Let’s be honest here. Pawn has been just a little spooked by this whole pandemic situation, and many of the largest art galleries have gone neglected this trip, due to concerns about overcrowding, exposure, etc. Friday morning marked the occasion of the necessary Fit To Fly COVID-19 test (passed, BTW) and, following that, I screwed up the courage to make a few visits to these galleries.

First was the Koestler Arts exhibition, The I and the We, at Royal Festival Hall. This annual show (different name and guest curators each instance) brings together artworks from people who are incarcerated, under state care, or otherwise not able to pursue their life on their own terms as free people. I’ve made a point to attend this show whenever possible, especially after seeing a beautiful image at the first one I attended, 2018’s edition I’m Still Here:

I’m Still Here, book cover image, 2018

Last years event was entirely online, and this year’s is displayed there, as well as in-person viewing at the RFH. I was the first person to enter the exhibition during public-view hours (tho the number of sold works tells me there was an earlier private event…). There are 81 pieces from this exhibition available for purchase from Koestler’s shop.

Here are some of my favourites:

Who Is The Imposter

The anonymous entry, Who Is The Imposter, was a cheeky collection in miniature of some of art’s most famous pieces. Here are closeups of a couple:

Mathematician Alan Turing

Next up was a short walk from RFH to the Southbank’s main arts venue, Hayward Gallery. They have two shows up right now, Mixing It Up: Painting Today, featuring 31 currently practicing British artists, and Gerhard Richter: Drawings.

Mixing it Up was a real treat, and I almost skipped it. The featured artists are in various phases of their careers, and fame. Again, here are just a few favourites:

Lisa Brice – Charlie, 2020
Couch, Jonathan Wateridge, 2015-16
Patio, detail, Jonathan Wateridge, 2018
Egg, Gareth Cadwallader, 2017-18
Louise Giovanelli, Arena, oil on book, 2021

The Gerhard RIchter, Drawings exhibition was small, and quite simple. Just a row of framed paper drawings, sketches, watercolours, etc. ringed two small gallery spaces. Most of these didn’t really look like much beyond impressions, at least to me. Here’s a watercolour which struck me.:

Richter in the rearview mirror, Pawn decamped Southbank for the tony climes of Barbican, to explore the major Noguchi retrospective on view there. But first encountered the lovely and moving Shilpa Gupta exhibition, Sun at Night, in The Curve gallery there.

The first thing one sees in this exhibit is a pair of train-terminal arrival/departure boards with those old style flippy letters. With a loud clickety clack the messages on these two sings cycle through various phrases and emotions.

As one descends the Curve’s length, the walls periodically hold small frames with delicate pen & paper drawings, accompanied by a poem or other thought.

At the bottom end of the whole space, a partitioned off room encloses the final piece of art, an installation involving 100 speakers, 100 microphones, stands, and pages of text, all in a space so dark that one can read nothing, perceive little, and only after adjusting to the darkness, can one start to absorb the weight of the spoken words coming from all about the room, from the many speakers. Here are a couple of images from the gallery:

From an impossible perspective no visitor would ever see…

The main gallery at Barbican is given over to the afore mentioned Isamu Noguchi retrospective. This is a huge exhibit, taking both floors of the gallery space, to great effect. One starts in the upper galleries, which, as a series of alcoves off of the mezzanine walkway surrounding the lower gallery space, are well suited for this exhibition, providing a series of isolated cells into which small collections of Noguchi’s objects, designs, thoughts and relics are placed. In each alcove at least one quote from him is featured.

Here’s a couple of snaps:

As I wrote to E, of Degree, on whose recommendation I had come to Barbican:

It was hard to escape the twentieth century without becoming familiar with Noguchi’s designs. Some of them becoming so ubiquitous that it was easy to forget that he, that anyone, had “designed” them. But to see so many together, with context, text-text, and the supporting documentation was great.

In my years doing stage lighting I worked with many dancers, especially “Modern Dance” practitioners, who owed their art’s lineage to Martha Graham. I hadn’t known, however, how closely she had collaborated with Noguchi, and to what splendid effect! So, lesson learnt there. A splendid exhibition and testament to a brilliant designer and artist.

Private Views

When Pawn visits London, art is often a key part of the whole enterprise. This is no different this time, and Thursday brought a pair of Private Views; invitations to view new works in a private, or semi-private setting. For the first it was a studio visit to Ridley Road, where Japanese-American artist L has her studio, in the heights above the market lane.

As this was a private event, I shan’t be posting photographs here, but will suggest a visit to Degree Art’s website where much of L’s work is on view. L was gracious in welcoming E (from Degree) and myself for about an hour, during which time she showed some older works, some still underway, and some recently completed. And the conversation ranged broadly, too. All in all a lovely visit.

The evening brought a return to Hundred Years Gallery, and the show Supernatural. A fitting Halloween theme. My friend J being one of the artists (one whose work I have collected extensively) this show was a must. It was a festive evening, with some impromptu performance and live tarot reading. But Pawn made it an early night.

The Taking of Peckham 345

The taking of Peckham 345 returned Pawn home from Battersea Arts Centre late last night, following a rousing performance of Little Wimmin by the performance collective Figs in Wigs. This is a hot ticket, especially with the art school crowd, as evinced by attendance at this virtually sold-out performance.

The show opened with the five performers arrayed across the stage, hovering slightly above it (in street statue style), providing us with a preamble which felt more like an epilogue. As explained on their website, “Figs in Wigs are Rachel Gammon, Suzanna Hurst, Sarah Moore, Rachel Porter and Alice Roots.” That’s about the entirety of serious text on their “About” page. Here they are, mostly, the March sisters, of Louisa May Alcott’s book. I say mostly because there are several shall we say “deviations” from that story.

Figs in Wigs cast members

For one, they decided to kill off Beth almost immediately. By which I mean that, following the pre-epilogue, which lasts for 20 minutes, they take a 20 minute (really 25) interval, to reset the stage, and then action opens with lashings of death-metal music and the flashing of a monster surtitle reading “BETH IS DEAD!!” Subtlety reigns here.

This early interval provided many opportunities for people watching. There was a broad range of audience, from the terminally hip art schoolers, already mentioned, to mums with teenage daughters, families, older folk (like myself), etc. Much of what was worn was worn ironically. The crowd was steeped in so much irony, as a matter of fact, that almost all snark emerged effectively denuded, and plunked down on the floor without yielding offence. This was a strangely snark-free evening, especially given the crowd.

The stage in the main hall, with flat seating (no risers).

Action centered mostly around the March girls, as one would expect, but as caricatures of themselves, as one might expect. Much whinging about gloves and books, horses and masculinity. Consternation about lack of money, or embarrassment of excess. All in good humour and a feast of asides, muggings, pandering to the audience, and broad jokes. So far this is much as one might expect from a show which was introduced in flyers like this:

Presenting a live art, feminist ‘adaptation’ of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. Wild, irreverent and cosmically comical, this production dismantles the traditional canon to make way for the doomed future of humankind.

Prepare to laugh at the traditions of theatre and poke fun at people’s obsession with ‘the classics’ as the Figs use the story as their very own trojan horse, turning it on its head and mutating it into an unrecognisable cartoon catastrophe that talks about climate change, astrology and the infinite nature of the universe.

Photo credit Jemima Yong

While the show starts off in brisk fashion, with humour flying and fierce action, it does slow down about a half hour in, and then spins off into a series of irreverent and some might say irrelevant, tangents. We’ve been warned, in the pre-epilogue, that there would be an ice sculpture, Margaritas, discussion of climate change, etc. We’re not left wanting on any of these fronts. And while they don’t all contribute to moving the piece along, they do offer some delightful stage tableaux, and even references to tableaux itself.

Photo credit Jemima Yong

Perhaps the most entrancing of these divertissements is the dance section featuring the cast on a mostly dark stage, in black leoptards and bright orange skirt hoops (above). This was a lovely bit. Totally unconnected to anything else in the show, but… whatever.

The show wraps up with the ice sculpture and the making of the Margaritas, as alluded to in the proto-epilogue. I shan’t detail this too much, but to say that it was clever, and perhaps a wee bit too long. But, that said, the audience ate it up, and loved every minute of it.

This was a delightful night of performance art, very cheeky, and very self aware. Was it perhaps a bit too twee in some moments? Yes, it was. Was it perhaps a bit self indulgent? Yes, again, it was. Was it worth the £20 admission price? Yes, most decidedly it was. It was just sheer fun and folly, both badly needed right now.

Mixing a cocktail onstage

Other than the skirt hoop dance, perhaps the highlight of the evening, for me, was the placement of a jello mould on a vibrator platform, for no apparent reason. Once the crowd celebrated this bit of nonsense, one of the cast picked up the plate of jello and, holding the still vibrating mould in her hand, stood on the platform herself, and started into singing a French anthem, with the shaking of the platform putting the tremble into her tremolo. Just brilliant, silly, fun.

Short Takes — London 2021

Here’s a grab bag of thoughts and images from this visit, still underway.

Hula hoop meets Shen Yun

This first one may not be too obvious, but I was struck by the juxtaposition of the chap with the Hula Hoop, on the left, opposite the poster for Shen Yun. (18-10-2021).

A spectacular shelf fungus along Regent’s Canal
Anicka Yi’s In Love With The World

Above, a look at artist Anicka Yi’s installation, In Love With The World, in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, in Southwark. These jelly fish like creations hover, rising and falling, and moving about over the crowds.

A cacophony of graffiti erupts from brick in Hill House Pergola
Mary Poppins in Leicester Square

I honestly had assumed that this was not a statue but a street performer. It’s such a classic pose for one of those fake statuary so popular around Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Imagine my surprise when I got closer and saw it was, in fact, a genuine sculpture.

The Fourth Plinth installation, Trafalgar Square
Anonymous family enjoying the merry go round on Southbank
Storefront on Ockendon Road, Islington

Jam Tart / Lemon Kurd at Hope

Tuesday evening Pawn returned once again to The Hope Theatre for some light drama. This evening’s fare was a pair of monologues, produced by Ragged Foils, as an offshoot of their Ragged Scratch Podcast series. In this performance we have first Katy Maw delivering Jam Tart, by Rhiannon Owens, directed by Natalie Winter.

Clare (Maw) is a fifty-something wife and mother of two who has always found herself agreeing with others, and doing as they have, and finds herself now, feeling old and used up, and unrealized. On a whim, she tells us, she left home in her sleepy village and spent the night in a travel-lodge, all of 200 metres from home. But the next day, feeling a boldness new to her, she takes a bus to the other end of town and sets up life anew. No husband, no kids (they’re both grown now, no abandonment), and no job.

She starts fresh, and finds a way to break free from always doing as others do, or as others expect. Along the way she rekindles a relationship with her older brother, an adult relationship, which is totally fresh to her.

All of that in about 40 minutes, no action, no blocking, no props (aside from a water bottle). Maw simply sits in a chair facing us, and tells us her story. And does so brilliantly.

Cathy (Mary Tillet), a woman of a certain age, sits down in her bath robe and starts to tell us about her perspectives on life. Or she tries to, in this story by Nick Maynard. She keeps getting diverted down story telling side streets, ranging into precincts as yet unmapped. But she does, finally, return to purpose, telling us her thoughts on the treatment of immigrants and suffering. She talks about her life, and desires to travel; her late husband and their kids are mentioned, but more in passing and to provide a frame.

I shan’t delve too far into her story, as it is lovely and deserves to be heard as new. While neither of these stories is yet available as a podcast on Ragged Scratch, I’d expect they’ll show up there in time. Keep your eye (or ears) on this site as they’ve certainly got a good thing going!

Indecent Proposal at Southwark Playhouse

A musical based on the nearly 30 year old Robert Redford/Demi Moore/Woody Harrelson film Indecent Proposal? Who would conceive of such a thing, and why? People have been asking themselves this very question ever since Southwark Playhouse announced that 10 to 4 Productions would be bringing this to their stage. But, to clarify, they claim they’re basing this production on the original novel, by Jack Engelhard, and make no reference to the film.

I have no photos for this entry, as photography was prohibited, even before the show. But there are some rehearsal shots over at Southwark’s website.

The stage is small but jam packed. There’s a small thrust upstage, which holds the band, drums, baby grand piano, bass, guitar, rhythm guitar, vocalist and more. Under the stage is a roll-out holding a bed and a surface which doubles as a blackjack table in some scenes and a nightstand in others (depending on how far out the trundle is rolled). A few cabaret tables and chairs dot the remaining stage floor. Anna Kelsey (sets, costumes) and Hartley T A Kemp (lights) have done a lot with a little here. But the real charmer, from a technical standpoint, is Leigh Davies soundscape. This is fully dimensional, providing a realistic backdrop of casino sounds, thunderstorms, etc., throughout the evening.

Performances were roundly good in the preview performance. Lines were solid, as was delivery. Special kudos to Jacqui Dankworth for her portrayal of Annie Poole, the acerbic nightclub singer, friend of Jonny (Norman Bowman). Not only are her songs performed so well, but she has the best read on her character. Lizzy Connolly as Rebecca and Ako Mitchell as Larry Harris round out the principals. About the only problems I detected during this performance were audio-related, as the company and board operators are working through the issues related to live performance with amplified instruments, body mics, and all of that. One trusts these will get sorted prior to opening night.

I’ll admit that I came to this fully prepared to hate it, but in all honesty, it was a good night of theatre. Well staged, well performed. The story still repulses, to a degree, but the smarm is dated. We’re reminded of this pre-show, as the piped-in music is all hits from the 80s & 90s.

Hampstead Heath wander

Monday brought a slow day at the galleries, with many closed. But as it was a beautiful day, with shots of sunshine interrupted by bursts of storm, Pawn decided to head up to Hampstead Heath for a wander. A bus and overground ride later, he was wandering into the heath, for a lovely day out. What follows are photos from the heath, and the adjacent, Hill house gardens & pergola.

A photo shoot was going on

Happy Birthday, Little Amal

Little Amal at St. Paul’s, London

Totally unnoticed in the states, an epic journey has been taking place for the past 8 months. Little Amal, a 3.5 metre tall puppet of a refugee child has been walking from the Syrian border, across Turkey and through Europe. Last week she made it to England, and yesterday celebrated her 10th birthday with the children of London, with events at St Paul’s cathedral, the V&A, Trafalgar Square, and elsewhere in London.

Thousands have come out to greet her wherever she goes. The 8,000km walking tour, known as The Walk, is organized by charity Good Chance, and ends next month in Manchester. The puppet, built by Handspring Puppet Company, South Africa, requires a team of three to operate. Best known for their work on horses and birds in the epic play, War Horse, Handspring have worked with artist William Kentridge, and theatre companies across the world.

Amal makes some friends

My best birthday wishes to Amal, and great thanks for the love and understanding her walk has engendered. Not surprisingly, there are those who feel otherwise…

Rodin is in da house!

Rodin’s Hands, and Arms – Parts is Parts

Tate Modern has an expansive exhibition, The Making of Rodin, currently open. Above is a panorama of just some of the vast library of small body parts he made in preparation for an uncompleted suite of sculptures, but which he kept in files for possible use.

The Age of Bronze – Rodin

The very first thing we see, alone in the entry gallery, is The Age of Bronze, a life sized nude. But this is the only bronze in the show. This exhibition focuses not on the finished marble or cast bronze sculptures with which we’re mostly familiar, but with the plaster and clay from which those finished products emerged.

It’s hard to deny the power of Rodin’s works, from The Thinker to his busts and full body works on Balzac. Here one gets to see the studies and preparatory models which led to those, and many other, great works. Here, with The Thinker one is able to get so close to the piece, and see details in the plaster which most likely would vanish in the darkness of bronze:

The Thinker — Rodin

Just look at the musculature on the near arm. Here we see the head for Balzac, still rough:

Balzac’s head — Rodin

And here is Balzac’s bath robe (seriously), the finished model is in the background, seen from the rear:

Balzac’s bath robe — Rodin

And finally, a study of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s assistant, an artist in her own right. An entire gallery text is given over to discussion of the treatment of women — artists and models both — within the strictures of the times.

Camille Claudel

I very much enjoyed this exhibit. And Tate is to be commended on their gallery COVID protocols, which by and large worked out. The crowds were never too big, the arrows on the floor tended to keep people moving along in controlled paths, and masking was mostly observed.

Skin Tight at Hope

Louise Hoare as Elizabeth and Adam Slynn as Tom — Photo by Greg Veit

When one enters the small, cramped, performance space above the Hope & Anchor pub, Upper Street, Islington, a man lays sprawled on the floor, furiously tracing lines with chalk on the black floor. One cannot discern what it is he’s up to, what sort of image this is. There are chains of small lamps draped across overhead, a galvanized wash tub on one end of the small stage, a ladder against a wall, and the chalk lines on the floor.

The lights dim, and rise again. A woman has entered the stage, and runs at the man, throws herself onto the floor, seeking to erase the lines he has painstakingly traced. Over the next several minutes this man and this woman engage in fierce embrace, violent struggle, erotic, vicious, beautiful, dramatic. Like an entire lifetime together, distilled into dance.

New Zealand poet Denis Glover, in 1964, penned the much beloved poem, The Magpies, about a farming couple and their struggles. Here it is:

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
and Elizabeth’s lips were red
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

Year in year out they worked
while the pines grew overhead
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

But all the beautiful crops soon went
to the mortgage man instead
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s long ago)
Old Tom’s gone light in the head
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
couldn’t give it away
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

Louise Hoare and Adam Slynn embody Elizabeth and Tom in sweeping, near operatic fashion, in Skin Tight at the Hope Theatre through 6 November. This is a reprise of a 2017 production, also starring Hoare, which wowed critics and audiences alike. When Pawn made plans to celebrate his birthday in London, J chose this show to cap off the evening, neither of us quite knowing what it was about.

This is a very different sort of play. It’s based on The Magpies, but only in the loosest of manners. It is dramatic, to be sure; intense and pressing. But it is really about memory, the sweep of time, the way one remembers oneself remembering. Elizabeth is gone, or is going. Tom once left her (off to war) and that betrayal is one she never forgave him for. She responded with her own betrayal, one he never forgave her for. They farmed, and loved, and had a family, and grew old. All the time their fierce love and devotion persisted.

And now we are inside of Tom’s mind (or that’s how I choose to perceive it) and he is remembering over and over again their lives together. They are so beautiful and young, fit and passionate, but they are aging and infirm, arguing over their daughter’s letters from her London discontent.

Throughout Skin Tight one sees echos of the opening dance, that violent pas de deux which started the show. Each gesture and move of that dance appears again, in sequence, in the following narrative. And each time we recognize this a small shiver erupts. But soon enough (the show is just under an hour) Elizabeth and Tom have fallen quiet, the music recedes, and all we’re left with is the chalk lines on the floor.

Skin Tight was a lovely, moving piece of theatre. Much recommended.