Sunday, 31 May 2009

Week 5 - #35 Visit the Whitechapel Gallery

A one line review of the Whitechapel Gallery? I don't get it.

To elaborate - the Whitechapel Gallery opened in the early 1900s. It specialises in promoting the work of artists that live and work in the East End, but has also done major early exhibitions of more famous folk like Picasso and Rothko. From what I can gather from the website (and could be bothered to read in the gallery - it was a bright sunny day and I was very hungover), they redeveloped and re-opened the gallery recently.

Situated bang next to Aldgate East station, it's a beautiful space - simultaneously modern and bright but with original (Victorian) touches in the architecture that give it just the right amount of gravitas (you're looking at art here, people - art). But the layout is very confusing - I am not sure whether I even saw everything as there didn't seem to be any kind of 'Go this way now' guidance - perhaps a nod to a more bohemian approach to curating?

There were four (five?) gallery spaces, plus a small cinema and an impressive reading room/library, obviously lovingly donated by a kind patron of the arts. The main piece I wanted to see, Goshka Macuga's woven interpretation of Picasso's Guernica in cloth, was actually amazing, and well worth the visit by itself really. Go and see it.

The rest of the art, well, erm...I just don't know. There were a couple of nice pieces of sculpture, pleasing mirror and glass that meant my companion got distracted by how tanned his legs were getting. The rest was, in my humble opinion, much like the stuff I'd see at Winchester School of Art's foundation course shows, everyone trying to out-do each other in their 'craziness' - yawn. There were mannequins in shopping trolleys and blocks of concrete with metal rods sticking out of them. Maybe I am not sophisticated in my tastes, but there is modern art out there that I like, I promise.

Perhaps it's also the location, and the general bored superiority of most of the people working there, but it was all very 'East London' - not something I particularly buy in to. And while I don't need to be told what to look at and how long for, a little help with order of exhibitions may have come in handy. Beautiful space though, and in keeping with the rarely-celebrated but hugely important tradition of London galleries, it's free entry. My favourite price.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Week 4 # 6 - Dip my toes in the sea

I know, I know - been very slack for the past couple of weeks. There are reasons for this - we are currently looking for a new flatmate which is simultaneously tedious and stressful (ie it both sucks and blows), and I have been on holiday, which at least allows me to fulfill one thing from my list.

So, yes, last week I went to Crete with my sister, her fiance and their friend for a week of sunshine, sea, beer and tsatsiki. And I didn't just dip my toes in the water, either - the whole bikini-clad body went in. Don't worry - all witnesses have had their eye sockets thoroughly bleached for their own mental health.

Crete was beautiful, and we even fitted in some culture by visiting the ancient palace at Knossos. 3000 years old and some of the vases are still standing - amazing. We didn't find a Minotaur, though, much to everyone's disappointment. I think he probably starved to death given the current taboo nature of throwing virgins at monsters. (I know he was slain by Theseus, but that doesn't make for a very good joke, does it?).

The photos are residing on my computer, which BT has decreed in their ultimate wisdom is not allowed internet connection for some reason. So, when the winds are blowing in the right direction, I may get enough signal to post them somewhere. Needless to say, the sights, villa, sea and company were all sparkling and lovely. Much needed.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Week 3: #15 Visit the Hunterian Museum

I try to visit the museums and galleries of London as much as possible, particularly the free ones or exhibitions that I can get into free through work (yes, being a public servant does have some benefits). But there is a small museum in the back streets of Holborn that I had been meaning to visit for a while.

The Hunterian Museum is a display in the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields round the back of LSE. It contains the collections of John Hunter, who was an eminent surgeon in the late 1700s who is widely regarded as contributing a huge amount to our understanding of anatomy. He was very concerned with scientific method in medicine and gathered vast amounts of animal and human specimens for study. All of which can be found in jars, still preserved to this day. And it's FREE to get in to!

I am not particularly squeamish about stuff to do with innards and dead things. I grew up thinking I would be a doctor until I realised just how crap I was at chemistry (truly, seriously, never got it AT ALL). But even I found some of the things in jars quite unnerving. There were anteater foetuses and elephant hearts. There was a baby kangaroo that looked like something out of the Alien films. There was a skeleton of a giant man (around 7 foot 7) that made me glad I wasn't dating a basketball player. The stuff that caught me by surprise, though, was the bits of human pickled for posterity. There was a cross-section of a young boy's face that was preserved as an example of nose cancer, but they had injected the face with red dye to show up the cancer better. This meant the face had a proper pink, living tinge to it and looked like it was from last week rather than over 200 years ago. They also had several human foetuses in jars showing stages of development. While I am vehemently pro-choice I had never been confronted with what these things look like in reality and it did take me aback a little. I don't think it's changed my opinion (nor did it set out to), but at least I feel a bit better informed about the physical nature of what grows inside you at four, eight, twelve weeks.

So, yes, I would recommend it to anyone with a reasonably strong constitution, and perhaps advise vegetarians to steer clear. There's lots of our animal friends displayed in most undignified fashions.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Week 2: #37 Visit a spa

Another easy week, as someone else did all the hard work for me. As a reward for editing the very marvelous Dangerous Book for Boys, my sister Katie was given two day passes to The Sanctuary in Covent Garden, and very kindly invited me to go with her.

I have never been to a spa before, being someone who is not typically indulgent or girly. I had my first facial at the tender age of 29, because I was given it as a gift by friends of mine who are more dermatologically aware. I guess we were brought up to pursue intellectual and social pursuits rather than focus on the aesthetic (yes, yes - I know the three can exist together, as demonstrated by some of my more 'put-together' friends).

So the first thing we had to do was to decide on the treatments we were going to have. The Sanctuary website gave details of our choices, but it was so difficult to choose. Did we want something indulgent, or soothing, or invigorating? Did I want them to remove my toxins, or put me in a flotation tank, or perform African blessing rituals over me? Did I want to be rubbed down with cinnamon, or olive, or herbal compresses?

We finally decided, after much to-ing and fro-ing, to have a 'Soothing La Sultane' treatment, described as follows:

'Transport yourself to the fragrant gardens and spicy souks of Marrakech.This ultimate mood enhancer begins with a full body and face exfoliation using black olive soap. Hot mitts then cleanse, followed by a complete top to toe massage using a blend of melted shea butter mixed with essential oils. A fabulous tension releasing experience.'

Oh yes.

The next thing to worry about was spa etiquette. Namely - body hair removal. I decided that, for the sake of my beautician and the other ladies there, it was probably best to remove the hair that I would usually remove (legs, armpits, bikini line), but no more - I hadn't quite appreciated just how small the paper knickers are in that place. I probably shouldn't have worried about that really, given that all lighting in there is set to 'romantic' at all times.

It's a beautiful place, The Sanctuary. In the centre of Covent Garden, the front just looks like a little shop, and I hadn't even noticed that it was there before. It's vast inside, with a large koi carp pool at the centre of it all. The setting is incredibly relaxing, the staff attentive and friendly and the facilities wonderful. However, there were some women there who were just sleeping by the side of the carp pond, and it did make us wonder why you would pay the (frankly astounding) entrance fee just to sleep. But, then again, we have never been (and are not likely to ever be) filthy rich.

The whole day was lovely, mostly because neither Katie nor I ever really stop and lie down in a quiet room. Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to relax, so even during some enforced meditative time my brain was spinning off in lots of directions and not focusing on my breathing as it should have been. I wonder whether I could ever achieve that with practice?

The most ridiculous thanks to Katie for inviting me along to this. As for the advice given by my beautician, I'm not sure any of it will stick. Frankly, life's too short to exfoliate, buff, cleanse, tone, and moisturise my whole body morning and night...