Ramin Karimloo Back from Broadway

Another year, another Ramin Karimloo gig – something I’ve been looking forward to for months. After spending time on Broadway performing in the musical Anastasia, he has come back to the UK for a bit. His last Royal Festival Hall gig was back in 2012 – I don’t know where the time’s gone since then!

I can’t find a setlist, but Ramin sang songs from the musicals he is known for, like Phantom and Les Miserables – Music of the Night, Till I Hear You Sing, Bring Him Home – and tunes from other musicals like Oklahoma!The Greatest Showman and Finding Neverland – Oh What A Beautiful Morning, From Now On and Neverland. He also included songs he has written himself and released previously, as well as a number of new songs. One of the reasons I love seeing Ramin live is that I am always being introduced to new types and genres of music.

It was such a good night and I only hope I don’t have to wait for another year to see Ramin live again.

South Bank Poetry Tour

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I love the Southbank Centre and I love poetry, so the Poetry Tour was an obvious choice. I went along with some friends and we met inside the Poetry Library for 6pm.

The tour was led by Chris McCabe, librarian and poet. It began beside the sculpture of Dylan Thomas’ head, situated inside the library. It is the only sculpture made from life, by Oloff de Wet, and was discovered in the basement several years ago. It was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death in the Poetry Library as a natural home for it. Chris read out some of Thomas’ words about the South Bank as a fitting tribute.

We headed outside, gathering by the poetry stones that were laid in the pavement when this area was constructed. These include some words from Wordsworth, who didn’t particularly like the area, preferring his native Lake District.

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We also heard about the Lion Brewery that used to occupy the site, and about the murder committed here by William Chester Minor. Minor was committed to Broadmoor, and became one of the most prolific contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, responding to an advert asking for help – let’s face it, he had plenty of time on his hands. The creators of the dictionary had no idea that their helpful contributor was a notorious murderer.

Heading inland from the river, we heard about poet Arthur Rimbaud, who lived nearby (where the BFI Imax is now) in 1888. Stabbed by his lover Paul Verlaine after an argument, he left Camden and returned to France before coming back to London.

We were given audio headsets at this point, and listened to poet Tom Chivers as we explored the area south of the river. We walked by the Waterloo International section of the station, no longer in use, and passed under the station through a graffiti-strewn tunnel.

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Along the way we stopped at the point where the former Necropolis Railway depot still stands. This station took coffins and mourners out to Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, with first and second class carriages for both the dead and the living.

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A little further on and we were standing outside the location of William Blake’s former home in Lambeth, where he lived from 1790 to 1800. His time here was one of great personal happiness for Blake, though he was still deeply concerned about the state of the world: he created his Songs of Experience here. In a nearby tunnel are some utterly stunning mosaics, based on Blake’s poetry and illustrations. They are incredibly detailed and really show the range of his imagination.

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A short walk and we were back to the river. We stopped by Westminster Bridge, because the lion statue from the Lion Brewery is now here. The brewery was bombed during the Second World War, but the lion somehow survived.

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We continued on the south bank, stopping at the final poetry stone with a quote from TS Eliot, before returning to the Poetry Library.

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Adventures in Moominland – Southbank Centre

The Adventures in Moominland exhibition at the Southbank Centre, introduced as part of the Nordic Matters festival, has been so popular that it has been extended by several months (it’s now on until 20 August), but when my friends and I booked our tickets we didn’t know that, and all the adults-only slots had sold out. As it turned out, though, our group consisted of only adults in any case.

The Moomins certainly transcend age. I wasn’t a particular fan as a child, but I’ve been reading the books recently, and the combination of gentle humour and wry observation have made me into a fan.

The exhibition, which begins at the Southbank’s Spirit Level, is really more of an immersive tour into the world that Tove Jansson created in her Moomin stories, featuring various environments from her works and the inspirations for them, arranged in a roughly chronological order. You get to see original Moomin pictures from Jansson’s archive, and hear narration by Sandi Toksvig. Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic, taking us deep into the world of Moominvalley, a place one of us quite wanted to leave.

Whether you’re a young or an old Moomin fan, check out this exhibition. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Cosmetics Gift Workshop – Southbank Centre

Browsing the Southbank Centre website, I came across a craft workshop for only £5, designed for participants to make their own Christmas gifts. As a huge fan of bath products from places like Lush, I signed up straight away.

The workshop involved making natural cosmetics, the kind that are growing in popularity and are sold in shops like Oxfam, as well as some supermarkets. The session began with a short talk about the history of the company, as well as a discussion of some of the ingredients and their properties, including shea butter and coconut oil. All the ingredients are fair trade and organic.

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Workshop talk

After the talk it was time to get to work! We split into groups to make two bath melts, a sugar scrub and a lip balm for each person. We decided to make the lip balm first to allow it to set, followed by the bath melts and then the sugar scrub.

We found it quite tricky to weigh the ingredients exactly – to the nearest gram. However after some weighing and re-weighing we got into the swing of things and weighing the ingredients for the subsequent cosmetics was much more straightforward. We managed to divide up the work pretty well, with some people taking responsibility for weighing and measuring, others for chopping up the lumps of shea butter and others sorting out the outer wrapping, while one poor bloke who’d been brought along by his partner was relegated to standing in the microwave queue to get our ingredients melted down.

The lip balm was poured out and left to set while we started on the bath melts – scented with lavender. Finally we made the sugar scrub, which looked good enough to eat (but we didn’t).

The finishing touch was a little Christmas gift bag in which we placed our newly-made goodies. Though the workshop was designed to make presents, I don’t really know anyone who likes this kind of thing as much as I do, so I decided to keep it for myself (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!).

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Beautifully packaged

Carsten Höller: Decision – Hayward Gallery

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Carsten Höller: Decision is this summer’s blockbuster at the Hayward Gallery, an experimental and interactive exhibition with slides – slides! – coming out of the gallery’s roof. Intrigued, I booked a ticket for the Bank Holiday weekend.

The show is structured around the theme of “decisions”, allowing the participant the chance to choose for themselves how they will approach a particular work, and experience mind-altering sensations.

The first work, Decision Corridors, apparently had different entrances but I didn’t notice, being too concerned with getting inside. It was formed of numerous tunnels, pitch-dark inside with only occasional pinpricks of light to show the way. The photo I took later on shows just how winding these corridors are. Walking through them, with no way of seeing where I was going, was incredibly surreal.

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Decision Corridors, seen from above

Later works included Half Clock, “the most complicated clock in existence”, and the Pill Clock, which drops a single red and white capsule onto the gallery floor every three seconds. As you can imagine, a considerable pile has sprung up by now. You are offered the chance to swallow your pill and I did so, Alice-in-Wonderland style, not really expecting anything to happen (it didn’t).

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Pill Clock

Another work, Flying Mushrooms, incorporated models of Amanita muscaria (fly agaric mushrooms) which are red and white hallucinogenic mushrooms, famous in folklore. Here, the models have been halved and placed back together the wrong way round, and you have to push the sculpture around to move it.

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Flying Mushrooms

The Forests was a dual-screen video with a 3D headseat and earphones, with which you could experience a snow-covered forest at night. It was surprisingly calming. In the same room were Two Roaming Beds (Grey), which sounded brilliant: “These robotic twin beds roam the lower floor of the exhibition like a pair of restless, insomniac twins.” However, hiring them for the night costs £500, so I think I’ll give them a miss.

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Two Roaming Beds

Upstairs, The Pinocchio Effect was something I didn’t look at but as it seemed to involve two people at a time, and Two Flying Machines looked like the most fun exhibition but as the queue was an hour and a half long, I didn’t bother. The Half Mirror Room and giant dice (or die) was disorientating.

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Half Mirror Room

The Upside Down Goggles in the same room were bizarre to say the least. Without a friend to hold on to I felt odd walking around.

The final part of the exhibition – and the highlight for me – were the Isomeric Slides, “a sculpture you can travel inside and a device for experiencing a condition somewhere between delight and madness” according to Höller. Whatever the theory, it was a lot of fun to slide down to the bottom of the gallery.

I had a great time here, although I was disappointed at the number of exhibits where it seemed to be expected that you had someone else with you – what about us solo exhibition-goers? Nevertheless, it was good fun.

 

Martin Creed: What’s the point of it? – Hayward Gallery

I nearly didn’t go to see Martin Creed: What’s the point of it? at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank. I’d heard some ‘interesting’ things about it and I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of thing I’d enjoy. However, the exhibition proved so popular that it was extended for a week, and I went to see it on Thursday evening, after work and before I went to the theatre. I definitely advocate going to see exhibitions during late-night weekday opening – the exhibition was really quiet, and the balloon room – which can have queues lasting up to an hour – was nearly empty.

Creed’s work belongs to the category I normally term as ‘crap modern art’, and I found myself asking the question posed in the exhibition’s title – “What’s the point of it?” – rather a lot as I walked around. Which begs the question, why did I go and see it? Curiosity, I suppose.

Creed names his works by numbers and in fairness to him his work is incredibly varied. On the one hand, among the exhibits are a piece of Blu-Tack stuck to a wall, a crumpled piece of paper, and a number of wall protrusions. More interesting to me was the large ‘Mothers’ sign that whirls around your head as you enter the exhibition: the idea behind this is that when you are little, your mother seems big and scary, as does this sign. Creed’s love of order is evident in the Lego bricks piled one on top of the other in size order, and the chairs and boxes piled up in similar ways.

The exhibition even reaches outside, with a couple of works on display on the terraces. One of these is a car which randomly bursts into life, its doors shooting open and its radio blaring, although I was more concerned with how on earth they got the car up there in the first place. On another terrace there was a film of a penis going up and down (the woman standing next to me remarked “I’ve seen better”).

The ‘balloon room’, aka Work No. 200, Half the air in a given space, was the best. The room was filled with balloons taking up half the air, resulting in a really fun room where you wade through tons of balloons with static lifting up your hair. I had so much fun here I thought it was worth the admission price alone.

There were paintings and pictures too, as well as sculptures and installations. The pictures using highlighters appealed to my precise nature, and I really liked the prints made using broccoli! The final work, though, left me completely bewildered. The infamous “sick film” shows people walking in front of the camera, vomiting and walking away, except in one case where a woman walks up, squats down and takes a shit instead. You can also buy this film in the gift shop – I am honestly baffled as to why anyone would want to watch someone defecating or being sick, or if they did, why they would pay £15 for a DVD rather than just popping down to their local high street on a Friday night. Oh well.

Though I remain sceptical of many of the exhibits, I do feel that the exhibition as a whole proved more than the sum of its parts, with interesting things to say about order, space, ambiguity and not taking the art world too seriously. It was more thought-provoking than I had expected and on balance, I don’t regret going to see it – even if I can’t get the image of someone being sick out of my head…