It’s a slightly cheesy caption for the above photo but those in the know will also recognise it as the name of a pub near Old Street, on the edge of Shoreditch and the place I ended up with the Love Art London group after the graffiti tour.
And even though I took it myself, I have to say I love the above photograph. It perfectly sums up the sense of place and the spirit of Shoreditch that I try to capture in part of the novel.
Itâ€™s not the most brilliant quality photograph (I took it with my phone), neither is it as well composed as it could be â€“ but the spontaneity of the moment is what makes it.
Theyâ€™re a little hard to spot at first but itâ€™s a bride and groom on the right of the picture, being posed by their wedding photographer. And rather than a verdant churchyard theyâ€™ve chosen to use Ben Eineâ€™s colourful mural on Ebor Street in Shoreditch. (Thereâ€™s a more sombre grey and black Eine work on the opposite side of the street on the Londonewcastle building that hosted the Catlin prize â€“ see previous post.)
Iâ€™d come across the wedding party by chance on a Saturday afternoon. Iâ€™d been to visit Boxpark â€“ the container mall shopping centre by Shoreditch High Street overground station. I was on my way back from a very pleasant Vietnamese meal (recommended by Bren Gosling) at a place at the end of the Kingsland Road with some of our ex-City writers after weâ€™d had a Saturday morning workshopping session. Afterwards Iâ€™d decided to have another wander around Shoreditch and see if any of the graffiti Iâ€™d seen a week previously had changed
As I was crossing Bethnal Green Road and heading for Redchurch Street, some wedding cars pulled up and all these smartly dressed people got out and headed for this remarkable area of street art. I wandered past while they shot a few photos and, while keeping a respectful distance,Â I realised I could get a photograph myself which principally featured one of Stikâ€™s figures on the Londonewcastle building and Eineâ€™s mural but also captured the incongruity of the smart, formal wedding party. The brideâ€™s stunningly white dress is such a contrast to the chaos of the street â€“ the bike, the bollards, the leaning traffic sign and the rubbish. But the bride and groom (Iâ€™ve no idea who they were) seemed to be loving the setting, although the Stik man appears to be anxiously casting his watchful gaze over the couple.
If I can manage to capture in my writing even a small amount of the sense of place and the exuberance and optimism in that picture then Iâ€™ll be very happy
Thereâ€™s another picture below from the Boxpark end of Ebor Street.
Because parts of my novel are set in Shoreditch, I was really looking forward to the Love Art LondonÂ Shoreditch Graffiti Tour which was held way back at the end of May but whichÂ I’veÂ only just got round to blogging aboutÂ for various reasons, including the interminable process of editing the novel, but hopefully the photos at least will be worth the wait.
The Shoreditch Graffiti Tour definitely didn’t disappoint. During the event I realised that I’d foundÂ exactly what I’d been looking for — and all the better for, perhaps, not having fully understood beforehand what I needed.
There was a good turnout for the tour, which for reasons detailed below, might better have been billed as The Shoreditch Not Graffiti Tour. At least twenty of us met Lindsay from Love Art London outside the new Shoreditch High Street Overground station on one of the last decent days of weather we’ve had this year. Cameras and phones at the ready, we were then taken on what was very like an urban safari (we had the weather for it) by our veryÂ knowledgeableÂ guides, Sabina Andron and Jamie Ryle.
Sabina and Jamie organise a Meetup Group — I Know What I Like — which is a community of people interested in contemporary urban art — both viewing the artwork and also debating its merits.
Our guides led us across Bethnal Green Roadand into the area east of Shoreditch High Street centred on extraordinaryÂ Redchurch StreetÂ (the street where the Catlin Prize exhibition was held — see later photo of the building).
This street, running parallel toBethnal Green Road, and the adjoining side streets, such as Chance Street,Ebor Street andTurville Street currently act as a huge ad hoc art gallery. It’s an incredibly concentrated area of street art where our group of intrigued observers only had to move on a few yards before being shown another significant piece of work created on a wall, door or hoarding.Â (ThisÂ Redchurch Street locality has been designated a conservation areaÂ by Tower Hamlets council, as an example of nineteenth-century urban architecture that has largely disappeared.)
Sometimes these were very difficult to spot — small pieces no more than knee high whereas others were huge murals covering a whole block or were artworks placed high above the road (in the case of the mushroom placed on a rooftop).
Sabina and Jamie’s favourite street at the time wasÂ Blackall StreetÂ on the west side of Shoreditch, past Village Underground. This was temporarily unique because building work had blocked off the Paul Street end of the road, which meant there was very little traffic to disturb the artists and so had become a favoured place for the time being where they could work relatively undisturbed.
I won’t try to comment on the artworks or the artists themselves — Sabina and Jamie told us some fascinating stories and anecdotes about the works and were able to provide comment on some very recent developments. I’d certainly recommend them as expert guides for anyone who might be interested in street art.
I’ve added several photos alongside the post which illustrate the type of art we saw on the tour. They include work by well-known artists such as Roa (who’s well known for his large monochrome animals), Ben Eine (lettering and typography), Cartrain (stencils and old vinyl records attached to buildings) and Stik (the eponymous stick men whose simple faces convey amazing expressions — and probably my favourites overall).
What surprised me overall was how these artists operated in the margins between criminality and the conventional art world — and also the community spirit of the artists, revealing a well-defined hierarchy and pecking order.
Many of the works we saw were commissioned or at least permitted by the building owners (although not always meeting the approval of the local council as aÂ contentious case with a Roa mural of a crane in Brick LaneÂ and Tower Hamlets council). Â This explains why many of the works endure so long — as does the sense of community between the artists which means that they tend to earn respect with each other by repairing each others’ work when it’s inevitably defaced by the taggers (the lowest of the graffiti food chain).
The more accomplished and innovative artists are popular with developers, who have realised that well-executed street art attracts the type of young, professional occupants that they chase for both their commercial and residential premises. However, while sanctioned street art communicates a sense of order that might re-assure, it treads a fine line between its non-permissive origins and becoming an adjunct to the corporatism that has created â€˜Avant Garde Towerâ€™ â€“ a large block of mainly private residential flats under construction on Bethnal Green Road marketed with a huge rooftop banner bearing the slogan â€˜the coolest residential tower in Shoreditchâ€™.
Street art in this context definitely isnâ€™t mere graffiti: the City types to whom the developers are appealing will enjoy spotting work by Roa and Eine on their way to designer bars but will be unsettled by the tags that are reminders that Tower Hamlets (which covers Shoreditch east of Boundary Road) is still one of the most deprived boroughs in the country.
In fact, while the area around Shoreditch High Street station is becoming rapidly gentrified (as is the stretch of Great Eastern Street leading towards Old Street with its Pizza Express and PrÃªt Ã Manger) Redchurch Street itself remains defiantly shabby â€“ with many buildings either abandoned or in poor state of repair â€“ and it is home to a very eclectic selection of shops and bars (see the photo of the Sick clothes shop).
My favourite, which I didnâ€™t photograph, is a shop (possibly Speedie’s) with a window full of technologically prehistoric TVs and video equipment from the 70s and 80s.
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that ‘street art’ has now crossed-over into the commercial arts world. David Cameron presented Barack Obama with a Ben Eine work andÂ one of the best episodes ofÂ The ApprenticeÂ in the most recent series had the would-be apprentices trying to represent some well-known Shoreditch street artists. However, I didn’t realise quite how intertwined the commercial galleries were with street art.
It’s quite common for artists to pursue a two-pronged strategy — advertising their work by putting it on a prominent site in the likes of Redchurch Street but also making it available to purchase in galleries. Consequently, some of the artists make a more than respectable income from their commercial work.
Because some of the artwork is on surfaces that the artist doesn’t have permission to use, many artists use techniques like stencilling and pasting an already created paper-based work. Stencils are quick to use but I thought that pasting something on a wall was more like fly-posting than artwork. It’s an interesting question about the nature of this sort of art — does it matter that it’s created at the place where it’s displayed? This definitely isn’t the case for other forms of painting — a framed painting advertises that it can be hung anywhere. But street art almost by definition seems to need an association with a sense of place.
The tour made me realise that Kim, in my novel, would certainly be extremely familiar with the street art we saw, especially as her studio is at Village Underground, which has three huge walls dedicated to permissive street art. If she’s trying to promote herself as an artist, it’s quite likely that she’d try street art herself — although I can’t remember any of the artists mentioned in our tour being women. (The obvious dangers involved in solitary late-night work on dimly-lit city streets and the likes of railway sidings have historically deterred women from becoming significant members of this community.)
As mentioned in a previous post, Love Art London events like to end up in the pub — and fortunately I wasnâ€™t disappointed. Just by chance I ended up chatting to Sabina in the Princess of Shoreditch and found that her interest in street art has led her to work on a PhD at University College Londonâ€™s Bartlett School of Architecture. Her thesis has the neat title Iâ€™ve borrowed above: â€˜This Is Not Graffitiâ€™.
Sabina also introduced the intriguingly-namedÂ disciplineÂ of â€˜geosemioticsâ€™, which I subsequently couldnâ€™t resist inserting into the novel. It means, if I understand properly, the study of meaning of words in a spatial context â€“ so covers both â€˜authorisedâ€™ signs and unsanctioned graffiti and Sabinaâ€™s work looks at the convergence of both â€“ â€˜hybrid surface inscriptionsâ€™. This may be, for example, where a street sign has been altered unofficially or the message of an advertisement subverted by the addition of extra text.
I found the subject fascinating from a fiction writing perspective â€“ often the art is created out of letters or typography (as in Eineâ€™s case) or, as with taggers, the signature has been stylised to the extent that the letters are often unrecognisable. What Sabina is investigating is an aspect of language thatâ€™s often taken for granted (the official public sign) and the conflicting motivations of those that try to undermine or subvert it â€“ on a scale that stretches between principled protest and nihilistic egotism.
A couple of weeks later I visited Bristol, the home city of Banksy, who is synonymous with British street art but whose work we didn’t see in Shoreditch. W.H.Smith in Temple Meads station, featured a biography of Banksy (The Man Behind The Wall by Will Ellsworth-Jones in its bestseller section. Â Still intrigued by the Shoreditch tour I decided to buy the book and read it on the train on the way back.
Banksy comes across in the book as similar in approach to Damien Hirst — the sort of figure who uses irony like a boomerang. Â I was most interested in the stories of rivalry and disputes between the street artists were particularly entertaining. Weâ€™d seen some art on the Shoreditch tour that referred to King Robbo, an artist whoâ€™d been working around the area since the 80s and pre-dates Banksy.
As was reported on the Shoreditch tour, Robbo was badly injured last year (he was in a coma, although he’s recovering) and many of the other artists paid tribute to his work. It’s not clear from my photos as I didn’t get a complete view of the work originally but there’s a tribute to Robbo by (I believe) an artist called Don on a boarded up shop in Redchurch Street.
Around 2008, Robbo and Banksy were involved in an infamous dispute that apparently started when Banksy painted over a Robbo mural on the Regentâ€™s Canal that had, surprisingly, survived intact for many years. Thereâ€™s an intriguing account of how the mural was then adapted by Robbo and Banksy in turn to trade insults. Being in a relatively inaccessible section of the canal, Robbo had to put on a wetsuit and paddle on an inflatable raft to reach the wall, and falling in the water, which shows the lengths these artists are prepared to go to.
Sabina said that the Regentâ€™s Canal was her favourite spot for street art so I was quite pleased that I have a little scene set on the towpath in my novel, probably very near the Robbo mural. And it seems quite appropriate that the canal is an unusually quiet, reflective place detached from the city — it’s almost at the boundary between urban and rural, one of the themes of the novel.
I drove into London at the weekend and came back via Shoreditch, Dalston and the Holloway Road. It was exactly the journey that’s made by some of my characters in the novel between two extremes of England. Despite having lived in Greater London for 16 years, through the graffiti tour I’ve gained a much better understanding of the urban view.
The last post dwelt on art at the celebrity and ‘major gallery spaces’ level Â (asÂ Time OutÂ describes them). But my novel is about an artist trying to make a living, someone who doesn’t have the reputation of Picasso or Hirst nor has the resources or the inclination to re-stage the battle of Orgreave. To get an appreciation of how art is produced and sold at the more accessible end of the market I went along to theÂ Affordable Art Fair in Battersea ParkÂ in March (handily getting a discount on entry with my Art Fund card!).
The Affordable Art Fair differs from the London Art Fair by maintaining a price ceiling of Â£4,000 on all works for sale (although I was shown an under-the-counter Â£20k picture by Billy Childish), which means that those of us who don’t run hedge funds might have a prospect of picking up a decent piece of work for an amount that’s, well, affordable.
I only had a lunch-hour to look around the huge pavilion with hundreds of stands from galleries all over the country so I was intrigued by the ‘Egg Timer Tour’ offered by Love Art London. This was a free tour of ten of the most interesting stands which was guaranteed to take no more than an hour — and to ensure punctuality Chris Pensa, who ran the trip, took along a clockwork egg timer. When it buzzed, it was time to move on, at pace, to the next stand.
(One of the stands we visited had miniature figures within glass containers created by Jimmy Cauty, ex-of the KLF — which is an interesting connection with the Jeremy Deller exhibition mentioned in the previous post.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the tour — it was a fast-moving (literally) and very approachable introduction to the contemporary art world. After the tour I learned more aboutÂ Love Art LondonÂ — they organise eventsÂ approximately once a week,Â for people interested in art, often visiting galleries for private tours, having Q&A sessions with artists in their own studios and so on — ideal for my writing research purposes. Chris sold membership to me instantly when he said the whole thing was so friendly and informal that they usually end each event in the pub — often drinking with the artists. This organisation could have been created specifically for me!
The first event I went to — a private viewing of Glasweigian duoÂ littlewhiteheadÂ ‘s installations in the Sumaria Lunn gallery near Bond Street — was fascinating from my perspective of learning how artists interact with their galleries and collectors. Unfortunately, with the gallery being close to the Mayfair hedge fund types, the pub afterwards was so packed with suited chinless wondersÂ five-deep ordering Roederer Cristal at the bar that I didn’t have time to order myself a drink before I needed to get my train home.
Fortunately, at the next event, I was successfully able to pop into the pub — the Owl and Pussycat in Shoreditch, just round the corner from Kim’s fictional studio in my novel — with fellow Love Art London members and Chris Pensa himself. He told me that he’d set up Love Art London after working for a while at Sotheby’s and he found it very rewarding to provide this sociable and fun way of becoming familiar with the London art world — he also provides a similar service for corporate clients — a different sort of experience than the normal team away-day.
We were in Shoreditch after having had a private viewing of work exhibited by the shortlisted artists for the Catlin Prize. Art Catlin curator, Justin Hammond visits shows by students graduating from British art schools and picks forty artists to feature in a publication — the Catlin Guide — which has become known as an overview of new British art.
Ten of the artists were selected to exhibit in a gallery in Londonewcastle, which appeared to be a warehouse currently undergoing conversion in Shoreditch (I know this as I had to be sneaked round the rest of the building to go to the toilet, having had a very quick couple of pints near Monument on the way) and four of these artists gave us a short talk about the work they had on show, which was fascinating for me in trying to improve my understanding of the way young artists work in London.
Jonny Briggs‘s works were mainly in what wasÂ probably the most conventional form — photography — but his photographs had a very surreal quality. He explained that he explores themes related to his awakening as an adult in his teenage years — and rather than alienate his parents as is the stereotype — he involves them in his art. His father appeared in several works — sometimes wearing a latex mask of himself — and providing a bronze cast of a toe for one non-photographic piece.
Max Dovey’s work as a performance artist earned him a place in the Catlin prize shortlist — and he exhibited something that resembled a fixed monument both to an event he’d organised and to mark the passing of the technology that event had marked — the ceasing of analogue television broadcasts.Final Broadcast, a short online video, records a party Max had organised to celebrate the last night of analogue television transmission in the London region (the last in the country). The Last Day of TV, his Catlin exhibit, was a series of five sets of five boxed videotapes which were recordings of the last hours of the type of transmission that had first started about 75 years ago. The videocassettes, which are an almost archaic item themselves, were set on a wall like an apt combination of library books and tombstones.
Julia Vogl, who was named as the overall winner of the Catlin prize last week, designed a very clever participatory exhibit — Let’s Hang Out. She constructed a Mondrian-style grid of black and white, both on the floor and against the wall, like three sides of a cube. This was surrounded by carpet tiles, stacked in about half-a-dozen different colours.
A slogan on the wall challenged viewers to declare what they’d do in a spare ten minutes by tossing a square carpet tile into the grid. A key on the wall assigned colours to activities, which included: ‘Tweet’, ‘Call Mum’, ‘Daydream’ and, the only activity whose colour I remember, ‘Masturbate’ (a yellowy-gold). Â I think these gold tiles were winning when we saw the installation, which says something about the visitors to the exhibition — probably their honesty.
On her website, Julia Vogl categorises Let’s Hang OutÂ Â as a social sculpture and it captures the Zeitgeist of the times – with its physical, participatory interaction encouraging viewers to share their ‘status’. And the use of such familiar and (literally) workaday material as office carpet tiles also emphasises the democratised perspective of the work (apparently the artist used to work in political polling). Let’s Hang OutÂ was last week declared the winner of the Catlin Prize 2012 — by judges who included the art critics of The Times and Time Out.
But there was another prize, awarded to the artist who polled highest in a public vote — entries were either submitted online or in a ballot box at the entrance to the exhibition. This was won by Adeline deÂ Monseignat. Her work Mother HEB/LoletaÂ also explored touch and texture. The work comprised several glass spheres partially buried in sand — exploring the connection between the smoothness and solidity of glass and the graininess and liquidity of its component material. Most of the spheres were small, set around a much larger glass ball about 70 cms in diameter. Pushed against the inside surface of the bigger globe was something with an organic, furry texture which was folded in irregular ridges like the surface of a brain — and if one looked at the sculpture for long enough, this inner material could be seen to move up and down almost imperceptibly — as if it were alive.
The sculpture had a surreal but soothing other-worldly quality, as if some alien life-form had descended into a desert-scape. With Adeline’s permission, I’ve linked through to a photo of a similar installation on her blog — Emerging.
Adeline gave us a very illuminating talk about how she constructed these unique objects — which I referred to as furry orbs. The material inside was old fur coats, picked up from charity shops and the large glass sphere was custom made by a glassblower and was likely the largest of its kind in the country (any other large transparent sphere would usually be made out of perspex for weight and resilience purposes).
With its understated ‘breathing’, juxtaposition of the sensuality of fur on the inside of the sphere and the sterility of glass on the outside, and the spheres’ resemblance to eggs scattered in a barren desert, the work raises questions about some of the most fundamental issues — such as fertility and the creation of life.
From my novel’s perspective, it was interesting that the two prizewinners were both young women artists who’ve moved from abroad to work in London — Julia Vogl is from the US and Adeline is from Monaco — so it’s a relief that my character is credible in that respect. However, I’m probably never going to a character in a novel written by me that can come up with the sort of innovation and insight that any of these real-life young artists have shown — Kim mainly works in painting with an interesting side-line in photography.
But one thing that’s great fun about writing about art is trying to give enough of a description so the reader can then imagine the work — creating imaginary artworks that exist in the individuals’ minds but that have never actually been physically created — a concept that’s reminiscent of Keats’sÂ famous lines in Ode to A Grecian Urn: ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter.’ (Later recycled in the 1980s by ABC as ‘The sweetest melodies are an unheard refrain‘.) Both basically mean that the conception of an artwork is always more perfect than any eventual physical realisation — something also very true of writing.
And so I ended up drinking with the Love Art London people and a few of the Catlin Prize artists outside the Owl and the Pussycat pub. I’m back in Shoreditch again on Friday for Love Art London’s graffiti tour, which I’m looking forward to enormously — again it will be excellent research for the novel. As I prepared to walk back to Old Street station, Chris pointed out some work immediately around the Londonewcastle Gallery — including a stickman by Stick — who’s apparently something of a mysterious celebrity.
I’m not sure if Redchurch Street, Shoreditch is the ‘land where the Bong-tree grows’Â but it’s where, for the next few days until 25th May, the works by all ten of the Catlin Prize shortlisted artists can still be seen — and I believe it’s free to get in.
When I started writing the novel there were certain themes that I thought IÂ was fairly knowledgeable about: pubs, for example — I knew a lot about those. And food. And London geography and the pleasures of the Chilterns. And Germany and Germans. AND the tortures of corporate life as a ‘senior manager in a FTSE-100 company’, as my CV likes to mention (though not the torture part).
(With so many themes, it’s no surprise the novel is on the long side.)
However, I realised the more that I wrote about Kim, the contemporary, urban artist, the more I was relying on supposition and less on experience. I realised that it might be a valid reason for rejection of my novel if I got my depiction of life as an edgy artist horribly wrong (allowing of course for artistic licence — no pun intended — and exaggeration for comedic purposes).
So I started taking I more active interest in things art-related, as previous blog posts have illustrated…at the end of last week I managed to develop that interest to the point where I was standing outside a pub in Shoreditch drinking with a few of the most fÃªted young artists working in this country (although this story will be concluded in the next blog post).
To go back a little, I’d started to go to events like, earlier this year, the London Art Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington. I wanted to see how art is sold at the sharp, commercial end – and I went on a tour of some of the stands set up by the younger, lesser-known artists in the artprojects area.
It was at the London Art Fair that I signed up as a member of the Art Fund, which is a brilliant scheme for anyone interested in art. It’s philanthropic – your membership fee is used to procure art for the public benefit and the Art Fund awards an annual prize for artists – and you get a magazine. But the main attraction is very good discounts off entrance prices to the best art galleries in the country — in the case of those that are free, like the Tates and National, the discount applies to special exhibitions that have an extra charge.
I’ve made reasonably good use of my membership, although I was sadly too slow off the mark to book for the Hockney and Leonardo exhibitions at the Royal Academy and National Gallery respectively. I made sure, therefore, that I got in early to see the Tate’s Damien Hirst retrospective. So now I’ve seen for myself the sharks (see sneaked photo), sheep, rotting cows head, pills, sliced cows, bling and so on.
I’m not sure what I think about Damien Hirst. I found the exhibition quite entertaining — but that’s possibly because it contained so many works that have become modern icons. There was certainly a progression that reflected his ability to now create art from obscenely expensive materials — the later gold pill cabinets and the diamond encrusted skull ‘For the Love of God’ (which is on display for free in a separate display in the turbine hall).
Perhaps it’s the British animal lover in me but I feel somewhat uneasy about creating fromÂ of the dead bodies of previously living creatures — be it butterflies, sharks or cows — even the flies zapped in real-time after feasting on the decomposing cow’s head or the picture made entirely from black dead flies.
But I guess that’s how the artist might say he wants the viewer to feel — to think about how art can be created from death — especially in the case of the butterfly pictures (see photo) — which, to me, were the most impressive part of the show.
Given Hirst’s controversial reputation and persona perhaps the most illuminating thing that I took away from the exhibition was physical — Gregor Muir’s book Lucky Kunst.
(For those unfamiliar with German, Kunst is the German word for art. I’m not sure what the technical reason is for using Kunst in the title of a book subtitled ‘The Rise and Fall of Young British Art’ beyond the punning homophonic aspect that might seem appropriate for Hirst’s inversion of the artist-in-a-starving-garret stereotype.)
The book has been very useful research for the novel in describing the origins of the artistic colonisation of Shoreditch in the mid 90s — where you were more likely to see a rat in the street than a Pizza Express or Crowne Plaza or pop-up container-shop mall as you might these days — a place where it was apparently easier to buy drugs than a pint of milk (that probably changed when the Tesco Metro opened).
The Art Fund pass got me reduced entry into the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, where, because I’d done little research in advance, I was surprised to come face-to-Cubist-face with what was at the time (it was superseded earlier this month by a version of Munch’s The Scream) the most expensive painting ever sold at auction: Picasso’sÂ Nude, Green Leaves and BustÂ — with its suggestions of black bondage straps — which sold for over $100m.
It’s interesting that a Picasso should have sold for so much because it seems to flout one of the basic principles of economics — scarcity value. Even that single Tate exhibition was crammed full of his works — much more so than I realised from the title — I’d wondered if there would be any Picasso’s in there at all or just works inspired by him. From reading the documentary material provided in the exhibition, it’s obvious that Picasso was an extraordinarily very prolific — and fast-working — artist. Compare the near 2,000 paintings that Picasso made with the 15 that it’s thought Leonardo startedÂ (some he never completed).
MyÂ Time OutÂ subscription has been invaluable for listing the shows worth seeing in London and I had to rush to catch the last couple of days of their highly recommendedÂ Jeremy Deller and David Shrigley joint exhibition.
Neither are what the layman would describe as conventional artists. (A layman might argue that Leonardo’s Anatomical drawings from 500 years ago, which I saw at the Queen’s Gallery yesterday,Â show more technical accomplishment.)
I didn’t really ‘get’ Â Shrigley’sÂ Brain ActivityÂ — which seemed to work at the level of Baldrick humour fromÂ BlackadderÂ or Terry Jones’s historical inquests — trying to generate searching questions from positions of faux naivety. Interesting and diverting — but, as a reviewer said, ‘so what’?
By contrast some of Jeremy Deller’s work in ‘Joy in People’ captivated me in a way I can’t fully rationalise.Â Deller is a specialist in performance art — creating events and ‘happenings’ rather than enduring artefacts (like paintings or photographs).
Some of his work I found too pointed and obvious — such as the wreck of an Iraqi car bomb that he towed across the United States. But I found some of his other work connected with me profoundly.
While Deller is a Londoner (a recreation of his teenage suburban bedroom opened the exhibition) he has an attachment to the north, particularly my home city of Manchester — and the ‘otherness’ that Manchester and the north represent. This includes Deller’s homage to ‘Madchester’ and the 90s acid-house culture, such as the Fairey brass band
playing the KLF (Fairey engineering was a well-known employer in the north-west, I remember my uncle’s first job being at Faireys). Â Sadly most of the visitors to the exhibition probably had no clue where the towns on the Procession banner (see photo) were located, nor really cared. It’s probably the first time in years, if ever, that Manchester’s unglamorous satellite boroughs, such as Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside, Bury and Stockport have been celebrated in a London gallery.
Deller’s The Battle of OrgreaveÂ also touched me. He staged a recreation, almost 20 years later, of the infamous conflict in the 1984-5 miners’ strike. The exhibit is a documentary of the event and various artefacts associated with the recreation. As with the snack bar, the unpretentious dignity of the ex-miners and police is disarming and justifies the title of the exhibition of Joy in People. The Battle of Orgreave is also symbolically important from the perspective of the current wreckage of worship and pursuit of global capital that followed Thatcher’s defeat of collectivised labour. I’d argue it was the defining moment when the power of the state was used to literally bludgeon away any impediment to its Faustian pact with stateless global capital heralded by Big Bang in the City the year after the miners were defeated, 1986.
Twenty five years on, with most Western economies running dire deficits largely caused by indebtedness to the countries to which we outsourced our industrial base (principally China), the argument that manufacturing doesn’t matter compared to financial services seems about to be exploded finally in the turmoil that the consequent indebtedness has caused in the Euro zone. (However, the Euro crisis is interesting from my novel’s point-of-view in highlighting the elephant in the Euro that is Germany).
It can be argued that the miners contributed to their own downfall and that some change to the unaccountable unionised self-interest of the 70s was necessary but The Battle of Orgreave demonstratesÂ the amount of spite and violence that was deliberately used to settle political and social class-based scores. I’d argue the polarisation of social and political attitudes that arose out of support of the miners still persists and is at the root of many attitudes today — in the light of what later happened, it’s instructive to remember the sense of celebration in the country when Blair was elected in 1997 — A Joy in People event if ever there was one?Â Nearly thirty years on, the antipathy of much of the cultural establishment to the current government is rooted in the miners’ strike, especially the hostility directed towards Nick Clegg for propping up the hated Tories.
Deller is right to treat Orgreave like a battle in a civil war because its scars are still evident and, while not art in the traditional sense, when his work succeeds it does so in a way that art should — to provoke recognition and resonances within the viewer so that it creates a lasting impression much greater than the physical work itself.
Anyone who’s walked around certain areas of London — such as the South Bank, Carnaby Street or Canary Wharf — during Lent this year might have been puzzled by seeing giant eggs dotted around on plinths. I discovered them on a lunchtime stroll in St. James’s Park which, like Green Park, was home to about a dozen of these mysterious objects.
What made the eggs fascinating was that each was uniquely created by an artist, jeweller, designer or, even, architect — many of whom were household names like Bruce Oldfield, Sir Peter Blake or Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. (The architects’ designs were unsurprisingly elaborate and spectacular — see this article.)
210 of the eggs were distributed across London in 12 zones (some mentioned above) for enthusiasts to hunt down using Facebook or SMS to text donations to the charities using the egg’s number. I intended to track down them all but ran out of time before I spotted too many — although I did spot a few spectacular eggs in shop windows around Sloane Square and a few hanging from the underside of the Royal Festival Hall as well as those in the parks.
In the week before Easter all the eggs were brought to ‘nest’ at Covent Garden and hours before they were all due removed to be auctioned off I managed to make a visit. I was very glad I did.
I liked the idea of the egg hunt but seeing the eggs altogether around the piazza — some in shops, others hung from the roof, most arranged in rows on the cobbles — showed what Â extraordinary breadth of innovation and imagination had been devoted to the eggs’ conception. There were eggs that were quirky, eccentric, clever, beautiful, funny,Â witty, sensual, extravagant and thought-provoking — and all were completely individual. So it was appropriate they’d been dotted around London — a city that also well deserves that list of adjectives. Â The tourists in Covent Garden were definitely enjoying the surprise eggstravaganza (I finally succumbed to ovoid-linguistic temptation).
I took a few photos (arranged in the collage above) of some of my favourites, although I didn’t photograph the one that’s made the most lasting impression on me, which was Egg 5 Around the world before bedtime, (which is covered in wistful flying childhood dream silhouttes against a beautiful graded brown background)Â by Miss Dee (who’s apparently a Brighton-based wall mural artist).
As a bit of character development I was wondering which of the eggs Kim, the artist in my novel, might have created. I guess the proper answer is none — like all the artists and designers she’d create something unique — but I saw a few that would seem to appeal to her personality. The black egg with randomly flashing lights (Chicken by Jason Bruges Studio) might be appropriate for her hip Shoreditch nightlife; the elaborate decoration of Charm by Spina Designs ties in with her body jewellery (and she’d probably be interested in Â passementerie too); but probably the most apt for spiky Kim would be Harriet Mead’s Ambush — a plain egg climbed by two lizards about to devour a cricket. Â (Her artistic style might be reflected by Eggsquisite London, The Power of Plants and Sad Happy Frog Egg in the photos above.)
The eggs in the photos at the top (clockwise from the top left) are: 14,Â AscensionÂ by Caio Locke and 3D Eye; 169, Egg Letter Box by Benjamin Shine; 130, Eggsquisite London by Paul Kenton; Â 179, My Generation by Vincent McEvoy; Â 159, The Power of Plants by Susan Entwistle;Â 113, Sad Happy Frog Egg by Gary Card; 55, Metropolis by Rob and Nick Carter; 196 On/Oeuf by Oliver Clegg; and the other side of Eggsquisite London.
The post below said that I’d been given good advice that one final push should see completion of a decent draft of the novel. Co-incidentally, that’s similar to the progress of something else that’s been featured in this blog occasionally (and pictures of which seem to get a fair number of hits).
The Shard is due to be finished by May this year. However, it’s still got a small way to go. I can see its progress most days from the office where I’ve been working (although, by definition, it can probably be seen from more offices than any other building now). The spire at the top is apparently complete but the uppermost floors aren’t yet finished.
I’ll be fascinated to see how the crane is removed. There’s a similar type of crane right next to where I usually work and I was really interested to see how that was erected. But that’s not 72 storeys up in the air.
So here’s a photo I took on a run last Thursday — there won’t be many more opportunities to photograph the building’s construction. Seeing as my novel features a lot of London, although its timescales predate the rapid rising of the Shard on the skyline, it would be a nice bit of karma (as a couple of my characters like to talk about) for both to be completed at the same time.
UPDATE: On the same day I posted this, the BBC website reported that the last pieces of the steel spire on top of the Shard had been lifted into place. They say the construction will be finished in June (does that I mean I give myself an extra month with the novel?)
This isn’t a great photograph — a bit blurry and I did photoshop it a bit to bring out the contrast — but it shows the most marvellous conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter that are in the night sky tonight.
Actually, it probably doesn’t matter that this isn’t a good photo as no photo can do justice to Â the sight of the moon tonight — it looked unreal, like it had been stuck on the sky like one of those adhesive celestial bodies people attach to ceilings.
Fortunately there are very few lights outside where I live so the moon and planets were very bright (although I’m sure they could easily be seen in London) but the rest of the stars were also pretty impressive tonight. I’m deliberating about a chapter in the novel that contrasts the night sky in London with the view from the countryside and spectacular sights like tonight’s make me inclined to keep it in because of the awe inspiring sense of wonder one occasionally experiences through sights like that above.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Red Lion in Avebury — it’s the most typically English thing imaginable — a half-timbered, thatched pub situated right in the middle of one of the most significant ancient sites in the world — the famous stone circle.
In a typically English prosaic touch, the pub isn’t preserved in an idyllic garden but has a busy A-road passing right by the front door — and, when I’ve visited, this had brought a load of bikers stopping off to provide the pub’sÂ clientÃ¨leÂ — not ruddy-faced yokels.
In the current draft of the novel, it’s mentioned at least twice (Kim and Emma are into the stones’ energy) — and the exterior looks quite like I imagine The Angel itself to look — particularly the thatching.
As the photo shows above, the Red Lion became one of the many thatched hostleries to catch on fire — fortunately this was contained in the Red Lion’s case but I know at least three pubs (at least two that were thatched) that have burned down into a shell in the last ten years within 15 miles of where I live: the Woolpack, Stoke Mandeville — rebuilt extraordinarily quickly; the Bottle and Glass, Gibraltar (between Aylesbury and Thame); and the Rising Sun, Ickford (a village in the wilds up near J8 of the M40). Fortunately all have been rebuilt and all are thriving.
So, thinking of plot ideas, if I have a lovely thatched pub in my novel, it wouldn’t be too improbable for some similar catastrophe to hit the building, would it?
I took this photo while on the pub crawl described below. The large lamp hangs outside Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. The street posts show it’s in the City of London while floodlit St.Paul’s almost hangs in the sky like a spectral moon.
As mentioned elsewhere, the slope of Fleet Street downwards is one side of the valley where the hidden river Fleet runs underground. When you realise there’s a river there the geography of London seems quite different and it’s almost possible to imagine what it would be like without any buildings.
There are suggestions that this route had some sort of mythical significance for prehistoric settlers in the area — that a ley line runs towards St.Paul’s along Fleet Street and that Ludgate Circus (at the bottom of the valley half way between where the photo was taken and St.Paul’s) was the site of a stone circle and megalith.
As anyone who’d watched TV or picked up a newspaper since Christmas will know, 2012 is the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of arguably Britain’s greatest novelist. If you’re a person with more modern tastes in literature you may believe that the quality of his actual writing is less laudable (he uses plenty of adverbs and adjectives, omniscient narrators and other contemporary sins), you’d still have to concede the lasting influence of Dickens on British society and culture.
I would be interesting to see how a modern-day Dickens fared in a creative writing workshop. As Armando Ianucci argued in his recent BBC programme celebrating Dickens, it’s the writer’s gift for creating memorable characters, evoking setting, raging against social injustice and, above all, as aÂ humoristÂ that make his works so memorable — and so widely adapted into other media. Character, setting, theme and the ability to give a reader the sheer enjoyment of reading are vital ingredients of a successful novel but are very difficult to teach on creative writing courses that necessarily focus on analysing shorter passages.
I bought Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on LiteratureÂ for my recent MA essay on The Rules of Creative Writing and Nabokov uses a lecture on Bleak House to examine Dickens’s techniques in detail. Nabokov identifies thirteen different different attributes of the style of Dickens’s language — including repetition, evocative names, plays on words, oblique description of speech, epithets and something called the Carlylean Apostrophic Manner.
NabokovÂ criticises Dickens’s storytelling ability but still rates his as a great writer, as well as a particularly enjoyable one to read. Bearing in mind the extended form of the novel Nabokov says ‘Control over a constellation of characters and themes, the technique of holding people and events bunched together, or of evoking absent characters through dialogue — in other words, the art of not only creating people but keeping created people alive within the reader’s mind throughout a long novel — this, of course, is the obvious sign of greatness.’
This last point is so obvious it often seems to be omitted from a list of techniques required by novel writers — ‘the art…of creating people [and] keeping [them] alive’ — all other novelists techniques are really subordinate this aim.
Dickens’s actual birth date is the 7th February, next Tuesday, but I’m paying tribute to the great man in a way that he would surely approve of — by organising a pub crawl around some of the drinking establishments that he visited himself and featured in his novels. So tomorrow (as I write it — Friday 3rd February for clarification) I will be leading a party in literary homage visiting the following places at approximately the following times:
6pm Cittie of York, 22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BS (Chancery Lane Tube) –Â The Cittie of York is on the site of Grayâ€™s Inn Coffee House, mentioned in both David Copperfield and Barnaby Rudge.
6.45pm Knight’s Templar, 95 Chancery Lane, WC1A 2DT — not much of a Dickens association apart from being in the middle of Chancery Lane — so bang in legal London — it’s a Wetherspoon conversion of what was apparently the Union Bank.
7.30pm Ye Old Cheshire Cheese,Â 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU — the current building dating to a rebuild in 1667, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese was one of Charles Dickensâ€™s favourite pubs, along with many other famous authors. It is likely the inspiration for a pub on Fleet Street mentioned in The Tale of Two Cities.
8.15pm Ye Old Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ — Dickens was known to drink in the historic and secluded Old Mitre — a pub that has so much bizarre history (its licence used to be granted in Cambridgeshire until the 1950s) it could fill its own guidebook.
9pm Craft Beer Company, 82 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TR — close to Bleeding Heart Yard (in Little Dorrit*) but it’s the best new beer pub in London (*anyone know which flower’s most well-know variety is named after this novel?)
9.45pm The One Tun, 125-6 Saffron Hill, EC1N 8QS –Â The One Tun is believed to have inspired Oliver Twist. The Three Cripples fictional public house was located next door to the One Tun and a real-life Fagin lived nearby. Dickens drank in the pub from 1833-1838.
If you’re in any of those pubs on Friday 3rd February then come and say hello — although it might need to be a virtual one via the blog. If I say you’ll be able to spot me as I’ll be semi half-cut (a tautology I used in work submitted on my MA course) with a group of around half-a-dozen males looking desperate for the next ale then it won’t be much use as half the pub will answer that description.
Anyone familiar with London will notice that this subset of pubs with Dickens associations is in the Holborn-Fleet Street- Farringdon-Clerkenwell area — not a particularly touristy part of the city even now — and one that changed a greatly in the nineteenth century with, among other developments, the culverting of the River Fleet in the Farringdon area in conjunction with the construction of the Metropolitan Railway — the world’s first underground. Â (Crossrail now means the Farringdon area is being dug up all over again.)
Even so, the area north of Hatton Garden around Gray’s Inn Road and Mount Pleasant and stretching towards King’s Cross retains a more raffish atmosphere than most parts of London — this was the territory of Bill Sykes and his presence still seems to permeate the area. Perhaps it’s the geography of the area — much more vertical separation than most of London with a roads on different levels and a few steep streets?
I’m attracted to exploring these lesser known parts of London and the characters in my novel will make a journey on the other side of the Fleet valley (the contours of a river valley are very noticeable, particularly where Clerkenwell Road crosses the Metropolitan Line near Farringdon station) from Shoreditch to Bankside via Hoxton, Finsbury, Clerkenwell, St.Paul’s and Blackfriars — not the areas you normally find on the open-topped bus routes.
The title of this post is a German word that’s been adopted into English usage in the art world and translates roughly as total artwork — which I suppose is similar to the concept of total football as played by the Brazilian team of 1970 — as the ideal and ultimate, all-embracing example of a skill (so the defenders could dribble like strikers and vice versa). In aesthetics Gesamtkunstwerk is similarly ‘a synthesising of different art forms into one, all-embracing, unique genre’.
The quotation above comes from the catalogue of an exhibition calledÂ Gesamtkunstwerk currently running at the Saatchi Gallery just off the King’s Road in London. It’s a collection of work subtitled ‘New Art from Germany’ — so writing about a contemporary German artist in my novel I thought I’d better visit.
I’m not much of an art expert, particularly on sculptures and installations, but I found the quick visit I had around the gallery in my lunch hour to be quite fascinating. There was a fair amount of what most people would find quite bizarre — bits of cloth threaded on to sticks and so on — but even the more abstract sculptures seemed to have something of a theme about materialism and post-industrial society. Scrap metal and other discarded objects were often used as materials.
Similarly, there were a fair number of collages formed out of pictures taken from popular culture. I’m a bit ambivalent about ‘real’ artists creating collages — it seems like cheating to me to chop up existing images (presumably the copyright of someone else) and just re-arrange them in a different pattern. But that’s all related to the debate about artist as craftsperson and creator or artist as an interpreter and re-imaginer. One artist whose collages made an impression on me was Kirstine Roepstorff, who’s actually a Dane working in Germany. She had an impressive collage that looked like it had been set in Center Parcs called ‘You Are Being Lied To’ (by men apparently — it’s a feminist statement) but I marginally preferred a science-fiction flavoured work called ‘All Possible Experiences’ which I’ve linked to below via the Saatchi Gallery website.
I also liked Stefan KÃ¼rten’s architecturally inspired paintings, which reminded me of all the solidly-built, brutalistic office blocks that I’ve worked in myself in Germany over the last 10 years or so.
I was impressed by Georg Herold’s two sculptures (both called ‘Untitled’). These were both of female figures created out of wooden battens and canvass and finished off in red or purple lacquer. The catalogue points out the paradox that the figures appear in poses that are sexualised and festishistic yet they are made using very dehumanised materials (not the smooth marble, bronze or plaster that one might normally associate with representations of the human form).
I’d not been to the Saatchi Gallery before so the highlight of my visit wasn’t the art from Germany but the fascinating Richard Wilson work 20: 50. This is a huge tank of used sump oil with a mirror smooth surface that is viewed from a platform slightlyÂ above. It’s amazing — a black void that’s also invisible and reflective.
We had another workshop session with Emily today and I took the opportunity of being up in the general area to visit the London Art Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Not having the financial means myself to set up as a dabbler in art collection, I realised that I’m fairly ignorant about the business of art — how galleries and dealers interact with artists and collectors. I was a little reluctant to pay well over Â£10 for a ticket to an event which seemed to be geared around selling things but I was incredibly glad that I did. I only spent about two and a half hours there but could easily have spent twice as long. The effect of walking around the exhibition with so much art on display was visually intoxicating — and mixing with that arty type of person will hopefully inform my writing of Kim.
While most of the artwork was up for sale, there was plenty of work from well known artists that could be viewed as it would be in a gallery. I didn’t have time to track down the Damien Hirst and David Hockney pieces (and if the gallery owners had looked at my shoes then I doubt they’d have given me the time of day) but I did come across a couple of Beryl Cook pictures quite unexpectedly.
From my fairly random strolling around the stalls I noted the following artists (and their exhibiting galleries) as those I particularly liked.Â Pamela Stretton’s Â mosaic-like works at the Mark Jason Gallery were intriguing (rewarding both close up and distant viewing). I also liked the abstract cityscapes painted byÂ Alicia Dubnyckj and Jenny Pocket at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art. On a similarly geographical theme I also enjoyedÂ Tobias Till and Susan Stockwell’s work at TAG Fine Arts. (Susan Stockwell’s ‘China Gold’ is about the most eloquent commentary on globalisation and the credit crunch that I’ve yet seen — if I had Â£3,500 to spare I’d buy one of the 5 copies.)
For research purposes I was less interested in the famous artists and more in those who made a living at their art but have yet to hit the heights — which is the position the novel finds Kim to be in. Because of this interest, I managed to get a place on a guided tour of the Art Projects section of the fair which is dedicated to new and emerging artists.
The tour was given by Art Projects’ curator Pryle Behrman who explained the recurrent themes that appeared to be common in much of the work. Unsurprisingly a lot of art commented on the economic situation but he said there was also an emergence of playfulness and a rejection of the concept of artists as a profound commentator. He said that many artists realised that art fairs where work was sold to speculators at inflated prices (like the one we were at) were part of the problem with the naked greed strain of capitalism — so artists as a whole could hardly be holier-than-thou about it.
To emphasise the point, one of the most striking exhibits was the corbettPROJECTS ‘Ghost of a Dream’ by Adam Ekstrom and Lauren Was. They create spectacular but fragile displays decorated with used lottery scratch cards and covers of romantic novels.
Perhaps the most bizarre, but also thought provoking, was the work of Jenny Keane who sketches stills from horror movies in black and white line drawings. She then licks the most horrific part of the picture (such as where a vampire might strike on the neck) and does so with such intensity and endurance that she not only scrapes a hole in the paper but makes her tongue bleed in the process (see photo here). The blood and saliva seep into the paper around the hole — and are listed as artistic materials when the works are sold — see here.
The boundary between physical and intellectual, which Jenny Keane is breaking down by embedding her bodily fluids into the artwork, is something that probably polarises the ‘artistic’ community and the respectableÂ bourgeoisie who might like to collect their works.Â I briefly mentioned about 3 months ago that I went to see the Pipilotti Rist show ‘Eyeball Massage’ when it was on at the Hayward Gallery. Rist is not shy of using her own body to make her point as an artist.Â AlthoughÂ it’s never titillating or prurient, she appears naked in some of her works and one of the best known, Mutaflor, features shots from a camera that appears to emerge out of her anus — which is fleetingly shown in close-up.
This was all shown at a flagship exhibition at one of Â Britain’s leading visual art galleries so it’s understandable that in the novel this is the metropolitan attitude than Kim blithely takes with her into the Home Counties sticks — but will her very liberal attitudes go down well with the respectable commuting and country types?
I have a short update to the story of the Wenlock Arms in Hoxton, mentioned below, which is relevant to the fate of many pubs across the country.
The Wenlock is a spit-and-sawdust, East-end style local (which looks from the outside rather like a more downmarket version of the Queen Vic from EastEnders). It’s typical of an urban pub style that would have been found on virtually every street corner in Victorian London. However, the triple threats of German bombing in the second world war, post-war redevelopment and theÂ consequencesÂ of changing leisure time activites leading to changes of use have led to such pubs becoming increasingly rare. If the buildings still stand as pubs then they’re likely to have been either gentrified into ‘bar and kitchen’ gastropubs or be vile drinking dens full of pool tables and fruit machines.
Not so the Wenlock. Mainly due to the pub’s promotion of real ale from small and microbrewers and the consequent patronage of the members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and like minded drinkers, the Wenlock has continued as a genuine community pub — for example hosting regular live music. The phrase ‘unspoilt by progress’ (used by Banks’ for their beers in the West Midlands) could be applied accurately to the interior, which appears to have been under an informal preservation order that has seen a moratorium on anyÂ discernibleÂ interior decoration — which to the generally stylistically challenged CAMRA members is seen as a Good Thing.
As mentioned in the post on Shoreditch, the Wenlock sits in an area that is on the fringes of the Hoxton-Shoreditch urban renaissance — had it been any closer it would probably have been converted to a bijou neon place called Bar Frottage or something. However, the economic winds of redevelopment finally reached the Wenlock and an application was made to Hackney Council earlier this year.
As suggested above, planning laws mean that there’s no requirement to request permission to change the use of a pub into a similar sort of establishment, like a bar or restaurant, so long as it’s used to sell food and drink. This has been why many pubs have been ruined by being turned into failed restaurants. You could probably turn a pub into a kebab house quite happily.
However, permission is required to change the use of the building to any other sort of commercial use and, particularly, for private housing. As the price of housing is so expensive in large parts of the country, particularly London and the South East, the physical building of a pub (or even just the land it stands on) can be worth far more as an asset than the pub will ever hope to generate as a business. That’s why so many pubs are owned by speculators or giant pub companies that securitise their property portfolios in the City in exchange for cash.
In the case of the Wenlock, developers wanted to build at least five apartments on the plot. These would no doubt have sold for well over a million pounds collectively — creating a profit that would probably take a back-street boozer decades to realise. Therefore, all but the most successful pubs in this country, are only protected from the raging forces of market greed by local planning regulations. In the case of the Wenlock Hackney Council rejected the change of use application and many locals and real ale supporters celebrated this in the autumn.
However, there is a loophole which those wanting to redevelop the Wenlock sought to exploit. Premises can be denied permission for change of use but, unless a building has listed status or is in a conservation area, then the owners can do more or less anything else to it — including demolish it. This tactic has been used ruthlessly in the past where pubs have literally vanished overnight when developers have sent in bulldozers at midnight. (The famous Tommy Ducks in Manchester was an example, which was razed to the ground one night in 1993 at 3am in the morning. This pub used to have women’s knickers pinned to the ceiling — I was once taken there after a school trip to the theatre by the teachers!)
The Wenlock was just outside the Regent’s Canal Conservation area and so its locals were disturbed to see a notice of demolition attached to the building at the end of November. This is apparently a technical process to inform the council of an intention to demolish a building and normally the council can only object to the method of demolition proposed (unless the building is listed or in a conservation area). So it appeared that the Wenlock was going to be turned into a patch of waste ground — with the presumed intention of later lobbying for the original residential development once the pub had become only a memory.
But the pub’s supporters mounted a huge campaign (there’s a Facebook group called Save the Wenlock, which I belong to) and mobilised a coalition of beer drinkers and lovers of vernacular architecture to lobby Hackney council themselves. The pub could have been demolished, as I understand it, from about the 22nd December.
On Monday 19th December at a meeting of Hackney Council, the conservation area was extended to include the Wenlock Arms. The pub had been, possibly, days from demolition but has now been preserved — the fabric of the building and its permitted usage at least — whether the owners want to hang on to it with no prospect of it being anything other than a somewhat down-at-heel looking boozer is an open question. (There’s a very detailed historical and architectural account of the area — and an adjoining pub, the King William IV — on the council website.)
Fortunately there won’t be the traditional, short-lived rush to celebrate the preservation of an amenity that few people actually used — as happens often when economically struggling pubs are denied permission to change use. The Wenlock has never seemed to want for customers, which shows what a bleak outlook there is for less busy pubs when customers have less disposable income, beer duty is rising and inflation (especially utility prices) is rising fast.
As with most retailers, Christmas and New Year are the best times of year for pubs and there will be many publicans who will trade up until New Years Eve, bank the Christmas takings, and then shut down for good. The Wenlock’s success story is rare but it’s salutary and an example of what community action can achieve.
I was in London today and took the time to do a bit of novel-related research. I’m planning on setting a small part of my novel in the Tate Modern and so thought it might be in the spirit of the novel to actually write some of it there.
So, as the picture shows to the left, my netbook is out next to my TateÂ cappuccinoÂ while I wrote a few hundred words about what my characters were doing in the same place — I’m not sure if that does anything for the authenticity of the words on the page but it probably helps me feel that I have some sort of credibility in attempting to use this as a location.
I guess the photo is a bitÂ symbolicÂ in showing the subject of the writing along with the means by which it’s intended to be captured — the Word 2007 screenshot.
The floor where I was sitting is home to the current Gerhard Richter exhibition. This is an incredibly well-reviewed exhibition featuring the works of one of the world’s leading artists, who happens to be German, which fits a little with my novel.
I went to see the exhibition (it’s one of those you have to pay to go in) about five or six weeks ago and was actually very impressed with it. Richter is an incredibly versatile artist who’s created abstract art as well as fascinating landscapes and portraits and still lives — two of his works are exceptionally well known: one of his daughter turning her headÂ and another of a candle that was used on a Sonic Youth album coverÂ .
I then had a look around Daunt Books’ new Cheapside shop.
Nowadays I have to enter bookshops with a resolution of steel — I WILL NOT BUY MORE BOOKS (because I haven’t even got room for all those I currently have — let alone time to read them all). But as soon as I set foot over the threshold I’m ready to be seduced.
And seduction was on the menu for the book I found on one of the tables in the store was The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia by Mark Douglas Hill. And seeing as my novel has lots of food in it and relationships then it immediately attracted my interest.
Co-incidentally I was pleased to see this book as I’ve spent an amount of time on the web trying to see if I could get any more seriously foodie information on this subject myself and oddly enough the range of websites that come up tend to be a bit gimmicky or commercial.
I won’t reveal exactly what my intentions are for purchasing this particular volume of literature to peruse but I think some of the more unusual combinations might give me a bit of fun.
Looking through the table of contents, I initially wondered what wasn’tÂ an aphrosidiac — there were quite a few foodstuffs that are pleasant to eat but perhaps not best known for their aphrodisiac qualities — e.g. steak, honey, caviar, chocolate (although I guess a lot depends on how one might use the last three on that list).
Then there are the sensual or symbolic foods that would go on any Valentine’s night menu — oysters, asparagus, truffles, figs and maybe a few others.
I was quite puzzled over the aphrodisiac qualities of some of the book’s contents — watermelon, celery, pine nuts, quince, anchovies, cheese (which sort — presumably not Stinking Bishop, which I bought recently from Neal’s Yard). Having read some of the foods’ entries these less erotic inclusions appear to made on the strength of their vitamin and mineral content — zinc being a favourite plus various amino acids or similar, like trpytophan, which apparently triggers the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Apparently, the book says,Â eating a banana mimics in a presumably more muted way the taking of ecstasy.
The book gives a recipe (for two, obviously) for each of the ingredients — and some look rather nice. I’d guess most lovers would appreciate a well-cooked meal, even if the ingredients were fairly commonly eaten anyway — like eggs or pineapple. However, some choices seemed utterly bizarre — such as broad beans. How a food so unavoidably associated with flatulence can be considered at all sexually alluring is something of a mystery — apparently it’s all something to do with the ancient Greeks and Pythagoras and the supposed similarity in the bean’s shape to the male gonad (and it also produces dopamine, apparently — better tell the ravers).
At least broad beans are quite familiar unlike some of the aphrodisiacs. The most unusual include pufferfish, sea urchin and iguana. I’d probably rather breakfast on coldÂ pizza in the morning or a leftover kebab heated in the microwave than eat sea urchin. But, then again, in the words of 10cc, eating pufferfish might be one of the things we do for love.
As for iguana, I don’t think even the characters in my novel would go so far as serving that up in pursuit of seduction. (Apparently iguanas have some powerful glands in their inner thighs that produce powerful sexÂ pheromones, which causes them to be turned into an aphrodisiac stew in their Native Nicaragua.) It’s a shame as the book has a recipe for ‘Roast Iguana with Chipotle and Oregano Marinade’, which would have been an interesting dish to feature in my novel. Maybe I’ll go instead for symbolism and have a character with a pet iguana which the cognoscenti will know is a symbol of their hidden, raging sexual passion.
Of course, the Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia doesn’t take itself very seriously (see the link to the author bio above). This is a point that seems to be missed in a rather humourless and contradictory review of the book in the Observer — stating that the way to spot a mediocre novelist is the inevitable use of a meal as a metaphor for sensuality but then goes on to equate eating with sex and states that an intimate meal involves ‘wearing your elemental self on your sleeve’ (maybe it’s OK to use the metaphor in a review but not a novel or maybe I’ve missed some self-reflexive irony?).
Of course Â there’s not much science behind the claims for most aphrodisiacs — although the social and cultural associations of some of the better known foods in the book are enough to make the consumption of these foods in the right context a suggestive and potentially innuendo laden act. I’m sure I can put the research to good effect.
And on the way between the Tate Modern and Daunt Books where I was seduced by this volume, I walked over the Millennium Bridge, which gave me the opportunity to monitor the progress of the Shard again. This time I’ve got a smeary-lensed, city scape with what my blogging acquaintance Female PTSD describes as a giant Issey Miyake perfume bottle (that’s an analogy as a male I never would have got).
…ring the bells of Shoreditch in Oranges and Lemons, Shoreditch being where mos of the start of my novel is set, although I very much doubt the bells of St. Leonard’s are going to help me get rich by writing it. Â (The church is apparently features on current BBC series Rev, which is also set in Shoreditch.)
I’ve visited Shoreditch many times while I’ve been writing the novel, particularly recently, and I think I’ve noticed the most recent stages in its metamorphosis from run-down, working class area to the predominantly cool artists’ neighbourhood that it is today — although you don’t need to wander too far away from the Rivington Road/Shoreditch High Street area to find yourself in some very unartistic-looking, grim housing estates.
Perhaps the opening of Shoreditch High Street overground station about 18 months ago has been a catalyst as now the area is linked directly to south London and the North London Line at Dalston.
Shoreditch is surprisingly close to the City of London and its concentration of wealthy financial services workers. The photo below is taken from Shoreditch Â — the marker post on the right side of the photo shows the City of London boundary marker.
It’s an extraordinary transition point with the Broadgate development on the right along Bishopsgate and the Gherkin in the distance. The street where I stood to take the photo is a very short length of road called Norton Folgate which connects Bishopsgate with Shoreditch High Street. It’s probably no more than one or two hundred yards in length but the contrast in urban landscape between its two ends is striking.
Slightly further up the road, looking away from the City is Great Eastern Street. This very ordinary looking street is actually London’s inner ring road — connecting the end of the dual carriageway at King’s Cross with Tower Bridge via Angel and Old Street. Village Underground with its tube trains on the roof can be spotted in the middle-distance.
After our first workshopping session of the autumn at Mike B’s in Old Street, I visited Village Underground’s large warehouse space (what the trains sit on top of) for the Moniker Art Exhibition in October , which was timed to co-incide with the big London Frieze event in Regent’s Park (at Â£27 a ticket that was a bit steep for me). But there was a lot of really good at the Moniker Event — and the space at Village Underground was a good venue for it.
It’s surprising that hundreds of years after the Roman and medieval walls of London fell into disrepair that it feels as if there’s still some psychological separation between inside and outside their boundaries.
All types of disreputable activities occurred in areas like Shoreditch, just outside the City walls and, in the late sixteenth century, this included actors and playwrights, along with all the other undesirables cast outside the City walls like thieves and prostitutes. Just around the corner from Village Underground is this plaque in Curtain Road, which is a very understated memorial to the Curtain Theatre – a predecessor of the Rose and Globe Theatres in much more historically celebrated Bankside.
London’s first theatre (called The Theatre) was located somewhere around the area between Curtain Road, Village Underground and Shoreditch High Street which has had the track for the new
overground station laid right through it. It’s incredible to think that this area of Victorian warehouses, 60s office blocks and surface car parks was a crucible of the English language — whereÂ Shakespeare started his writing career.
Very close to the Shakespeare plaque is the Old Blue LastÂ — a live-music venue described by NME on its website asÂ Â ‘the world’s coolest pub’ and continuing Shoreditch’s history of alternative entertainment. A roll-call of the ‘coolest’ acts of the 2000s have appeared at the pub including Amy Winehouse, Florence and the Machine, (Gordon Brown’s favourites) the Arctic Monkeys, the Vaccines and many more.
Places like the Old Blue Last won’t have deterred the arrival of trendy artist types in the area and I thought the photo below shows an appropriate clash of old and new — Ã¼ber-cool American Apparel (apparently the shop where Ruta Gedmintas bought her outfits for Frankie in Lip Service) has opened up next to a pub improbably called the Barley Mow.
Actually the Barley Mow is only a traditional looking boozer from the outside, as I found when I organised a pub crawl starting at the pub, and found that the price of a pint of their Fuller’s ale was a far from working-class Â£3.70.
A group of us did 8 pubs in all in a route from Shoreditch to Islington via Old Street and the Regent’s Canal. Second on the list was the also archaically named
Bricklayer’s Arms (thought the punctuation of the name suggests there was only one tradesman).
On the crawl was the ultimate down-at-heel boozer that’s been the unlikely beneficiary of being turned into a nationally famous ale drinkers’ destination — the Wenlock Arms on the borders of Old Street and Hoxton.
It’s in a very mixed area with new apartments being developed around the Wenlock Basin on the Regent’s Canal but also being situated in the middle of the sprawl of forbidding-looking council estates that border the trendy centres of Shoreditch and Hoxton.
It’s an almost stereotypically ‘unspoiled’ pub — almost falling to pieces in places — but it’s got a thriving clientele of ale drinkers (some of whom I know seek this place out from the USA) but it has been under threat recently of being redeveloped into a five storey block of flats.
It’s the sort of authentic place deserves to be preserved and, as an example of one aspect of pub culture, a pub very like it might find its way into my novel. And any inquisitive barmaid who might work in this sort of pub would certainly know how to keep and serve great beer.
Apologies for the long absence…I have about half a dozen blog posts in various forms of readiness to publish but, for day-job related reasons and because I’m trying to write more of the actual novel, I’ve not managed to finish the posts off for a while. The following is recycled from a post I put up on our MA year group’s communal blog (it’s a closed group, I’m afraid) and it’s about how the all human life (almost) can be found in its not very flattering glory between 12 noon and 2pm on BBC Radio Two.
The Jeremy Vine show hasÂ been called Daily Mail radio and itâ€™s quite formulaic but itâ€™s often hilariously entertaining. Jeremy Vine himself seems to adopt this â€˜reasonable manâ€™ persona that makes most of the peculiar people and oddballs on his show think heâ€™s being incredibly sympathetic when, in reality, I suspect heâ€™s gently satirising them.
Whoever puts the showâ€™s schedule together must have a surreal sense of humour. The following list (that I extracted and edited directly from the BBC website) features almost all of the topics discussed on recent shows (starting yesterday and going back a month or so).
It has some of the most bizarre combinations of subjects imaginable. Both the first and the last items on the list below are mind-boggling.
Unsurprisingly, having listened a lot to JV over the past three years, his hobby horses appear to be materialising in my writing â€” if you see which topics tend to recur in the list below then you might be able to get an idea of what are themes in my novel — except for wheelie bins which are a JV favourite but haven’t played a part in my writing — YET!
I was thinking of subtitling my novel â€˜How Jeremy Vine Ruined My Lifeâ€™.
Jeremy discusses GDP, yoga, the Greek referendum and escalators.
Jeremy discusses violent pornography, Jimmy Savile, diabetes and canoeists and anglers.
Vanessa Feltz discusses supermarket apprenticeships, rickets, St Paulâ€™s and stone theft.
Another photo for the fans of the amazing Shard who end up landing on this blog and wondering exactly why.
It’s very close to being finished on the outside. The concrete core has reached its final height and the glass panels have almost enclosed it — the impression this photo gives me is of a huge pencil with a bit ofÂ protrudingÂ lead at the top, ready to be put into the pencil sharpener.
This photo was taken on a research run in London (see the Google map below to see exactly what route I took). I did some checking out of the locations in which I’m setting parts of my novel — mainly at the eastern end of the route.
I can’t think of a running route that would go past any more tourist sights than this one — or at least one where you could actually get up some speed. I’m not sure if New Scotland Yard or MI5’s HQ are proper sights but they were on the first stretch, then London Eye, the Southbank Centre (where I went earlier this week to see Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery), Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s, Victoria Embankment, Cleopatra’s Needle, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
I even took my research so far I wanted to wander into the St. Paul’s Cathedral shop but, having just done 5km at the time, and dripping perspiration in puddles from my bright orange Nike running top, I decided to respect the decorum of the church and come back again another day.
More pics from other research trips to come in the next few days.
It’s not some sort of weird business school acronym but the local shorthand for one of the best art galleries in the US — the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
It’s a little confusing as, according to the guidebooks, a very similar acronym — SoMa — is used to refer to the district of the city (South of Market [Street]) where the modern art museum is located.
The entrance fee for SFMoMA is $18 — which should make us based in around London very grateful for the free entrance to Tate Modern — the SFMoMA’s equivalent. I used a ticket that had been bought for a package of attractions — like cable cars and the Fisherman’s Wharf aquarium — so had about half an hour to look around the San Francisco collection of 2oth century artistry.
The museum has an example of one of the most seminal exhibits in modern art history — Duchamps’ Fountain. This is the famous urinal that was meant to be submitted to the New York Society of Independent Artists show in 1917 (although it actually wasn’t exhibited) as an example of how virtually anything could be considered modern art.
I was quite excited to see it in the San Francisco museum but apparently it’s not the original but one of eight replicas made by Duchamp in the 1960s, which are all on show at prestigious modern art museums (including the Tate).
So it’s a pretty iconic piece — the original piece of shock-value modern art that provoked millions of ‘I could do better than that’ comments over the last century…and it would obviously be well known to Kim.
Duchamps’s R. Mutt Urinal
A definite original in the gallery — and one that Kim would enjoy — is a Mark Rothko painting — Number 14. Â It seems that Rothko painted a few different works with the same title. This one is from 1960 and is in red and purple. I was persuaded of the significance of these Rothko blocks of colour by the Simon Scharma BBC documentary and, as this blog I’ve found online quotes of the artist, it’s easy to see that the paintings have an effect ofÂ Â â€œserenity about to explode.â€
Serenity about to explode — that would be an apt description to work to for the first part of my novel.
I guess she’d quite admire the scale and audacity of the work as I did — and the vivid colours. Yet work like Twombly’s certainly encourages those who see modern, abstract art of displaying as much technical skill as a child’s painting and of suggesting those who proclaim themselves the arbiters of its undoubted quality are those who would insist that the emperor was fully clothed — as this blog entry on the Telegraph website by Harry Mount makes clear.
Kim will produce mainly abstract works — partly because it will be amusing to see James struggle to make head or tail of what they mean — but she’s be technically trained to a very high standard, something which will hold James in awe of her talent and provide a reason for his attraction to her — which is an engine of the plot. James won’t ‘get’ the likes of Cy Twombly but Kim will try and explain to him why Twomby’s work sells for millions — but perhaps she’ll question why it is that his does but her own doesn’t.
Speaking of silly money paid for art, BBC1 on Sunday featured a programme called‘The World’s Most Expensive Paintings’ in which Alistair Sooke, an art critic, did an Alan Freeman style reverse countdown of the Top Ten. As all were in the tens of millions of dollars bracket and the most expensive — one of the Picassos (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) — was $135m then it was no surprise that super-rich collectors were the owners of these amazingly valuable artefacts. Sooke’s analysis of the painting, pointing out subtle expressions of eroticism, sadism and the painter’s own hidden initials, was persuasive in asserting its value as a work of art — but $135m?
The painting is currently on display in Tate Modern, having been loaned by its Georgian owner — perhaps I’ve walked past it? The gallery would no doubt try to avoid the vulgarity of drawing attention to the value of the work. However, many of the top ten are hidden in private collections or, according to rumour, may even have been burnt.
The programme raised many of the questions about the relationship between art and money that crop up in The Angel — almost all the art works were produced when the artists were relatively penniless — although the likes of Picasso made money later on his reputation. The artworks are valuable because they are scarce and in demand as much as anything intrinsic about their artistic quality. Often a painting is purchased because it had been part of the previous famous collection — its value being acquired through provenance. There’s an interesting paradox that art, which by definition is created for the intellect or to pleasure the senses, has such a close relationship with money to the extent that at the very high end, art is potentially only appreciated because it’s expensive.
While Kim’s art work doesn’t sell for very much, she’s still chasing the moneyed-rich for what income she does get: the proximity of Shoreditch to the City underlines the symbiotic relationship between the two. James, unlike most City types, actually tries to look at art for its aesthetic, rather than monetary value — and this will be a welcome change for Kim.
The BBC1 programme had a real-life story worthy of any novel about a Picasso, La RÃªve, about to be sold for an eight figure sum in dollars by its Las Vegas casino owner, Steve Wynn, who then accidentally stuck his elbow through the canvas, reducing its value by many millions. He said the good thing about the damage was that he did it himself, not anyone else — one wonders what might have happened if it had been a cleaner or security guard.
A couple of weekends ago I decided, purely in the name of research for the novel, to research the area where Kim lives — what has been to me for many years the infamous borough of Hackney.
I organised a modest pub crawl (five pubs — a proper one for me goes into double figures) and was joined by my old drinking chums Andy, Jon and Simon (and later Antony) and Guy from the City course also joined in impromptu.
In my experience Hackney isn’t part of the ‘maggot-ridden cess pit that is London’s East End’ (as Alan Patridge described the land of jellied eels and rhyming slang). It seems less threatening than many areas of south-west London that I lived in or near in the late 80s and 90s (I had two Crimewatch murders within a couple of hundred yards of where I lived in Hounslow).
We started off at the Pembury Tavern — a cavernous beer hall of a place just outside the centre near Hackney Downs station. We then walked through the town itself to the Globe at Mornington Lane — a modern boozer opposite Tesco’s about whose staff the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ could have been invented. We went on to a couple more pubs before ending up in the marvellous Charles Lamb in Islington — something of a post-workshop regular now for Guy and myself.
Crossing the road towards the pub we got a glimpse of the Hackney that will have attracted Kim. An old bike had been painted and adorned with flowers and was apparently attached to a lamppost just over the pelican crossing. Guy was very taken with this piece of improvised street art — exactly the sort of object the artists in his novel would have created. Not a utilitarian street bike of the sort promoted by Boris Johnson but one that has no practical value whatsoever — it’s just mysteriously ‘there’ to make a statement.
And so it seemed to confirm to me that this is Kim’s domain in London — shuttling between Hackney and Shoreditch on the 55 bus — the one Guy and I took there from Mike B’s place after the Saturday morning workshop.
Having been thwarted twice by the incompetence of the Olympic ticketing system and having failed to buy any tickets for events at the nearby Olympic Park for 2012, I may go back to the area and have a look around at the changes associated with the games. Fish Island looks well worth a look.
After the tutorial with Emily the weekend before last I decided to take a walk to see how things were around Village Underground as I’d not been there for a while. It was the first time that I’d had chance to visit the new Shoreditch station, which radically improves the transport links through the area. Only a week or two before I took a ride on the train, a new bit of line was opened between Dalston Junction (itself only re-opened for less than a year) and what used to be called the North London Line. This piece of newly re-instated line links to the old East London tube line at Shoreditch and that’s been connected to the rail network on the south of the river so that Shoreditch now has a remarkable train service Â every 5 minutes with some trains running from Highbury and Islington to West Croydon.
The station is, as you would expect, very modern and, in a short time, seeing as it’s not far at all from the top end of Bishopsgate and the Broadgate development, could transform the character of the area in a short time. I’m not sure whether this would be good for my novel or not — I guess it could be a move behind property prices shooting up and pricing artists like Kim out into the country.
I looked out from the train as it left Shoreditch station and got an unusual rooftop level view of Village Underground (see below). I posted this photo on their Facebook page and they officially ‘like’ it.
Village Underground Viewed from the new London Overground
The roof of Village Underground itself, where the tube carriages are placed, is actually part of a viaduct that carried trains into Broad Street station (which was next to Liverpool Street) until 1986. The railway bridges over Great Eastern Street and Holywell Street were only removed in the 1990s. A new viaduct was built crossing Shoreditch High Street and then joining the old track bed which runs directly north up to Dalston and this involved the demolition of an area opposite Village Underground to accommodate the curve of the track as it links the two together.
Holywell Street, which was a dead-end blocked off to traffic when I first visited Village Underground has now been re-opened as a red-route connecting the London Ring Road to Shoreditch High Street. So this area, despite looking like something of a neglected inner-city backwater, has seen a lot of change recently. Here’s the scene at ground level with the current toaster mural.
The City encroaches ever further towards Shoreditch and the Heron Tower, now the City’s tallest building, has been completed half a mile down the road. It’s the Broadgate Tower that looms most intimidatingly over Shoreditch High Street — here seen with the friendly shape of the Gherkin by its side. This photo was taken close to the church of St. Lenonard’s — famous for the line in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons — ‘when I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’. (I’m going to have to work in a few references to this.)
I took the train from Shoreditch to Dalston Kingsland, a place I visited 20 years ago at night when it had no semblance of the gentrification that is hinted at today. From there I took the North London Line to Hackney Wick. I’ve been to Hackney before, which I’ve found nowhere near as intimidating as its reputation — there’s a good pub there called the Pembury Tavern, but never Hackney Wick.
Hackney Wick station is a desolate place, cut off by railways and road schemes, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all walking around there late at night — there’s just a boarded-up pub next to the station and a load of corrugated-iron motor mechanic shops of the sort you see on Eastenders. The Olympic stadium rose up quite incongrously in the background. I was told by Tam at Village Underground that Hackney Wick has the most artists per square mile (or whatever) in London (or maybe even Europe) but perhaps they were all round the corner somewhere as I didn’t see much artistic, although I could see why the rent might be cheap.
I walked around to the bus terminus, which at least had some houses and shops nearby, and got the number 30 from the start of its route all the way into central London — via Hackney, Dalston, Islington, King’s Cross and so on. I saw plenty of places on the route around Homerton which comfortably fitted the description of the flat where Kim lives at the start of the novel — they’re something of a contrast to where she’ll live at The Angel.