Tagged: London Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts
Splendid essay on the London cycle-hire scheme by Iain Sinclair in the latest London Review of Books
Like everything else in the Alice in Wonderland world of pre-Olympic London, cycling has become the plaything of bankers and politicians. We have been persuaded to undergo an online process, like applying for a mortgage, or a loan we don’t need, in order to become a mobile advertisement for the benevolence of a financial institution. And by this application, we are registered, tagged, our movements logged and our conversations recorded.
I recently returned from a weekend in London where Anna and I found this delightful pair of black swans in St James’s Park. They are beautiful birds, as tame as pets, with long, looping necks and bright red beaks the colour of post boxes. They reminded me of the poem by the late James Merill:
Illusion: the black swan knows how to break
Through expectation, beak
Aimed now at its own breast, now at its image,
And move across our lives, if the lake is life,
And by the gentlest turning of its neck
Transform, in time, time’s damage;
To less than a black plume, time’s grief.
There’s an inspired post over at Berlin’s Click Opera about the “Berlinification” of cities around the world. The post cites the UK government’s emergency measures to distribute thousands of grants to people who find creative uses for vacant shops as evidence of this emerging trend. Such a move – if successful – they argue should create a creative flourishing or the arts and culture, as happened to Berlin after the fall of the wall:
“Since it’s a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We’re your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.”
“After 1989 we enjoyed a strange interregnum where “history ended.” Everyone ran up a credit-card bill at the global supermarket. The adventure ended badly, in crisis. Still, let us be of good heart. In cold fact, a financial crisis is one of the kindest and mildest sorts of crisis a civilization can have. Compared to typical … catastrophes like wars, epidemics, earthquakes, volcanoes, endemic political collapse — a financial crisis is a problem for schoolchildren.”
+ Lord Foster to be stripped of his peerage.
Starchitect to lose out after moving to Switzerland. Maybe he’s the first victim of the new 21st century.
+ Padraig Reidy: the Wikipedia editing debate highlights a retreat from web utopia.
+ More from the London at Night series.
The Boston Globe continues its wonderful pictures of nocturnal London
London abandoned. A Flickr set taken on Christmas morning (via William Gibson’s blog) by blogger Ian Visits. London looks almost totally abandoned, devoid of both traffic and people, although the lights are still on and the traffic lights are working. Spooky and beautiful.
From William Gibson’s blog:
“Christmas, particularly in the early morning, has always seemed so much more liminal to me than New Year’s eve. Spectral, deeply in-between.”
Incidentally, while on the subject of abandoned places: check out the sound stage of HBO’s masterful television epic The Wire. Foolishly I had thought that much of it was filmed on location. But the offices of the Baltimore Sun and the city’s homicide division turn out to be incredibly convincing simulations.
A little more of old working-class London is chipped away. The Italian formica cafe, once as popular in Britain’s major cities as Starbucks is today, has lost what was perhaps its greatest purveyor.
Classic Cafes, a lovely little website in its own right, has published an obituary of Nevio Pellici, owner of the greatest cafe – of caff – in London, who passed away earlier this month.
The Pelliccis have run a cafe on Bethnal Green Road since 1900. Nevio was born above the shop in 1928 and it continues to be run by his son, Nevio Jnr. I once interviewed the family for a long piece I wrote about the gentrification of Bethnal Green for the Guardian’s Space Magazine and have been charmed by the place ever since.
Pellicis started life as an ice cream parlour, but it was rebuilt in 1946. Ever since, it’s been celebrated for its Art Deco-style marquetry panelled interior. It was awarded listed status by English Heritage (one of only two caffs to win the honour) who noted the establishment as, “altogether representing an architecturally strong and increasingly rare example of the intact and stylish Italian caff that flourished in London in the inter-war years’.
Subversive architecture: the growing practice of taking over public spaces in order to make political points. The name is derived from the Office for Subversive Architecture, a small practice in Berlin. Among their many projects is a recently installed “viewing platform” designed to help you look over the wall onto the site of the London Olympics (Flickr photoset here).
Also in London is the work of Bruno Taylor (left), who recently installed a swing in a bus stop (video here) at Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell. Behind the visual gags of both projects is a serious attempt to improve the life, no mater how temporarily, of city dwellers. Also working to similar ends is the Polish artist-known-only-as “Truth” who adorns (often abandoned) buildings with a three-dimensional graffiti made from blocks of polystyrene. Like the movement of Guerrilla Gardeners before them, these artists seek to offer a wry commentary on city life by deploying the tactics of the graffti artist and a political theory clearly influenced bt Situationist International of the late 1950s.
A tale of two cities: First up, Naples. Anish Kapoor and architects Future Systems have been commissioned to create a fully-functioning tube station (left) that is “a synthesis of purpose and beauty.”
London: Kapoor has been shortlisted for the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. The newly elected London Mayor Boris Johnson has waded in, saying that the plinth be used for a permanent statue of World War II RAF commander Sir Keith Park. Kapoor recently told the Art Newspaper: “He [Johnson] is a a fool. He hasn’t the faintest idea and he ought to keep his mouth shut.” Now, that won’t get your sculpture built Mr Kapoor. But the contrast between the two developments shows the different directions the two cities are heading, perhaps?
Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary (trailer is here) telling the story of Israeli soldiers fighting the Lebanese War of 1982. Screened in competition at Cannes this year, it is being touted as the first feature-length animated documentary. The Times (of London) has called it “a voyage of discovery into Folman’s uncharted subconscious,” as it deals with the suppressed memories of those fighting in the war.
Software is so lowering the cost of animation that the barriers to making it continue to fall. Using animation in documentary also allows you to portray things, like memories, that you can’t with ordinary footage, it also offers the opportunity to stage things the camera missed first time around. Will Kim’s In Search of the Colors (above right), for example, uses various hand-drawn and painterly animation to tell a story drawn from his own experiences at a home for people with developmental disabilities. While the work of east London’s Bold Creative uses animation to tell stories straight the mouths of British teenagers. They told me that this approach – recording the kids’ voices but animating their faces later – allows the kids to open up much more, not least because they know they are not on camera. We have seen some extraordinary comic books dealing with complex adult issues in recent years. It looks like their animated relatives are following suit.
Thanks once again to the wondrous Things Magazine for pointing me towards The London that Nobody Knows, a wonderful documentary from 1967 narrated by James Mason (a fellow lad of Huddersfield). The film is a favourite of Bob Stanley of St Etienne, who describes the film as “No horseguards, no palaces, but Islington’s Chapel Market, pie shops, and Spitalfields tenements … Carnaby chicks and chaps, the 1967 we have been led to remember, [is] shockingly juxtaposed with feral meths drinkers, filthy shoeless kids, squalid Victoriana. Camden Town still resembles the world of Walter Sickert. There is romance and adventure, but mostly there is malnourishment.”
Although I wouldn’t agree with him that “London looks like a shithole,” even the fluttering washing above a tenament in the East End looks beautiful when arranged above a courtyard of excited children playing in the midday sun. The London that Nobody Knows is based on a book by Geoffrey Snowcroft Fletcher of, funnily enough, The Daily Telegraph. Stanley calls Fletcher “the great forgotten London writer” and the book was first published in 1962.
paulmcdonald is discussing. Toggle Comments
I’ve just returned from London where I saw the thoroughly excellent Modern British Posters exhibition at Central St Martin College of Art and Design in Holborn. It’s a fairly compact exhibition pulled from the private collection of Paul Rennie (there’s a nice gallery here), one of the tutors at the famous art college. The exhibition covers the period around the second world war and concentrates on the heavy use of lithography, which dominated commercial art much longer in Britain than it did in the rest of Europe. There’s also a bit more humor in the posters when compared with contemporary material in the rest of Europe and some wonderfully sanctimonious war time propoganda.
Incidently, Brightonians might want to click through to Rennie’s shop in Folkstone, Rennie’s Seaside Modern, where he selling this beautiful collection of late Victorian and Edwardian photographs of the seafront at Brighton. (found via AceJet
Like many people of the left I was dismayed to see the election of Boris Johnson as London Mayor. I haven’t lived in London for over three years, but I still work there and to my mind Ken Livingstone had done a reasonable job. Flicking through the Sunday papers yesterday most commentators seemed to agree that two things had done it for Ken. Firstly, his plan to extend the congestion charge, especially for large petrol-consuming four-wheel drives. The second was the issue of recycling (which actually had more to do with local councils than the Greater London Authority). Both of these issues are climate change issues and it seemed to me that Ken Livingstone was addressing them and Boris Johnson isn’t really. So was the vote for Boris part of a climate change backlash?
The next-generation of super-tall buildings threaten to reach into the skies over a kilometer high. Trendhunter reports on the reinvigorated race to become the “biggest, tallest, most tremendous building in the world.” Surprisingly, although the list covers several extremely tall edifices climbing above the Gulf States, London features at the top.
Populararchitecture describes the Super Tower (above left) as a building “of unprecedented scale conceived not as a building so much as a vertical extrusion of the city – a new town in the sky complete with parks, public squares, schools and hospitals.” The shadow it would cast across the city would be incredible, although if it will be built is anyone’s guess given the current hoohar about about tall buildings in London.
Elsewhere, the post points towards the Burj Mubarak Al-Kabir (above right) in Kuwait. Standing over a kilometer high, the structure will be, again if it ever gets built, almost twice the height of Taipei 101, officially still the world’s tallest building. It has already won preliminary planning permission. Of course several engineering and logistical challenges have to be overcome to break into this new bracket of super-tall buildings. While questions about their ecomomic and environmental sustainability have to be asked. But the audacity of these designs is striking.