Among The Trees, Hayward Gallery

The brutalist concrete of London’s Southbank Centre, some of it originally set for the Festival of Britain in 1951, seems a place at odds – if not an odd place – to hold an exhibition that asks us to think about our relationship with trees and forests. But, that’s what the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Among The Trees’ is asking us to do.  It reopened yesterday after being closed at the start of the COVID crisis and is now extended until October, so ignore the out-of-date dates on promotional banners.  Visitor numbers are limited and there’s a one-way system introduced so that social distancing norms can be observed. 

I’m no art critic, but I think I am with the ES Magazine’s “there’s much here to absorb, unsettle and even, occasionally, provoke wonder” over Time Out’s “the rest just sort of blurs into one, and by the end, you can’t see the art for the trees”.  Most reviewers seem to agree that Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s six-screen, horizontal video of a giant Finnish spruce is the most powerful piece and it is visually very impressive.   Eva Jospin’s forest from cardboard, which is one of the first exhibits you come to, reminds us of both the beauty of the forest and the damage caused by humans.  Later, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, depicting a tree that once served as a gallows for slaves, provides another reminder of our cruel and destructive nature.

In many ways, that grey concrete architecture – a material which itself replaced the need for wood in some construction projects and is the core of the Hayward Gallery – is the perfect backdrop to the trees that form the exhibition. Perhaps my only criticism is that there’s not enough of the contrast, the hard and the soft, exploited within.

The restrictions caused by timed-entry and fewer people in the gallery space, may not be great for the gallery’s finances, but make the experience itself very nice indeed.  No real queues, except to get into the shop afterwards,  and no crowds around the big art pieces. And, given how much of the world is closed off to us right now, the reopening is a  real treat. Although, perhaps we should be spending these beautiful summer days in nature for real.

For The Love Of London

London is a wonderful city as I keep discovering years after arriving here.

sity hall london january 2005I really should start a category on London’s South Bank because I mention it a great deal and it really is one of the most wonderful areas of London. If you’re a visitor to this great city you really must spend an afternoon walking the South Bank: start at Waterloo and the London Eye and head towards Tower Bridge (and beyond). when I first arrived here it was an area that had little to offer; it was dead and quiet but now it’s vibrant and alive.

Over the past few weeks PY and I have explored a little more of London on foot and I really do enjoy the place. On the Monday after New Year we wandered around High Holborn and Farringdon areas, near The Guardian’s central London base. It was a quiet Bank Holiday and yet it was – strangely – alive. We also crossed the bridge to the Tate Gallery which is probably the only gallery space I can truly say I enjoy. The Turbine Hall, which housed The Weather Project, is currently home to Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials – which is a soundscape of 22 spoken texts. Some are clearly audible and some not so clear but as you walk through the hall you get this most amazing sense of sound. It works better if you keep moving (rather than stopping to listen) but you’d be wise to adjust to the sound first. It wasn’t as much of a communal event as The Weather Project but it was totally unexpected, thrilling and energizing. You can get a taste online at the Tate’s site.

insode london's city hall january 2005Last weekend we went to City Hall (which I have mentioned before) but this time we were able to get inside and head to the top. It’s a building of unexpected contrasts: the building looks wonderful and they have revitalised the whole area but the office space inside looks cramped and uncomfortable. Given the climbing spirals of the building I would have expected the view from the top to be better. Unfortunately, the main viewing area looks the wrong way: great views over the south but you want to see London’s landmarks. It was late in the day when we arrived which meant there were no crowds and we were able to find our house on the satellite pictures on the floor of the basement. Sadly, however, I don’t think the lighting scheme is brilliant at all – they could do so much more with it.

While we were there I rode the snow slide at The Tate (basically a silly slide that you descend almost buried in an inflatable tyre-like object). Silly but cheap and amusing. Then we crossed Tower Bridge (always a stunning experience) to go and have a look at the stunning Swiss Re tower and walk around The City – which is, of course, almost dead on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a rather unnerving contrast to London’s West End which is full of people on a Saturday.

Yesterday, we went to Marble Arch and had a go on the ice rink that has been placed there for the winter. I haven’t been on skates for years and I really liked it – although there’s no chance I could go round the rink without holding onto the side at some point. PY was not quite so in love with the experience which is a great shame and I am going to have to find ways to convince him to come again. I’ll work on it.

Once again I can honestly say I love London.

South Bank. Friends from North.

I could have spent much of this week writing about going out eating and/or entertaining but decided that would be too dull. On the other hand, on Wednesday night we (American and I) went on the London Eye (always a fantastic treat) and then wandered down the South Bank. It is, probably, one of my favourite areas of London.

I could have spent much of this week writing about going out eating and/or entertaining but decided that would be too dull. On the other hand, on Wednesday night we (American and I) went on the London Eye (always a fantastic treat) and then wandered down the South Bank. It is, probably, one of my favourite areas of London.

  • Old County Hall. It’s a pleasuredome of treats but the best bit, is the aquarium. We didn’t go in this time, but I love the place and am writing this as kind of note to self: go back to the London Aquarium.
  • The London Eye. My thirtieth birthday was spent on The Eye in a hired capsule with a whole bunch of friends – all of whom had almost no notice but arrived for drinks, ride and pizza. This time we were on The Eye as the light started to fade – which actually made it all the more magical. We even bought the tacky tourist snap that they take on the way down.
  • New Hungerford Bridges(s). I have spent years walking over the old, narrow bridge avoiding the winter floods and the summer camera-wielding tourists. The new bridges look stunning. They are boulevard wide and, actually, very pleasant to walk across and each bridge has very different, but fabulous, views.
  • Royal Festival Hall and National Film Theatre. They may be concrete and they are certainly not photogenic but they are some of my favourite locations. Long may the concrete jungle live.
  • Oxo Tower. A great building with a great restaurant (even if I can never afford to eat there) and, if you don’t want to go on the wheel, the viewing gallery at the top (free and near the restaurant) provides a stunning view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge. After all the fuss at the turn of the century these are two worthy additions to the London landscape. The interior of the Tate Modern is fantastic (the sheer size of the entrance is great). And the Millennium Bridge is in just the right place and looks gorgeous when lit (although the last few times I haven’t seen the lights on).

On the way back from these sights (we didn’t do new City Hall or Tower Bridge, Hayes Galleria or Butler’s Wharf) we stopped for a psudo-traditional pub meal of chips and beer. Even though, I suspect, the pub was full of tourists it felt as though it was the kind of place I went to regularly, so I guess, had an air of authenticity.

After all this on Wednesday, I was looking forward to last night. Last night was meant to be an evening not operating as tour guide (not that I mind but the break would be good). I was having dinner with some friends (and some old friends who were coming down from Scotland). My friends in Worcester Park were preparing dinner and it was to be (in fact, it was indeed) and evening of memories and fun. However, things did try and put a blocker on the evening.

  • I was late. I was attending some presentations with a client they over-ran.
  • My friend Jo, who was cooking, had been taken ill and been in and out of hospital for two nights (nothing too serious, thankfully). So, she didn’t feel like cooking – her husband decided to and he the food was excellent.
  • We were all so tired (me from working, them from the illness/hospital adventures) that we called a halt to proceedings at 10.30pm.

It’s a shame when things don’t quite go according to plan and you have been looking forward to them. I had been hoping to have a long catch-up with the folks from Scotland and we ended up with the briefest of chats. Ah well, maybe next time Â…