Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour – British Library

Until 12 October 2014, a free exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery of the British Library, Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour, is on display to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. The exhibition uses posters, poetry, books and pamphlets to look at how soldiers from home and overseas, and civilians back in “Blighty”, coped with the conditions of the war. It is really interesting – and sobering – to look at diaries, letters and journals from the conflict. The range of responses is fascinating and I thought it made an interesting foil to the recent exhibition of First World War portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK – British Library

I went along to the Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition at the British Library recently. I’m not a particular fan of comics or graphic novels, but I’m always interested in learning more about anything to do with literature.

The exhibition displays both mainstream and underground comics, demonstrating the breadth of subjects they have addressed throughout the years, including politics, gender, violence and sexuality. I enjoyed reading about the history of comics, from their roots in medieval manuscripts and the “Punch” character through to modern comics and graphic novels. I was left with several ideas about graphic novels to try, including Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe.

Close and Far: Russian Photography Now – Calvert 22 Gallery

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The Calvert 22 Gallery in Shoreditch is currently hosting an exhibition called Close and Far: Russian Photography Now. Curated by Kate Bush, it is running until the 17th of August, and is a must-see for anyone interested in Russian culture over the past century.

The exhibition is made up of two contrasting parts, with a common thread of the representation of Russian society via the medium of colour photography. One part involves the display of work by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, an early pioneer of colour photography. His most famous image is a 1908 picture of Leo Tolstoy. Nicholas II, the last Tsar, commissioned him to document the vast Russian Empire; he aimed to create an encyclopaedic record of the whole of Russia. Prokudin-Gorsky travelled all over the vast Empire, via boat, train, horse-drawn carriage and a specially-equipped Pullman railroad coach fitted with a darkroom. Between 1909 and 1915, when the First World War forced him to stop travelling and give up his Pullman coach, he visited places as diverse as St Petersburg and Moscow, Murmansk and Perm, Yekaterinburg, Uzbekistan, Azerbajan and Georgia. At that time, little freedom of movement was permitted within Russia, and he was only able to travel so widely with the express permission of the Tsar. With the Revolution, Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia, emigrating in 1919.

During the Soviet era, travel and photography were both severely restricted, and it is only comparatively recently that photographers have been able to enjoy more freedom. The second part of the exhibition displays work by modern photographers. Max Sher’s Russian Palimpsest is a methodical record of forty cities, while Olya Ivanova recorded individuals living in Kich Gorodok, a village in northern Russia, over a long period of time. I particularly liked Alexander Gronsky’s Pastoral, a series of photographs taken at the edge of the city as people sunbathed, swam, socialised and picnicked against a backdrop of tower blocks. He also worked on Reconstruction, pictures of amateur war re-enactors.

Video works were also included, such as Taus Makhacheva’s Gamsutl, a reference to historical war paintings, and Dimitri Venkov’s Mad Mimes. However it was the photography, both early and modern, that really captured my imagination.

Tatty Devine Charm Bracelet Workshop

I love Tatty Devine and I’ve wanted to go to one of their jewellery-making workshops for ages. I signed up for a Charm Bracelet Workshop at their store on Brick Lane, and went along one Sunday morning.

To make the bracelet, we could choose a silver or gold chain – I chose silver. We then had the task of choosing ten charms to add to it. I had lots of trouble choosing charms as there were so many lovely ones and I just couldn’t decide. In the end I went for a mixture of styles and colours, though several others there chose a theme for their bracelet – one woman went for a gold chain with gold and tortoiseshell charms, which looked really lovely.

The next bit was adding the charms to the bracelet. We used pliers to open the charm rings, thread the charm and add the ring to the bracelet. This was fiddly, but easier than I’d expected. The shop staff who were helping us were really helpful and friendly and they tightened all our charms for us to stop them falling off!

I was very pleased with my finished product and I hope I get the chance to go to another workshop in the future.

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Ealing Night Out

After going to RIFT’s Macbeth on my actual birthday, I fancied a restful weekend so I went out in Ealing with a couple of friends. We went to lots of places we had never been before – including Chimichanga on the High Street, Crispin’s Wine Bar, and the bar at the new Hotel Xanadu, which was much less expensive than it looked from the outside. We ended up in the pub that used to be O’Neill’s, but went back home pretty early, because we are getting old, and we were tired. I did have a bit of a hangover the next day – I really shouldn’t drink wine all night these days…

Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection – Royal Academy of Arts

I attended the new exhibition at the Royal Academy on the hottest day of the year. After sweltering in the heat, it was a relief to step into the cool, dark Sackler Wing of Galleries in Burlington House to see Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection.

Radical Geometry looks at the original and radical art of South America over the last 100 years. In the early to mid-20th century, artists from the region began to innovate and pioneer a new visual language to evoke their beliefs about art. In the beginning this coincided with a sense of optimism in the region, with a strong economy and progressive politics dominating. Cities across South America began to see themselves as an integral part of the world, not on the periphery. However, artists from these cities did vary as to their approaches to art.

In Buenos Aires, artists were often political, with strong left-wing leanings expressed in their art. In Brazil as a whole, many had an intellectual focus and also worked with poets, while Venezuelan artists integrated their work with buildings. In Montevido, capital of Uruguay, Joaquín Torres García blended pre-Colombian art with European avant-garde to create a unique style, though in Argentina he was seen as old-fashioned, with many artists rejecting traditional models (Rhod Rothfuss, for instance, rejected the traditional picture frame); several of these were Marxists. In Brazil, great changes during the 1950s and 1960s meant the creation of new wealth, and there was a rivalry between up-and-coming São Paulo and former capital Rio de Janeiro. The first Biennial Exhibition outside of Venice was held in São Paulo in 1951.

Abstract-style art isn’t normally my thing, but I found the clean lines and shapes really restful after coming in to the cool gallery from an extremely hot and sunny courtyard. I found a lot of the exhibition really thought-provoking – I had never considered, for instance, why paintings have square or rectangular frames (except for the odd round artwork), and that they could be framed differently. I also loved the sculptures, such as Sphere (1976) by Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt). My favourite piece, though, was Physichromie No. 500 (1970) by Carlos Cruz-Diez, which seemed to change colour as I walked past it.

This wasn’t my usual sort of exhibition, but I really enjoyed learning about South American art and how it reflected the wider societal ambitions and beliefs of the artists. It is definitely worth visiting – it runs until 28 September.

Portraying the Past: Paintings from the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society of Antiquaries of London originated in 1707, and was formally constituted in 1718. I recently attended their exhibition Portraying the Past, which showcased many of the Society’s collections, which largely originated in the 18th and 19th centuries before the establishment of national museums and galleries, when discerning collectors were looking for somewhere to safely leave their collections.

Based in Burlington House, near the Royal Academy, the exhibition takes place in the Meeting Room, Council Room and Main Staircase of the Society. These are worthwhile attractions in their own right, with their ornate furniture and sense of history. Of even greater interest, however, are the collections displayed on the walls. These include the famous Hans Eworth portrait of Mary I, well-known pictures of Edward IV, Richard III and other monarchs, important figures in the history of the Society and paintings of landmarks such as Stonehenge. Definitely worth a look around.

RIFT Macbeth

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The Balfron Tower was designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1963

I’m going to write a proper review of RIFT’s Macbeth, but in the meantime I want to write something about the experience itself, as it was one of the craziest, most intense things I’ve ever done. I booked it for myself for a birthday treat, and I tried to get some friends to come along, but none of them were particularly keen on the idea. Despite initial apprehensiveness about going on my own, I needn’t have worried. I talked to loads of really interesting people, about the show and about our shared interest in immersive theatre (practically everyone there had already been to Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man). In any case, most of our time was spent taking in the show, and we didn’t have to worry too much about chatting.

Webcowgirl and Playhouse Pickings have already written really helpful guides to the experience, so all I will do is emphasise the importance of following their tips – they came in very handy for me. Having said that, there were no super-hot peppers at our banquet – only perfectly innocuous, not at all spicy ones. I felt rather smug that I’d heeded the warnings about eating beforehand and going to the loo (I spent a couple of hours at Westfield Stratford before heading to Langdon Park DLR) as many of my fellow audience members were dying for the toilet almost immediately and when we were finally allowed to go there was a huge queue.

I stayed overnight and slept very well in my bunk bed – a bit TOO well, to my disappointment, as I slept right through the whopping thunderstorm that occurred on Thursday night, and missed out on the chance of watching the action from my flat’s 18th floor balcony. The flat itself – the hall and bathroom, at least – was still covered in blood from the performance, which was somewhat disconcerting. I was able to wash my face and brush my teeth, but after much-appreciated coffee and croissants in the morning I was very happy to get home and finally have a shower.

Still, this performance will go down as one of my favourite London experiences, and it was definitely one of the best birthdays ever!

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Amazing views from my 18th floor balcony
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Amazing views from my 18th floor balcony

On this day I complete my twenty-ninth year

This poem pretty much sums up how I feel as I get older.

Indian Summer

In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

Dorothy Parker

Once: The Musical

When my auntie was in London we went to see Once: The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre. We had stalls seats so we were able to go on stage and look around / buy drinks before the show started, as well as watch the cast jamming before it began. I was very happy to get my Once souvenir plastic glass!

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The on-stage bar
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Me, happy with my souvenir glass!

(Photos taken by my auntie with her phone, as my battery died!)