Man With a Movie Camera – Barbican Cinema

Shown as part of the City Visions series at the BarbicanMan with a Movie Camera is a 1929 experimental silent film with no story or dialogue, directed by Dziga Vertov and made in the then USSR. This showing was accompanied by Paul Robinson’s HarmonieBand, and preceded by a 3-minute showing of Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge, a pilot for a projected London Symphony film.

I went to see this because I am interested in Russia and Russian culture, and I really enjoyed it. The film is full of life and interest, filmed in different Russian towns and including lots of different people. Unusual angles and quirky happenings made it a fascinating watch.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age – Barbican Art Gallery

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is an exhibition taking place in the Barbican Art Gallery until 11 January 2015. It contains work by eighteen photographers from the 1930s until the present day, such as Berenice Abbott and Hiroshi Sugimoto, and features the work of architects such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

I found the sheer variety of the exhibition particularly interesting – the photographs cover many different kinds of buildings in lots of different countries. These include 1930s New York, glamorous Hollywood, South American favelas and modern Chinese riverside buildings. The exhibition is definitely worth seeing, even if you don;t think you are interested in architecture.

Bridge – Museum of London Docklands

Bridge is a free exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands, exploring the history of London’s bridges in art and photography. I loved looking at the black and white Victorian photos, the Sixties images full of miniskirts and retro cars, and the more modern video in which an artist travelled by boat right down the Thames, going under each bridge in turn.

Katy B at the Roundhouse

The other night I went to see singer Katy B at the Roundhouse in north London. I booked my ticket ages ago and I nearly didn’t make it – I’d arranged to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for ages on the same night and had decided to miss the gig, but as it happened our evening ended earlier than I’d anticipated, and I had time to get to Chalk Farm before Katy was on stage at 9.

Now although I do like Katy’s music (or else there wouldn’t have been much point in me booking this show at all), I wasn’t really expecting great things. The ticket was cheap (under £20 for a gig – I’m not used to these prices!) and I thought it might be a nice night out. However, I really enjoyed myself. Katy has a great voice and gave an impressively good performance, singing loads of her hits and really playing to the crowd.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the view from my seat was. I got the last ticket remaining, and the seat was in the circle, right at the end. However I could see everything really well and the atmosphere was still great. I also found myself admiring the architecture in the building – the Roundhouse is a former railway shed and many of the original features are still present and visible.

Even up in the circle, the view is good

Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia

This week has seen the Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia festival happening in central London, based around the part of Bloomsbury where the writer used to hang out in the middle of the century. Talks, readings and performances have all been taking place, and I have booked to see Clown in the Moon, a performance about Dylan, tomorrow. Yesterday I took advantage of the fact that I work incredibly close to the area where the festival is taking place, and popped out to see Dylan’s writing shed, which is on tour around the country.

The shed is a near-exact replica (it has been scaled down slightly to allow it to be transported around the country on a trailer) of Thomas’ real writing shed in Laugharne. It is full of bookshelves, papers and other odds and ends, with Dylan’s coat draped over the back of the chair – just as if the poet himself could come inside at any moment.

The shed
Words, words, words
The desk

Tudor World / The Falstaff Experience

The Stratford upon Avon museum known as Tudor World and The Falstaff Experience is an “interactive museum” all about the town where Shakespeare grew up. It explores life in the Tudor era and looks at where Will may have got some of his inspiration. I popped in last time I was in Stratford to pass some time in between seeing some plays.

The museum is hosted in a Grade 2 listed building on Sheep Street, in the centre of the town. Known as the Shrieve’s House and Barn, it is the oldest lived-in house in Stratford, and used to be home to an inn run by William Rogers who was supposedly the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff.

The Shrieve’s House and Barn
Informative plaque on the wall
Entrance to Tudor World

Tudor World is great fun and very child-friendly, with plenty of grim and gruesome exhibits and a “guide” in the form of a young pickpocket who pops up on information boards as you go around. The museum contains a lot of wax figures and other props which I found pretty atmospheric and creepy. There are even “smell-boxes” that let you smell what the deck of a ship or the inside of a pub would have been like! The “Falstaff Experience” part of the museum is a room with a very detailed inn replicated: it is possible that Shakespeare visited the inn and gained inspiration for his character of Falstaff.

As well as being open every day of the week (except Christmas Day) between 10.30 and 5.30, the museum is often open in the evening for ghost tours or ghost hunts (including overnight ones). Occasionally plays are performed in the Courtyard. Admission costs £5.50 for adults and £3 for children, with a family ticket and discounts for concessions available. Well worth a visit on a rainy day, with or without children.

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album – Royal Academy of Arts

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album is the exhibition that opens the Royal Academy of Art‘s new Burlington Gardens space. It includes photographs by Dennis Hopper, an actor who shot to fame with roles in films such as Apocalypse NowEasy Rider and Blue Velvet. I have to admit that I had never heard of him – either as an actor or as a photographer – but I thought that the exhibition, covering the life of the star in the 1960s, would be an interesting one.

It certainly is fascinating to explore the world of American life and culture in the 1960s, one of the most momentous decades for social and political change in history. The pictures capture the worlds of Hell’s Angels and hippies, the Civil Rights movement, stars of film, fashion and music, and the urban landscapes of the US.

Unfortunately though, the exhibition was incredibly expensive and I don’t honestly feel that it was worth it. RA exhibitions are expensive anyway, but I normally feel as if a lot of work has gone into them. These photographs were presented with little explanation and few captions. I don’t feel that the exhibition was worth the price paid, even though I did enjoy it. If you do think you might be interested, the exhibition closes this weekend so hurry.

Ancient lives, new discoveries: eight mummies, eight lives, eight stories – British Museum

The Ancient lives, new discoveries exhibition at the British Museum is a brilliant exploration of eight different mummies, each with their own story. It uses the latest technology to show how we can learn from these individuals and find out more about their lives.

These people were found in ancient Egypt and Sudan, and between them they span 4,000 years of history. Some were embalmed deliberately, others were preserved naturally.

A young man preserved in the sand (Gebelein Man B)

This mummy dates from about 3500 BC and was discovered in Gebelein, Egypt, along with several other individuals. He died as a relatively young man (20-35) and was preserved naturally in the sand. What I found amazing about this individual was that the contents of his stomach were preserved too!

A man embalmed for the afterlife (Linen man)

This older man was discovered in Thebes and dates from around 600 BC. He was bound in linen and had suffered dental abscesses, tooth loss and tooth decay, which would have caused him a great deal of pain. Intriguingly, he was found in a woman’s coffin, though whether this happened at the time of his death or at the time of his discovery in the 19th century is unclear. My personal, rather outlandish theory is that he was put in the wrong coffin on purpose, perhaps to cover up his death – this is probably ridiculous but I think it sounds rather exciting!

Tamut: a high-ranking priest’s daughter

Tayesmutengebtiu, or Tamut, was the daughter of a priest, known as Lady of the House or the Chantress of Amun. Found in Thebes, she was aged at least thirty-five when she died, and as well as dental abscesses (common among the ancient Egyptians because of their consumption of sugar) she suffered from atheroscleriosis (plaque in the arteries). Dating from around 900 BC, the hieroglyphic inscriptions on her mummy case show that she was married when she died, and as a lady of high status she was mummified very carefully. CT scans have identified many amulets on her body beneath the bandages. Incredibly, 3D printing has been used to turn the CT scans into three-dimensional models, meaning that we can see the amulets without unwrapping the bandages.

Padiamenet: a Temple Doorkeeper

Padiamenet was discovered in Thebes and his mummy dates from around 700 BC. He was middle-aged when he died, and also suffered from dental abscesses and atherosclerosis during his life. Padiamenet was a temple doorkeeper, responsible for deciding who was able to enter the most sacred parts of the temple. He also worked as a barber, as all the priests had to have all their body hair removed before going into the temple. There were mistakes made during his mummification: his head came off and had to be fixed back on, and when his mummified body was laid in his case it was found to be too short so the embalmers had to improvise an extension! Padiamenet was buried with his family, and his wife and son were found with him; after his death, his post had passed to his son.

Tjayasetimu: a young temple singer

I found Tjayasetimu one of the most poignant mummies in the exhibition simply because she was only around seven when she died. Again, she was discovered in Thebes, and lived around 800 BC. Her case is small, but scans have shown that her body inside was even smaller. The case shows her as a grown woman, perhaps suggesting her anticipated status in the next life.

In general, few child mummies have been discovered: death in childhood was very common, and it was probably too expensive to have all your children mummified. Tjayasetimu probably had the honour because of her status as a temple singer.

An unusual mummy from the Roman period

This mummy, dating from after 30 BC (though also from Thebes), was one I found a bit spooky. He is wrapped up so that all his limbs are wrapped separately, and his painted face makes him look quite lifelike. Experts aren’t sure why this is – he even has a beard painted, but he also has breasts painted on.

During the early Roman period, Egyptian customs were still common, and the practice of embalming was used by Romans as well as Egyptians.

A young child from the Roman period

This young male child, approximately 2 years old, dates from AD 40-60 and was found in Hawara, Egypt. His tiny body is contained in an elaborate case. He has been treated like an adult mummy in many respects, so perhaps there was more of a focus on treating children like adults in terms of mummification during this later period. I found this really sad – the whole exhibition was brilliant in terms of getting me to see the mummies as real people who actually lived, but this makes the deaths of the young children in particular seem so much more tragic.

A Christian woman from Sudan

The final mummy was a Christian woman found in Sudan, dating from around 700 AD – she is the youngest mummy in the exhibition. She was found when the Sudanese government decided to build a dam near the Fourth Cataract: a number of museums including the British Museum were invited to carry out archaeological work, and this body was found naturally preserved in a small cemetery. Amazingly, the body has a tattoo which is still visible – it is a tattoo signifying the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of her area.

This exhibition has just been extended until the 19th of April 2015 and I’m not surprised. It really is wonderful and allows you to learn so much about these individuals and the times in which they lived. I highly recommend visiting.

Witches and Wicked Bodies – British Museum

Witches and Wicked Bodies is a free exhibition at the British Museum (Room 90, Prints and Drawings Gallery) until 11 January. I visited one Friday to attend a special event – a free performance exploring the weird sisters by RIFT theatre company, who were responsible for the amazing immersive Macbeth at the Balfron Tower during the summer.

The performance was a chilling exploration of the witches from Macbeth and their entrapment by witch-hunters. It was fairly short though and I enjoyed the exhibition itself more – an examination of how witches and witchcraft have been portrayed in art from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Beginning with Dürer and Goya, the exhibition moved on to consider artists such as Burne-Jones and Rossetti, inspired by Biblical and classical portrayals of witches.

Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia – The Photographers’ Gallery

Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia is an exhibition currently taking place at the Photographers’ Gallery just off Oxford Street. Being fascinated by Russia, I visited the Gallery on Thursday evening when it opens late. I was pleasantly surprised to see that entry is free – I am sure I had to pay last time I visited, so this was nice to see.

The exhibition looks at the development of colour photography in Russia from the 1860s to the 1970s. As well as the history of photography in Russia it is also concerned with the history of Russia in photography. This period was a time of turbulent change and the photographs really showcase this.

Arranged in chronological order, the exhibition begins with early hand-tinted images, moving to more developed photographs and eventually to photomontage and colour film. Societ authorities restricted the use of photography during the mid-20th century and it wasn’t until the 1970s, when inexpensive colour film was available to the general public via unofficial routes, that ordinary people could really exercise free choice over their photographs – even then they normally had to be shown in secret.

I was fascinated by the early tinted colour photographs, making me think of characters from Anna Karenina. They were not unlike our Victorians, though many, particularly children, were dressed in traditional Russian costume. At the turn of the century, the pictures started to remind me of Chekhov characters, as the clothes worn by the subjects of the images were very like those I have seen on stage. One standout image for me was the photograph of Tolstoy – he looks like a grumpy old man (which, in a very basic way, I suppose he was). Colour photographs – even those which have been hand-coloured – bring their subjects to life like black and white pictures can’t, and make their subjects seem much closer to us today.

Images from the following century made the Soviet era seem much more “real”. They were so vivid and clear – I loved looking not only at the people themselves, but at their surroundings, how they lived and what their spaces looked like.

This exhibition is on until the 19th of October – even if you’re not particularly interested in Russian history, I recommend a visit.