works take in the floor - Work No. 1347 - 96 different types of earthy coloured marble from all around the world, arranged in zigzag formation across the room and then Work No. 1343 – basically everything else. Creed has taken out the tables, chairs, cutlery, glassware, crockery, light fittings, lamps, bar stools and video art and replaced everything with something unique. It’s a dazzling partnership of art and function as handmade meets mass-produced with antiques, contemporary design and junk store chic coming together across decades and continents to create a dynamic, colourful, clever but resolutely unpretentious space where no two objects are the same.

A nice press image c/ Sketch
We were sat at a yellow Formica table, my seat an old wooden swivel chair with inlaid designs and a horse embroidered cushion and my wine glass a memento from the Willesden West Rotary Club. The gentleman at the table next to us was sitting in one of those lecture hall seats with the attached desk while across the room another chair was covered entirely in what looked like leather post-it notes. Each wall had its own large-scale work of art and only the bar staff matched in their smart black and white striped shirts.

Some more press images c/ Sketch

It was such an engaged, lively, lovely environment to be in, with the mishmash of lights overhead washing the space in a warm, intimate light and the way in which the outdoor furniture negated the ostentatious Chanel jewellery of its sitter across the room. Our waiter told us that every evening the room is rearranged so no two experiences are the same. It’s like that childhood birthday game where you move amongst the chairs in time to the music but instead of one being removed, it’s simply replaced. And happily, no one goes without cake.  

Our collection of wine and water glasses
Refreshingly, given the whole set up, the service was totally without pretension and the staff were as informed about Creed’s work as they were about the menu. Broadbean soup with goats cheese for entree, veal blanquette for main and sorbet and macaroons for dessert, the food was a perfect mix of interesting and delicious and I can still taste the bubblegum in Lovely Boy’s dessert, something called a Malabar featuring Bourbon vanilla-infused milk, strawberry mousse, bubble gum ice cream and marshmallow. Bloody hell it was good.

As an art experiece, it was joyous – humorous, democratic, memorable. As a food experience, it was sophisticated and fun. I’m not sure what else you can ask for, but my admiration for Creed continues, as does my love for non-traditional art-filled, art-fuelled environs.

It was such a special night, one of those crazy truly London-only moments, reinforced by the amble home down Regents St to Piccadilly Circus tube. I have to confess it wasn’t a cheap night but then, only Damien Hirst puts a price on art right? 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Notting Hill nights and a spring in my step

When thinking about this post, albeit last week, I had visions of myself sitting down to write, staring smugly out the window toward the blue skies and blossoms that were then gracing London. If the lesson wasn’t made pointedly clear by the clock I spotted this week on Peckham Rd then it has been now by the fact I’m sitting on the bed, swaddled in blankets and layers of fleece and going through a box of tissues at the rate of snots. That and it’s grey and miserable outside, back to single digit temperatures and the long range forecast is for (yet more) rain.

I’m not too despondent about it all – though my blocked ears are absolutely giving me the shits – daylight savings has started, and while it’s windy and cold, the trees are still ruthlessly turning green, my magnolia trees are blooming and the cherry blossoms respond to gales by shedding a delight of blooming confetti. I love spring. If potential had a time of year, spring would be it. Before it turned to pants earlier this week, we had a glorious nearly fortnight of perfect weather.

Last Friday was the last of those lovely days and thankfully I made the most of it. I took the afternoon off work, sauntering home via Putney to pick up the other framed screen print Lovely Boy and I bought at the Art Fair, before putting on my Jimmy’s and heading to Notting Hill to meet Katie, Nina and Jen for a cocktail and dinner. It was a trip to the mild, mild west for my girl o' the east but they, like me, have a special spot in their hearts for the charms of Notting Hill and so there we went, ambling down the beautiful leafy roads with their spectacularly beautiful houses and lovely posh shops. 

Anyway, I’ve been waiting 12 months to take these sparkling gold shoes out for a spin. Their extravagant purchase was made over a year ago and “justified” (if only barely…) by the fact I planned to wear them to the wedding. Before January 7 the only outings they had were around the house while I broke them in, usually while wearing Lovely Boy’s tracksuit pants. And so since their debut in January – where they ended up discarded on the grass - they and I have been waiting for an occasion and Friday was it. Dorothy knew the power of a pair of sparkly shoes and while without them I’m sure the night would have been just as divine, the shoes definitely put a seasonal spring in my step…

the naff obligatory shoes shot taken
by every wedding photographer out
there - even despite my protestations
Proceedings kicked off at Beach Blanket Babylon, a restaurant and bar in an old Georgian mansion on Ledbury Rd. The d├ęcor is pure girls-night-out: baroque light fittings, gilt mirrors, candles, chandeliers, quirky flower arrangements in quirky china teapots. And the cocktails… oh my god the cocktails. If spring had a flavour it would be the La Vie En Rose martini. Even thinking about it now makes me thirsty. Really thirsty. Reminiscent in colour of the lately cherry blossoms, the combination of gin, lychee liqueur, rose syrup, cointreau and lime juice was just prettiness personified. Add the luxe surroundings, the lovely girls and the conversation – well call me happy in a pair of gold shoes.

From here we went to the Lonsdale, detouring from all things girly with a round-table order of burgers but keeping things sensible with a bottle of prosecco to wash them down.  It wasn’t a late night but it was lovely.  Spring always gives me pause for gratitude – mostly that fucking winter is finally fucking over – but also now for the incredibly special friends I’ve made and for the life I’ve succeeded at building here in London at last.

This past week at work has been spectacularly boring, mostly because everyone I’ve needed to communicate with seems to be on holidays but I’ve enjoyed the quite office and am enjoying the Easter long weekend, even though it’s been so far squandered with coughing fits and a slight temperature. 

Because I’m stubborn Lovely Boy and I are still going out for dinner tonight – to Sketch to experience Martin Creed’s new installation in the gallery. I’m quite excited about it actually and can’t wait to see Lovely Boy’s reaction to the singing pods in the bathrooms and kinetic sculptures in the entrance hall. It should be a memorable night.

Tomorrow we’re off to Hertfordshire for the day for lunch and a visit to Hatfield House with an old family friend who’s in London for the week. So, lots to look forward to, not just a returning ability to breathe through my nose and the proper spring weather….

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Dancing In Peckham

Don’t be fooled by the title – I didn’t go dancing in Peckham, Gillian Wearing did. In 1994 for the purposes of art though she may have boogied since then too.

Gillian Wearing, Dancing in Peckham, 1994.
I haven’t had a chance to get up close with her new survey show at The Whitechapel yet, despite making a film with the curator last week for work, but Dancing in Peckham is one of her most iconic works and it happens to be in the collection of the SLG. 

In the work, a 25-minute film piece, Wearing dances to music only she can hear in her head in the middle of Aylesham Shopping Centre in Peckham. She gets down, she shakes her ass, she rocks out, she thrashes her air guitar, dressed in mid-90s brown flared cords while bemused, confused and concerned shoppers pass her by. It’s so socially awkward and there’s an embarrassed sort of frisson between her apparent lack of awareness and the acutely obvious fact that she recorded herself doing it.

On Saturday night I was down in Peckham, confronting some of my – fears? – perceptions? – pre-conceptions? - about council estates and supporting the launch of the gallery’s Dancing in Peckham project – 10 weeks, 10 locations in Peckham, 10 screenings of Wearing’s work. The event, on Wyndham and Comber estate, coincided with an evening of film work and a performance by some of the young people from the estates who’d been working on a year-long project exploring movement, dance and the local environment.

Photos: Richard Eaton. Courtesy: South London Gallery

The performance was genuinely great – not quite a traffic stopper but absolutely a head turner for the passing cars – and there was a confidence to it that really made it special. And seeing Wearing’s work projected against the wall of the tenants and residents hall as the day turned to night was really quite poetic and being out in the gritty concrete environment and away from a traditional gallery space liberated her somehow. The abandonment no longer uncomfortable – now, well, kind of fuck off cool.

It was a pretty special night really.

Which makes it two Saturdays in a row now that I’ve been out and about in the name of work.

Last Saturday was an epic, Kusama-inspired event at Tate Modern that involved interactive digital sculptures and a silent disco, if you can believe that. It was a gorgeous day – as in, sunny and beautiful and criminal to be indoors. But there you have it.

This weekend it’s Easter – Easter! -  when did it become April already? Anyway – an arty dinner and a country adventure are on the cards. Bring it.