As the media marks the death of Margaret Thatcher with blanket television coverage looking back at her time in office some familiar images are brought back to mind. But sometimes it’s hard to disentangle the memories: which of the images am I really recalling from the 1980s? In the case of the images of the 1983/4 miners’ strike, the boundaries between news footage and re-enactment are very blurry in my head. I remember the strike very well; I remember the marches and the benefit gigs, I remember throwing money into collection buckets every day on my way to and from work, probably with a ‘coal not dole’ badge on my coat, and I remember the news reports. At least, I think I do. But there’s a distinct possibility that some of that memory is somewhat second hand. The images of Orgreave that are so clear in my mind come not just from the news reports of the time, shocking though they were, but also from Jeremy Deller’s 2001 re-enactment of the event, filmed by Mike Figgis.
The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2010
Vehicles? Mention of the fourth plinth? Those who have been paying attention could probably have predicted Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle as the subject of my next post. And here it is. (Those now thinking the next one will be about Elmgreen and Dragset’s haven’t been paying attention quite long enough though; I’ve written about that already.) I’ve liked quite a few of the works commissioned for the fourth plinth – the plinth in the North West corner of Trafalgar Square in London originally intended to host some general or other on a horse, I think – but Sonibare’s is definitely one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s the sort of work I couldn’t resist going to have another look at when I was nearby, the sort of work that unfailingly made me smile even on the greyest day.
Though I’ve mentioned this work in a previous post, it seems pertinent to make it the subject of a post now given that, like David Černý’s Quo Vadis, the basis of the work is a car as a signifier of world events. The car in Jeremy Deller’s It is what it is, was destroyed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in 2007. The mangled wreckage here, as is often the case in media reports of war, stands in for the destruction of human life, in this case the deaths of thirty eight people. Though we are all too used to seeing images of such vehicles, finding oneself confronted with the real thing is a wholly different experience. Deller has gone beyond this though and taken the wrecked car on a road trip around America, using it as a catalyst for discussion about Iraq.
Though not the first thing that’ll spring to mind when we look back at the summer of 2012, bus-based art has been a bit of a theme this year. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration but I’ve seen two examples which is approximately two more than usual. While Richard Wilson’s Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea… played on our fondness for nostalgia by referencing a film that tends to be thought of with a smile, David Černý’s London Booster played to our fondness for proper London buses, albeit by suggestion rather than authenticity, since – bus pedant alert – London Booster is built around a Bristol Lodekka rather than a Routemaster (I’d like it known that I’m not enough of a bus geek to have know that without the aid of Google; all I knew was that the bus wasn’t an RM).
There’s something different about London this summer. The Olympic feelgood factor coupled with a bit of actual sunshine after the seemingly interminable rain means we seem to have found ourselves in a mood to both celebrate our country and the odder aspects of its history and traditions and to jump about. On hand to help out – as part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad – is Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege. As playful reworkings of our heritage go, a life-size bouncy castle version of Stonehenge certainly hits the spot (especially as it comes complete with anxious announcements about health and safety).
It’s possible for text to become meaningless shapes when we’re too close to it, especially if it’s written in an unfamiliar script. At first glance, maybe even to those who read Mandarin, the colourful wall of the Haus der Kunst Museum in Munich which faced visitors to Ai Weiwei’s 2009 exhibition So Sorry, might have seemed more like a cheerful pattern rather than the poignant words of a grieving mother. The colour palette of red, yellow, green and blue is more redolent of children’s books than works of art and certainly doesn’t immediately suggest a memorial. Look closer and it’s clear that the building blocks of the banner are brightly coloured backpacks, the sort that children often use as school bags. But this is a work that needs an explanation.
Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, aMAZEme, installation in Royal Festival Hall, 2012
If someone had asked me to imagine what 250,000 books looked like, I’m not sure I’d have had a clue. A quarter of a million anything is a lot, that much I do know. But I was always rubbish at guessing the number of smarties in the jar at fêtes, and those numbers were always in the hundreds which is much more manageable somehow. Anyway, in case you happen to be wondering what 250,000 books looks like, there they are, made into a maze resembling the fingerprint of Brazilian writer and educator Jorge Luis Borges by artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall. As with almost everything else in London this summer, it’s part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
The World in London (Park House, Oxford Street), 2012
The World in London, which I wrote about in the previous post, is unusually in that the exhibition is being shown at the same time in two venues in the same city (although the Oxford Street installation will stay on display after the Olympics close on 12 August). Although the design of the two installations is recognisably the same in terms of its graphic identity – which is kept very simple, and although my preference would generally be to see images on white the black background does work reasonably well here – the way the work is shown is rather different and offers two different readings of the collection of photographs.
On Oxford Street, the images are displayed as a grid, albeit an uneven one with some images larger than others, in part because of the range of formats used by the photographers but occasionally determined by the architectural grid of the building. Exhibiting photographs in a grid is a strategy used by Bernd and Hilla Becher who grouped their pictures of industrial buildings together by type and it’s hard not to read grids of photographs as typologies.
Londoners come from anywhere and everywhere. Once you move here, you become a Londoner whether you came here from Surrey or Sudan. With the world coming to London for the Olympic games, The Photographers’ Gallery decided to commission a series of portraits of Londoners for a public art exhibition called The World in London. The aim was to find and photograph a Londoner from each of the 204 countries sending a team to the Olympics. They almost managed it; there are two or three places from which no Londoners have yet been found: American Samoa is one, Nauru another (there may be more that I’ve forgotten about), but the exhibition lives up to its title.