Category Archives: London

Reviews of places, events, and things of interest in London

Susan Hiller Exhibition

Being the cultural man about town that I am, I went to the Susan Hiller exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday. Actually, it was my wife’s suggestion otherwise I would have just gone to the pub. I’m glad I went though as some bits were awesome.

The exhibition was £11 or £9.50 with concessions. For some reason I was charged £15.50 for the two of us. Work that out.

The first thing we saw was called Recycled Work, which was essentially some bits of cloth made into a book. I’m sure it had a brilliant meaning or something else I missed, but I wasn’t that impressed. Then there were some books where people had written down their dreams. I discovered that not everyone dreams of zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, and lots of naked ladies every night like I do. Which is a shame as it would have been more interesting.

Dedicated to Unknown Artists

Then there was a bit called Dedicated to Unknown Artists. This was pretty interesting. It was a load of postcards from all over Britain featuring rough seas at various points along the coast. Some of the pictures were pretty cool but I was always under the impression that postcards were a kind of advert for the area. These had full on storms in some of them. It was a good idea though and had an accompanying map.

There were a few other things that were ok, but not great. A series of photos of Hiller’s belly when she was pregnant looked quite interesting due to the way it was presented. There was also a collection of items, literally just random stuff, where I must have missed the point. We then watched a video called Magic Lantern which consisted of a series of coloured circles and some audio recordings of people saying random things.

The rest of the art was pretty cool though.

At some point, Hiller found a forgotten monument in London that mentioned lots of people dying in heroic ways. She took photos of these and displayed them on a wall. Most of them were pretty sad. Things like a ten year old boy who died saving his eight year old brother from drowning, or a guy who saved lots of people from a burning building but then never came out again. It was genuinely quite moving and there is an audio tape too.

In one section there was a mock up of a living room with a TV that showed a picture of fire. Accompanying the fire was a whispered voice that told how in the old days before 24 hour TV (ITV not included – who watches nightscreen??) people heard voices and saw apparitions in the fuzzy picture left after broadcast stopped. Things like John Lennon saying that everything will be ok. Even though the sort of person who stays up watching ‘noise’ is probably prone to hallucinations and bouts of madness anyway, it was still pretty creepy.

Psychic Chicks

Next up was a big room with five screens in it showing clips of psychic chicks from movies like Firestarter and Stalker. As the girls start to levitate things and burn things the soundtrack of drums builds to a crescendo. It was really effective and interesting and made me want to watch Firestarter again.

Scary Punch and Judy

Another room was pretty creepy. It was dark but had videos playing in two corners – two screens in each corner. The visuals were a repeated and edited video of Punch and Judy, which sounds pretty innocuous. The videos were reddish in hue and the shots were of Punch or Judy beating each other repeatedly with clubs. This was accompanied by screams and aggressive music. It somehow seemed really violent and impressively shocking. Give someone some LSD and they would go mental in about 10 minutes.

Then there were my favorite two rooms.

The first was called The Last Silent Movie. Cunningly, it was almost the opposite of a silent movie. It had audio and subtitles but no video. It was the subject matter that was fascinating though. It was a series of recordings of languages that were either extinct or close to it. They were varied enough to be interesting. Sometimes it was a song, other times a fable or personal story. It was quite sad hearing the last people speak a language. Especially when a caption then appeared saying it was the last speaker and they died 50 years ago. While doing my English degree I studied how languages arise and become formalised and it was moving to think that these were the last utterances and that an entire language was dying.

Then there was the best room of all. It was called Witness. You enter a large blue-lit room that seems to have a load of string or wire hanging down, with some kind of disc attached to the end. In fact, it looked exactly like this:

Witness by Susan Hiller

When you get closer you start to hear a weird whispering noise. A bit like a theatre audience just before a performance as heard from the stage. The discs at the bottom are actually speakers and each one has a recording of someone recounting a UFO encounter. They are in all languages so you soon find yourself wandering among the strands and speakers listening for English (presuming you are an English speaker obviously). There are quite a lot of English ones and the stories are really interesting and I speak as one who believes in alien life but doesn’t think they fly around and probe us. One of the best things though, is the strange sensation of wandering among the voices. You feel like Professor Xavier when he is doing that search thing among humans and you hear lots of snatches of conversation from hundreds of different people. Or that chubby cop guy in Heroes, who can hear people’s thoughts. I’m trying to think of a non geeky example but I can’t. It’s a really cool and fascinating experience.

So, to some up: there are some hits and some misses. Even the misses aren’t too bad and they could just be misses because I am an uncultured oik who missed the point. The majority of the exhibition is really good and thoroughly interesting. I highly recommend it.

The Susan Hiller exhibition is at Tate Britain (nearest tube is Pimlico) and runs until May 15th. It’s worth the money. Whatever they charge.

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The Bangkok Podcast

Well I’m back in Blighty. Bangkok was, as always, very exciting and warm and fun and full of hot sexy, er, food. I’m feeling mildly homesick for the place which is a bit odd as I only lived there for two years. Maybe I just miss South East Asia – my home for over two decades. We landed in the evening on Tuesday and as I write this I have yet to see some sunshine.

Still, mustn’t get too maudlin. My wife and I have a plan and by the time I hit 40, things should be sweet.

We arrived and partied. The first stop was the Bangkok Trader magazine party. Nim used to work for them and I wrote freelance articles for them. I looked through one of their new issues and to my surprise I had an article in it. It was a rerun of an old piece which can be found here:  http://www.suite101.com/content/gift-giving-in-thailand-a276529 Technically, I should have asked for some money but I couldn’t be bothered. Plus I was a bit drunk.

We did a lot of other things too, like go to art gallery openings with the Danish ambassador (he was there, we didn’t hitch a lift with him or anything) and other cultural things.

We also appeared on the Bangkok Podcast. This is a great podcast run by a guy called Tony and a guy called Greg. I’d like to think that we were asked after these Bangkok experts scoured the expat community and picked the two most erudite and charming couple they could find. It is more likely though that they wanted to talk about Thai weddings and Greg is a mate of mine who actually went to our wedding. Whatever the case, you should check out the podcast. Especially if you are in any way interested in Thailand. The website is found here: http://www.bangkokpodcast.com/

I apologise if I’m not my usual witty and amusing self. I’m back to work tonight and the greyness of London is crap. Soon I will be beaten down by the humdrum of life and will have come to terms being back. Think of the plan, think of the plan…

Here’s what I was looking at just a few days ago. I apologise.

From a bar in Koh Chang

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Riots in London

Two days ago I narrowly missed a load of riots in good old London. In the morning I had to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Thailand. I then got the tube to Leicester Square and wandered into Soho for a bit of lunch at Wahaca (which was awesome if you are interested). I then meandered around Soho before going to my eye laser people on Tottenham Court road to have a check up on my eyes (which are also awesome). I then walked down Charing Cross road to look at books then down Bond street where I had a coffee and met my wife for a bit of shoe shopping (not quite so awesome). From there we walked around the area before having a quick pint at Green Park where I got on the tube to go to work. I even saw Bob Geldoff out for a bit of Christmas shopping. A very pleasant day. Except for the work bit at the end. 

I find this very depressing

I somehow missed all the riots just a few minutes down the road. I knew there were protests that day but the police usually surround them. If things kick off or the rioters smash stuff then the cops either club them and get accused of being heavy handed, or let them smash a few things and get accused of not being prepared. All fairly normal. 

I knew things might not be going to plan when vans of police kept belting around every corner. If I looked south, I could see helicopters. In shops I could hear the radio warning that rioters were heading our way. On twitter and the internet there were reports that they had burnt the Christmas tree in Trafalgar square (a few minutes walk from Leicester square). They then smashed shops on Oxford street where I had just been then shouted their way up Regent street and attacked Prince Charles’s car – a road I had just crossed. 

I wasn’t particularly worried about the rioters as I haven’t cut my hair in a while and was unshaven and scruffy, so would probably be mistaken for one of their own. I was mildly concerned about being ‘kettled’ by the police and trapped for hours but not that bothered really. London has a lot of alleys and twisty back streets and I know a lot of them as they tend to have late night bars on them so I was confident I could escape. I was mostly concerned that the tube station I needed to get to would be shut and I would be late for work because of some dickhead rioters or overzealous plod. I am freelance and charge by the hour after all. 

At first I was all for the protests. How does making a student take out a massive loan, that will eventually be paid back decades later, help our economy right now? Will this mean even bigger rises for foreign students? They pay almost triple the fees of local students – apparently so that fees for locals can be kept low. Cameron said last month: “foreign students will still pay a significant amount of money – but we should be able to keep that growth under control”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11724431) Well that’s ok then. We are already one of the most expensive places to study outside of the US but as Cameron should be able to keep things under control then they probably won’t all go somewhere else and lose universities pots of cash from people who pay a lot in advance. 

Of course there millions of arguments, some very good, for both sides. I can’t be bothered to go on any more about it. The point was that I was all for the supposedly peaceful protest. My image of students remained a mixture of: 

Students protest!

and: 

and just a bit of: 

i know it's gratuitous but it's my site

Unfortunately, the protest got hijacked by a load of twats. As usual. This has caused a lot of people to think less ‘Yeah! Stick it to the establishment’ and more ‘you pointless bunch of pricks, why smash windows on Oxford street during the shopping season and burn down the Christmas tree’. It was as if they were attacking Christmas, the joyless scum. 

Is this man a student protester, or a dick?

Most of the rioters (as opposed to the protesters) looked suspiciously like the sort of non-student who just like a fight and hates capitalism and the royal family and blah blah blah. In fact they look a lot like the sort of people who hang out around the bridge in Camden down the hill from my flat. 

Quite frankly it’s all very sad. The next time the students protest, they should casually ask others in the crowd if they are up for smashing a few shops. If they answer is yes, they should beat them up with truncheons in a powerful ironic statement of some kind. Then they can still have a protest, people will like them, and I can shop in peace. 

It won’t change anything anyway. I can say that because I’m a cynical grown up well versed in the frustrations and pointlessness of real life. The only way they could really get stuff done is through spreading embarrassing secrets about the government on the internet then hacking into websites and stuff. They’ll have to wait their turn though.

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War Horse Play review

War Horse

War Horse

I saw this the other night and was blown away. I knew it had puppet horses in it but little else.

War Horse is about a horse called Joey and a farm lad from Devon called Albert. Albert’s drunken dad buys Joey when he is wasted and feeling competitive at an auction. He makes Albert look after the horse and a touching bond soon forms between them. When Joey is then sold by his drunken dad to the army and sent to Belgium as a cavalry horse, Albert gets a little pissed off. He runs away from home and decides to enlist to fight in World War One. In order to find his horse.

The story is ok and provides a backdrop to the main events and effects of the play. As I mentioned, all I knew about War Horse was that it had puppet horses. Life size puppet horses with people riding around on them galloping over fields or charging at the Hun. They are pretty astounding and the puppeteers do a genius job of bringing them to life. They even have realistically moving ears. There are three people for each horse. Two inside (think pantomime horse) and one moving the head. It’s brilliantly done and you really start to feel affection for the horses, which is doubly well done as I don’t like horses all that much in real life.

Cavalry horse puppets!

There are a couple of other animals too, most notably a humorous goose.

At the back of the theatre is a screen that has animated pencil sketches of backgrounds and animated horses and barbed wire. It is quite simple but it is effective in setting the scene. There are also loud explosions and tweeting birds that help with this too.

The actors were all pretty good but it is the West End of London and tickets were £50, so you kind of expect that. I went with a non-native English speaker and she found it hard to follow some of the accents. It doesn’t really matter all that much though, it’s pretty obvious what is going on.

The story is simple but to be fair it is from a kid’s book, so is hardly going to be like ‘Inception’. It can be a little slow at times but I thought it added to the emotional connection between audience and story, so I’ll let it off.

I loved War Horse. It was so well done. Apparently Spielberg is going to turn it into a movie but as the most impressive parts of the play were the set and puppets and stuff, I’m not sure how good it will be. He seems fairly competent, maybe it will be like ‘Saving Private Ryan – the equine version.’

If you like spectacular theatre and want to see some amazing puppets, you should definitely give this a go. Here’s a bit about it from channel 4 news to wet your appetite:

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The Rosslyn Arms pub, Hampstead

Rosslyn ArmsThis pub is just down the hill from Hampstead Tube. Or just up the hill from Belsize Park tube. Take your pick. I think it is slightly nearer Hampstead though and you can walk down the hill rather than up. Which is a plus. Hampstead is always nice too and you might see a celeb.

This is a nice enough pub and one of the few places I regularly visit in Hampstead. The others are the Hollybush (which I will review one day) and the Flask. If it’s a nice day, which is rare is this soggy country, there are a couple of pleasant tables out front for superb people watching. There’s also a smallish beer garden out back which tends to be full of smokers. The main room is slightly odd in that it is split into two areas. The bar faces the window in a D shape. Behind the D is a seating area. Both areas have a slightly different feel to them but both are pleasant.

The main draw for me are the friendly staff and the food. Plus there’s a bus from in front of my house that stops in front of the pub 5 minutes later, but that might not be the case with everyone.

We normally go there on a Monday or Tuesday. For pizza. The pub has decided to not bother with a lot of different gastropub foodstuffs. They do primarily wraps and awesome pizzas. The wraps may be awesome too but I’ve never had one. On a Monday and Tuesday they do a two for one pizza deal, so you can get one of these bad boys for £5. Which is a bargain. The £20 I always subsequently spend on beer balances things out I guess.

Even without the pizzas, if you are in the neighbourhood, it’s a nice stop off. They have great music (Hendrix, Zeppelin), good beers (try the Sagres lager), friendly staff, and a unique chandelier made out of kitchenware. Enjoy.

(There’s also a Giraffe restaurant next door that does half price cocktails from 5-7pm Sunday to Thursday as well, if you want to start early. Just FYI.)

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Hakkasan London

Hakkasan

As part of my wife’s 30th birthday bonanza, I promised her some of the finest Chinese food outside of Asia. She has a lot of Chinese blood coursing through her veins so I knew I had to pick something good. Hakkasan is definitely known for being one of the best. It even has a Michelin star. I’d been wanting to eat here for ages, so this seemed like a good excuse.

The entrance is down a slightly grotty backstreet/alley just off Tottenham Court that is full of slightly dingy late night bars and illegal drinking establishments. Fortunately, I’ve been drinking in these establishments for almost two decades, so had no problem finding it.

The entrance is pretty muted.  As you can see. There was a lady with a clipboard and a large man in a suit at the entrance. It felt like we were entering a club. She checked we had reservations and we were shown down the stairs. There were several smiley staff waiting to take our coats. Then another lady took us to the bar. The bar is pretty cool – long, dark, nice lighting, a bit futuristic mixed with the Orient. It is like a swanky place in Hong Kong or Blade Runner. We had a couple of cocktails which were £10 each (plus 13% service charge). A bit pricey but they were incredible and unique. Our cocktails were really different but both were some of the finest we had ever had. We were then shown to our seats.

The restaurant is divided into various rooms separated by woodwork lattices. The table have lamps hanging down low over the tables making it feel more intimate. There was staff everywhere, which made me a bit worried that they might be a bit overzealous but actually they got it just right. I hate when you are in a swanky place and feel like the staff are staring at you for the whole meal in case you might need something, it’s very off-putting. Anyway, they seemed ubiquitous but unobtrusive. I did feel it a bit unnecessary that there was a girl whose sole job seemed to just be opening the door to the bogs but maybe I’m being picky.

So, the food. I spent 21 years of my life in Hong Kong and I love dimsum. We ordered the dimsum platter to start and it was awesome. Truly, truly awesome! Each piece was bigger than normal dimsum but they were so well prepared and cooked, I was blown away.

Amazing dimsum!For our mains Nim had the Sho Chu Atlantic stir fried scallops which were huge and tasty and came in a really nice sauce with mushrooms and onions. I had the unbelievably incredible Spicy Mongolian venison. Which was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I challenge you to find a better Mongolian venison – even in Mongolia. We also had jasmine rice and another couple of cocktails. Plus some morning glory which was fantastic but at £9.50 was £9 more than I used to pay when I lived in Bangkok. Which is not surprising I guess.

By this point we were stuffed to the gills so ended the meal with a couple of lattes.

Here’s how the bill panned out:

Dim sum platter – £11.50

Jasmine rice – £2.50

Morning glory – £9.50

Mongolian venison – £23

Sho chu scallops – £26

2 Caffe lattes – £6

4 cocktails – £40

Total: £118.50

With service charge: £133.9

Given that this is a top class restaurant with a Michelin star, superb food (really superb), impeccable service, and an amazing decor, the bill seemed about right.

I would highly recommend this place. I will be going back once my bank account recovers. It shows you just how good oriental food can be. And I have spent over half my life in the orient. Save up and go!

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Shunt at London Bridge.

Last night I went to a bar/club/theatre/art/performance/thing called Shunt with my wife and some creative friends. It’s a very difficult place to categorize except to say that it’s fucking brilliant. Shunt are a ‘performance collective’ which sounds a bit arty or indeed wanky but it is truly a superb idea and I’m mildly annoyed that no-one has told me about this place before.

Beyond this innocent door lies untold wonders. Plus beer.

Beyond this innocent door lies untold wonders. Plus beer.

I have walked past the entrance a thousand times and never knew what it was. This website now gets over 100 people a day looking at it and I’m not even that sure I want to let you all know where it is but as you can look it up yourself, I suppose I might as well. At least then you can buy me a beer if I’m there. When you come out of London Bridge tube and start walking toward the escalators that lead up to the overland trains, you will see this door. Plus a small queue. There are no signs.

You WILL be asked for ID, which was actually pretty cool as that hasn’t happened to me since I was 17. It costs £10. Once you walk through the unassuming entrance you suddenly find yourself in a colossal underground vault. It is huge and sphincter-tighteningly impressive. From this point, a lot of it is hard to review because here lies the genius of Shunt. Every night different stuff happens in various rooms. First let me describe the space a bit. On entering, you will be faced with a long vaulting corridor with huge, high-ceilinged rooms branching off at either side. Sometimes it looks like this:

photo001

Sometimes like this:

1_400x300Last night it was dark and lit entirely by candles.

In the rooms there can be anything. Bars selling beers and other bars selling cocktails are dotted around, as are cosy corners with small tables or couches or recliner chairs or anything. There is artwork in odd places and random performances from actors or artists or musicians or people who are a bit mental. When we entered we came across a room where a creative looking lady was doing a book/poetry reading to creative looking people. In another room there were comfy chairs and a cinema screen playing old black and white sci fi movies. And they weren’t all Metropolis.

One room held a theatre and there were loads of others with shows going on and interactive arty things.

A bar in one of many cavernous rooms.

A bar in one of many cavernous rooms.

Every night something different and interesting and random happens here. If you just want to have a quiet drink and soak up the huge cavernous atmosphere there’s plenty of hidey-holes for that too. At one point a guy appeared near us and started performing brilliant songs under a spotlight on his keyboard. He appeared like magic.

This guy appeared from nowhere. Sorry about the quality but my phone doesn't have a flash.

This guy appeared from nowhere. Sorry about the quality but my phone doesn't have a flash.

Here are some random pictures ruthlessly stolen from the internet of things that have gone on here in the past:

No idea what's happening but you can see the size and atmosphere

No idea what's happening but you can see the size and atmosphere

Another bar but with ladies dancing. Marvellous!

Another bar but with ladies dancing. Marvellous!

A band. Obviously.

A band. Obviously.

Another random section of the HUGE Shunt bar/club/thing

Another random section of the HUGE Shunt bar/club/thing

Ok that’s enough. You get the idea. Shunt is a truly unique experience. A good and exciting one. It’s one of those places I always envisioned myself in. On drugs. With Jagger and Bowie.

It got shut down in November so that it could be turned into a load of shops. I hope the tedious peon that came up with that idea died in an hilarious accident worthy of a Darwin Award. Thankfully, it has now opened again but no one seems to know how long for. Hopefully at least another year. So check it out.

Here is a video that shows yet more stuff that has happened in the past. Some of it looks a bit mental but remember you only have to get as involved as you want to. There is a lot of room.

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Pop Life: Art in a Material World at Tate Modern

Pop Life at Tate Modern

Pop Life at Tate Modern

This was a great exhibition. It is essentially about artists who mixed fame and the desire for fame and money with their art. These artists sought out as much publicity as they could and said ‘Balls! I love publicity and money’ to all the purists and critics who claimed they were selling out.

Jeff Koons and his rabbit sculpture.

Jeff Koons and his rabbit sculpture.

The first room is like a tester or a sample. It contains Jeff Koons’ sculpture of an inflatable rabbit alongside video footage of an actual colossal balloon that he put in the Macy’s thanksgiving parade in New York. There is a video showing an Andy Warhol advert for TDK tapes and there is a human sized sculpture by Takashi Murakami of a manga chick with huge norks spraying out milk.Takashi Murakami's big titted manga chick

This is all just for starters.

The next room was dark with some florescent gem paintings by Warhol. This was followed by a room full of Warhol’s celebrity portraits which he did purely for the fame, kudos, and money. He even offered discounts if the celeb in question bought two. There is a bit of multimedia action after this as we are informed that Warhol linked the whole fame and art thing, and that all the Pop Artists that followed were going along with this idea. There more ads and movies and a scene from The Love Boat where the Cunninghams from Happy Days meet Andy Warhol on the Love boat. I kid you not. Talk about fucking surreal. I came away from these rooms with an increased appreciation for what Warhol was trying to achieve. Both as a publicity seeking artist and with ‘the Factory’ where he encouraged struggling New York artists to create work under his guidance. The Warhol rooms show just how influential he really was and the rest of the exhibition reflects this.

Soon after this is a small room where an artist called Richard Prince had a photo of a naked Brooke Shields at the age of ten. It was taken down day one as people complained that it wasn’t exactly art, more of a picture of a naked girl who later got famous. I think the complainers have a point. It was unnecessary. Even though he tried to justify it by giving it the pretentious title of ‘Spiritual America’ and presumably tried to make a point about child celebrity and exploitation (I couldn’t be bothered to read it), it was clearly a case of ‘Ooooh aren’t I shocking and controversial!’ I can’t be bothered with this sort of crap. In its place is a picture of an older Brooke Shields in a bikini. Which was nice but no more art than when I had a similar poster of a chick in a bikini draped across a Ferrari on my wall when I was 14. Perhaps I missed the irony.

Next up was a room where I really started to appreciate all the effort the curators had gone to with this exhibition. The entire room was dedicated to Keith Haring and his unique art. There was 80’s Hip Hop blaring, T’shirts and other merchandise, his art all over the wall, and a fully functioning shop with accompanying bored attendant. I wish I like his art more but the way the room was done really made me appreciate what ‘feeling’ it was that Haring was trying to achieve.

Keith Haring's "Pop till you drop at the Pop Shop"

Keith Haring's "Pop till you drop at the Pop Shop"

After the 80s excitement of this room we were faced with a choice. Turn right down a corridor lined with 70s porn done by some chick that was apparently famous in the adult industry in the 70s and 80s. Or go through a huge door marked ‘Over 18s only. Extremely explicit imagery.’ Quite a quandary. After walking through the door we were indeed faced with an explicit image. Imagine a woman being fucked by guy with her on top and bent forward slightly. Now imagine her buttocks pulled apart and the guys legs spread and you looking the insertion with your head about a foot away. The result is that you are limited to seeing half a penis in a vagina and a woman’s arsehole. Take a photo and blow it up to a huge size. I’m no prude but a lady’s puckered rectum a foot across is not that attractive. This was the first picture in Jeff Koon’s Made in Heaven room. Apparently he started to take photo’s of an Italian porn star called Cicciolina (whom I sadly had heard of), then photos of him having it away with her. Eventually he married her. Isn’t that romantic? Anyway, the whole room is full of pictures of him cumming on her and her ramming didlos up her orifices. In the middle is a statue of him boning her. I found the whole thing a bit pathetic to be honest. It just seemed like an exhibitionist that has found a way to make tons of cash without labeling it porn. It is the talk of the town but is curiously missing from a lot of reviews. Here’s about the only tasteful picture I feel like including:

This is art not porn apparently. How controversial!

This is art not porn apparently. How controversial!

Then back out and down the 70s porn corridor, which by this point actually seemed fairly artistic. Even though it was mostly just pictures from Razzle.

Then you enter the realm of the Brit artists who follow the whole ‘I’m a celebrity artist ethos’. Obviously the prime contenders were Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. I find Tracey Emin annoying and not in the way she is trying so hard to be. Hirst’s stuff was ok to quite cool. The ok stuff:

Look! Twins in front of dots! Genius!

Look! Twins in front of dots! Genius!

The quite cool stuff:

Damien-Hirst-False-Idol-2008-

Damien Hirst's False Idol

I know it’s a pickled calf with gold shoes but I actually quite liked it.

The next room was by Rob Pruitt and Jack Early. There are a load of really cool Blaxploitation posters featuring people like Martin Luther King and NWA and so on. All with Jackson 5 music playing.

After that there was yet another controversial piece of art as it showed a collection of pictures of Hollywood actors in roles where they played Nazis. There were a lot of people standing around saying things like “in which film was Clint Eastwood a Nazi?” (or Harrison Ford or Richard Buton or Tom Cruise or Ralph Fiennes, etc)  The controversy was pretty dumb in my opinion as none of the films were making the Nazis out to be good guys. Maybe I missed the point. As a collage though, I thought it was pretty impressive and mildly thought provoking.

Piotr Uklandski The Nazis 1998 Courtesy of AFPGetty images

Piotr Uklandski The Nazis 1998 Courtesy of AFPGetty images

The next couple of rooms were a bit unnecessary and shite in my opinion. One was a video of an artist called Andrea Fraser having really boring sex with an anonymous art collector on a video shot in a hotel room. The other was a stuffed horse with a sign that read INRI – apparently the sign that Pontius Pilate had hanging around his neck when he was killed. Which is just pretentious arty shit. One critic described this as ‘Flogging a dead horse’ which I found mildly amusing.

Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled dead horse with a stick in it

Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled dead horse with a stick in it

The final room was by Takashi Murakami and was brilliant. One wall was entirely dedicated to a colossal manga chick wandering down the technology and manga heaven of Tokyo’s Akihabara district. It was entitled: Giant Magical Princess! She’s Walking Down the Streets of Akihabara! (2009). In this room you learn all about how Murakami opened the Kaikai Kiki company where he effectively did a Japanese version of Warhol’s Factory. He churned out small manga toys which could be collected with gum in Japanese shops and did photography and videos of Japanese cosplay. Kaikai Kiki did something similar to Warhol in that it took in loads of aspiring artists and under Murakami’s supervision churned out art as business. There is even a music video featuring Kirsten Dunst as a hot manga vixen walking down the streets of Akihabara (like the mural) accompanied to a revamped version of The Vapours’ “Turning Japanese”. Loud and on a huge plasma tv. I loved this room. It was a great ‘cap’ to the earlier Warhol stuff and encapsulated what the whole exhibition was about.

This was a superb exhibition and I’m really glad I went. I came away with a greater admiration for Warhol and Murakami and a lot of the artists in between. Sure there were a lot of things I didn’t like or thought that the artists were just going for shock value, but as an exhibition charting ‘Pop Life’ and the mix of consumerism and money for art, it was fascinating. There was a lot more than I have mentioned but I though some of the highs and lows would suffice. A lot of thought had been put into this and overall the experience was a highly enjoyable one. Sadly it has finished now but if it goes on tour it is well worth checking out.

Next time I’ll try and review art before the exhibition shuts. Apologies.

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No Love Lost, Blue Paintings by Damien Hirst

Hirst's Blue skull

I saw this the other day at the Wallace Collection. Which was a bit odd as I’m sure you’ll be aware if you have ever been to the Wallace Collection. The building is a couple of hundred years old and is full of old stuff. Old paintings, statues, suits of armor, antique guns and so on. Even the couches, fittings and banisters are ancient and frequently blocked off by red velvet rope. So it was a bit odd to turn a corner and leave a room filled with 17th Dutch masterpieces and see two long rooms filled with Hirst’s ‘Blue paintings’.

These paintings were done by Hirst himself! No assistants or anything. They are actual paintings too. I’ve never rated Damien Hirst much, so I thought I’d go and see what he’s like as a solitary painter.

A-visitor-with-a-painting-009To be honest, they were ok. That’s all. Sorry if you were expecting more depth but there you go. The blue skull at the top of this post was one of the better paintings. There were also three others that had a ghostly figure facing a kind of translucent blue forest that I particularly liked. The rest were just alright. There were strong hints of Francis Bacon but they were nowhere near his league.

These were my favourites.

These were my favourites.

So there you go. Fairly average would be my overall review. Some good bits but overall I left fairly underwhelmed. It was free and in a cool building I’d never visited before, so it was worth it.

This exhibition has finished now but the Wallace Collection is a brilliant place. I’d highly recommend it. There will be two big rooms with different stuff in it now as well.

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The Garden Gate Pub – South End Green

garden gate exterior

The marvellous Garden Gate

If you sat down and totalled the amount of hours I have spent in this pub, then you have way too much time on your hands. In my defense, I used to live quite near. See the picture above? On the left hand side of the photo , just past where the tree is providing shade on the footpath, you can see the beginnings of a road that goes behind the pub. I used to live down there with two friends who liked a drink. So it wasn’t really my fault.

Anyway, the pub. It is situated in South End Green, which is an area down the hill past the Royal Free Hospital. The pub itself is really near the overland train stop for Hampstead Heath. Which means I have to walk past it every time I go to work, which can be pretty painful!

In the summer, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in London. In the winter it can be really warm and cosy with candles and couches and games and hot wine and so on.

The clientele is pretty mixed but tends towards well to do 20 – 30 somethings. But not always. Very nice atmosphere generally.

The food isn’t specular, no matter how many succulent sounding adjectives they chuck in the menu descriptions but the beer and wine come in wide varieties and are cheap. So who cares about the food. The staff are very friendly and efficient but if you get a sudden influx of people a queue for a drink can form alarmingly quickly. I have frequently switched from Guinness to lager purely because I’ve gotten bored waiting and can get a lager a minute or two quicker.

I once stood at the bar next to Simon Pegg in this pub and later had a piss at the urinal next to Chris Martin from Coldplay. So it’s clearly an exciting venue.

I would highly recommend this place. It’s a friendly local with a lot going for it. If you’re lucky you will meet the three legged dog that makes an appearance at the end of an evening too. I assume it’s with a human but never really noticed.

UPDATE: I went here last night and have to say that the food has massively improved. The burger I ate was top notch! My wife’s pork belly was pretty damn good too.

interior garden gate

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The Flask Hampstead

The Flask. Doesn't it look nice?

The Flask. Doesn’t it look nice?

Address: Flask Walk, Hampstead
Directions: Come out of Hampstead tube and turn left down the hill. Flask walk is a pedestrian road on your left between a bakery and a North African restaurant. You should also pop into the 2nd hand bookshop on this ‘walk’ as it is really cool. (Narrow passages, piles of old books, eccentric but helpful owner, loads of great stuff.)

I decided to write this one first as I happen to be sitting in it right now. So it’s obviously pretty good.

The Flask is a pretty decent pub and probably my main drinking spot if I happen to be on Hampstead high street. It is divided into two sections in an old school kind of way. As you face it, there is a public bar on the left and a saloon bar on the right. The public bar is where the locals hang out and there is a flat-screen tv playing sport or news or something. But silently, which is a bonus. The saloon bar is where you would take a lady-friend and is bigger with lots of seats.

It is a Youngs pub and slightly pricey but you’re in Hampstead for christ’s sake. Everything is more expensive.

The Flask is an old pub and therefore has character and everything. It has a lot of old pictures of Hampstead and Victorian drawings and that old style of opaque glass. It even has a fireplace. As atmospheres go, it is usually quite quiet and feels a teeny bit artificially old – like an O’Neil’s feels artificially Irish. That said, it is actually pretty old, 200 years in fact, but it has obviously been refurbished a bit. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair as it is nice, steeped in history, and nicely done out. Especially if you are near the front.

I’d recommend coming here if you happen to be out in Hampstead and the other half is shopping and you feel like a quiet pint. It is pricey but nice. Cosy-ish but a bit sterile. If you want an older more intimate atmosphere, I’d thoroughly recommend the Hollybush up the steep road opposite the tube.

The Flask is a decent place. I’m drinking there right now. Nothing more needs to be said.

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The Notting Hill Carnival

Well, I went to the Notting Hill carnival. I last went about 8 years ago with my ex-girlfriend and a couple of her friends. None of my mates wanted to go. I drank a gallon of Red-Stripe, lamented the state of the toilets, saw about three floats, hated most of the music, loved all the food, and then when persuaded to go home at about six demanded a trip to the pub.

This time it was exactly the same, except I’m married.

I don’t know why I don’t really like the Notting Hill carnival. It’s probably that it just seem a lot of grief – crowds, shuffling slowly through dancing people, piles of rubbish and a massive walk to the tube. All for very little reward. If I want to see a load of drunk people I’ll go to Soho or a park. If I want to eat West Indian food, I’ll go to a restaurant. If I want big crowds, music, expensive beer, and an extended journey home where I have to walk extra miles for transport – I’ll go to a gig at Wembley. You rarely see that many of the floats and when you do, you get bored after 4 or 5 of them. Plus there are now so many police you get paranoid that something must be about to kick off at any moment.

My wife got her master’s degree (one of them) in Louisiana and she insists I will love the New Orleans Mardi more. It has the drink and food and music but you get the added bonus of women flashing their breasts. Introduce that to the carnival and I’ll change my mind.

I think I’d just be happier eating jerk chicken in a strip club. But then I could have told you that before I went.