Wednesday, December 28th 2016
Today was not nearly such a pleasant day as yesterday and so we decided not to go far but nevertheless to have an outing.
We went first to St John Street where we could have breakfast at the local Pret A Manger. Conditions were cloudy and misty as you can see from the above photo, the sort of weather when it feels colder than it really is.
We comforted ourselves with breakfast in Pret and then headed south down St John Street, following the route along which herds of cattle used to be driven to Smithfield Market.
We eventually reached the Barbican and went inside. There is always something to see and do there. It’s an large, rambling structure with passages and walkways, water gardens and entertainments of various kinds. I suppose we could distinguish the two parts: the Barbican Estate, the great heap of apartments and private areas accessible only to residents, and the Barbican Centre which hosts concerts, film, theatre and art exhibitions, to name but a few of the activities that occur there. There is even an indoor garden or conservatory (see The Barbican and its conservatory) that is well worth a visit.
There are also artworks dotted about in the public areas such as the illuminated piece in the photo above. Called 44, it is described as ‘a site-specific lighting installation’ and is by Omer Arbel. (More details here.)
This very different piece of work is by Zarah Hussain and is entitled Numina. The white, facetted object serves as a screen onto which a continually changing pattern of coloured light is projected. It is quite fascinating and deserves to be recorded by film rather than by a still photo1. You can find a little more information here.
There is an exhibition space within the Barbican called The Curve and today it was hosting an exhibition by Bedwyr Williams entitled The Gulch. Admission was free (our favourite price) and photography permitted. The exhibition is designed so that you enter at one end, progress through it and exit at the other end.
You start by entering a nighttime beach scene with a smouldering fire (not a real fire, of course) and an abandoned shoe. There are shoes – trainers – elsewhere in the exhibition (has the artist a ‘thing’ for trainers?) and they tend to speak or sing. The 3-part GIF above show the entry point of the exhibition. The idea, I think, is to imagine that the people who set the fire have just departed, leaving the embers and an abandoned shoe behind them.
As well as scenarios, there were items displayed in traditional fashion, some in glass cases. To be honest, I am not clear on how all the components fitted together to make a whole. Or perhaps they were not intended to. According to the board at the beginning, we were supposed to be sent ‘on a quest through the 90-metre long space, navigating a sequence of theatrically staged environments. From the absurd and extraordinary to the mind numbingly mundane, Williams draws on the banalities and idiosyncrasies of his own life and the world around him.’ Maybe I’m just insensitive but I didn’t relate to any of that.
There was a talking goat but I didn’t hear it say anything, though that could be my fault rather than the goat’s.
Perhaps this was the companion of the shoe abandoned beside the fire of the beach. Why it was singing, I do not know, unless it was part of the aforementioned absurd category.
The exhibition was not a hit with me but I expect others found it interesting and illuminating.
After a cup of tea in one of the cafes, we spent a while roaming around the Barbican. Whether you love it or hate it, it is an extraordinary place. As you walk along the corridors and walkways, you keep encountering scenes that demand to be photographed.
This district of London was virtually obliterated during World War II and architects and planners therefore had a tabula rasa on which to design the new complex of housing and a arts centre. The prevailing architectural style was Brutalist (in which the concrete is neither covered nor adorned but left raw or ‘brute’, to use the French word for it). To many people, Brutalist buildings look unfinished; to many more they are aggressively and depressingly ugly, an assault on one’s aesthetic sensibilities.
My first reaction to the Barbican was the mental and emotional equivalent of a sharp intake of breath. I was ready to hate it. Having passed that initial stage, I find my feelings are mixed. Yes, there is ugliness but there is also a sort of grandeur to it, enhanced by the surprising views one comes across while wandering about the public areas.
I wrote above of the ‘great heap of apartments’ but ‘banks’ might be a better term. There are various configurations of dwellings, some, for example, having their front doors along the walkways of the public areas, while others form serried rows in the private section. I have no idea what it is like to live in the Barbican but I would welcome the opportunity to take a look. Perhaps they will open some of it on one of London’s Open House events.
By now, as you can see from the photos, the clouds and mist had cleared and the sun was shining. Everything looks better in the sun and the contrasts of light and shade in the Barbican’s architecture produced some intriguing patterns.
In the midst of the Barbican is the ancient Church of St Giles-without-Cripplegate. It managed to survive the bombing of the war though it was badly damaged and needed extensive rebuilding. On a visit to the Barbican last July we were fortunate to find the church open and to be able to take a look inside (see Shoreditch street art and St Giles Cripplegate). I also gave a few details of the history of the church.
The Barbican shares the site with the Museum of London. We went in to see whether there were any interesting exhibitions. There was one that Tigger wanted to look at, namely Punks. As this didn’t interest me I went off to look at the Mayor’s Coach.
Built in the 18th century (1757 to be precise), this coach is still used, pulled by six horses, every year for the annual procession of the Lord Mayor. It is important to point out that the Mayor in question, whose title is the Lord Mayor, is the Mayor of the City of London, not the Mayor of Greater London.
The coach is luxuriously appointed and beautifully decorated with gilding, sculptures, mouldings and paintings.
The Lord Mayor is an important figure in the life of the City and therefore of London as a whole. A new Mayor is appointed every year and a grand procession takes place for the Mayor’s inauguration. Along with the mayoral coaches, many other floats and vehicles take part and crowds turn out to see the jollity. Beginning in the 16th century, the ceremony has continued up to the present day and is one of the most famous of London’s annual events.