Just back from 4 days in London having swapped our house with a Swedish family from Camden to give Ruby and her friend a taste of city life. It was a great first experience of house swapping and we will definitely do it again. It felt good to be engaging in an arrangement with total strangers based entirely on mutual trust, respect and an openness to share and it gave us the run of a gorgeous Victorian house just round the corner from Camden Town Tube Station completely free of charge, with the added bonus that it inspired us to clean and tidy our house so that it is much nicer to return to! It is a recession-busting way to take a break and I thoroughly recommend it.
Returning home gives me the interesting feeling that strangers have been in our house, softer loo paper, an object turned…small things make me aware that we are all temporary inhabitants…English voices after Welsh, and now Swedish…all passing through, all making changes, leaving faint marks and impressions…
The girls were blown away by Camden Market and the limitless shopping opportunities (somewhat less impressed by the experience of getting lost on Oxford Street!), and despite the visits to London Dungeon, Tate Modern, a trip on the river etc.. I suspect they were happiest putting on false nails in their bedroom!
Ai Weiwei`s installation of sunflower seeds at Tate Modern was an interesting experience, The piece is made up of 100 million small ceramic sunflower seeds hand made in China.
The work refers to the notion of the familiar “made in China” logo and to the symbolic significance of small packets of sunflower seeds which were shared by people on the streets of china during the repressive times of the Cultural Revolution. I think the work said more than the artist intended about social control, as the gallery have erected barriers to prevent people interacting with the work because of a health and safety risk from dust produced by the ceramic seeds.
This produced a tension in the crowd and a general feeling of frustration about “health and safety gone mad”, and the fact that we are being prevented from interacting in the way the artist intended and from taking responsibility for our own decisions on our personal safety. This stimulates people to talk to each other in the normally hallowed atmosphere of the gallery, and discuss taking direct action of a type not normally contemplated by middle class gallery goers on a Saturday afternoon! If it wasn`t for the fact that the audience are invited to communicate directly with Ai Weiwei by means of a video booth, I reckon things could well spill over into a “pitch invasion”!
Sadly social control won out on this occasion, but I was heartened to see a square of chewing gum adorning Richard Long`s spiral installation of marble pebbles in the upper gallery…a small act of defiance perhaps!
Another inspirational interactive and much photographed work we saw was Anish Kapoor`s wonderful sculptures in Kensington Gardens, collectively entitled “Turning The World Upside Down”.
These sculptures were so beautiful, reflecting and subverting images of the landscape and onlooker, they are timeless as geometry and ever-changing as the ocean, and make me recall a Portuguese poem by Fernando Pessoa:
To be great, be whole…
To be great be whole: don`t exaggerate
Or leave out any part of you.
Be complete in each thing. Put all you are
Into the least of your acts.
So too in each lake, with its lofty life,
The whole moon shines.
Another brilliant experience of the holiday was being part of the audience and background laughs for a comedy show pilot for Radio 4`s The Horne Section. Horne and the band are a hilarious and talented bunch of guys, the musicians respond to Horne and the audience and perform rehearsed and impromptu ballads and musical refrains. The impromptu ballad composed to Richard, a computer programmer from Balham, was especially memorable! The show goes out at 11pm on March 14th, so listen in for a great show and spot my laughs!