John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing

 

Beyond a now long ago visit to Brantwood, and awareness of his involvement with the Pre-raphaelites, I find I know relatively little about John Ruskin and his work. 2019 – the bicentenary of his birth, is a great year to learn more – full as it is of ‘Ruskin’ activities.

 

‘John Ruskin: the Power of Seeing’ at Two Temple Place explores the influences that shaped Ruskin, his views, and his relevance in the contemporary world. With Ruskin famed as a ‘true polymath’ – artist, art critic, teacher, social reformer, environmentalist and beyond, this is an ambitious undertaking. The exhibition brings together almost 200 works including paintings, drawings, daguerreotypes and sculpture. Drawing heavily on the substantial collection of the Guild of St George (founded by Ruskin in 1871) it also includes a number of contemporary works inspired by Ruskin’s relationship with the natural world.

 

The Lower Gallery displays the key influences that shaped Ruskin’s views on art and social issues throughout his life.  Contextualised with biographical note and timeline, thoughtful curation leads us through Ruskin’s admiration of JMW Turner (‘the Pass of St Gotthard’) to his lifelong interest in architecture, and its detail. And finally onto Venice – the city with which he had a prolonged relationship and which had a profound effect upon him. The highlight here is the ‘Big Bunny’ (‘Western Façade of the Basilica of San Marco Venice’ – John Wharlton Bunny) – viewing this in the far corner of the gallery, we are literally surrounded by ‘Ruskin’s Venice’.

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‘Western Façade of the Basilica of San Marco Venice’ – John Wharlton Bunny

Displays in the Hall introduce us to Ruskin’s somewhat unexpected relationship with Sheffield (home to the Guild of St George) and its metalworking craftsmen, and begins to introduce contemporary work. Hanging in the stairwell – and on the first floor landing are new (2009) pieces (Lampshade and Wallpaper) by Timorous Beasties inspired by Ruskin.

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Lampshade and Wallpaper – Timorous Beasties

The Library immerses us one again in Ruskin’s world with objects deliberately displayed without labels (information sheets are available from stewards), and in a formation to resemble viewing works in Walkley Museum, Sheffield.  This is surprisingly effective in encouraging us to see ‘through Ruskin’s eyes’.

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‘Vertical Panorama – Oak Tree’ – Hannah Downing

Finally, the Great Hall is the focus, in particular for Ruskin’s greatest passions – nature and landscape – and it is here that the inclusion of contemporary objects, works to its greatest effect in developing our understanding of the relevance of his vision today.  These include Hannah Downing’s ‘Vertical Panorama Oak Tree’. A towering hand drawn work with branches in the roof and roots beneath us – this dominates the room, yet demonstrates a level of photographic detail and vision which one suspects Ruskin would have immediately understood.  The inclusion of two works from Grizedale Arts – ‘Morning’ and ‘Evening’ (located near the Sunrise and Sunset stained glass windows respectively) serve to remind us not only of Ruskin’s visionary environmental predictions but also of his links with the Lake District.

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‘Evening’ – Grizedale Arts (2018)

 

It is not difficult to argue a case for the modern relevance of Ruskin – or his place as a twenty-first century visionary.  His views on the environment, social justice and the power of nature – reflect ever more urgent contemporary concerns.  Indeed his relationship with drawing as a mechanism to truly engage with the world (literally the  power of seeing) has a direct line to mindfulness (the subject of a Two Temple Place exhibition activity) and his tireless argument for holistic improvements in the lives of ordinary working people would be understood today as part of the wellbeing (and potentially anti-austerity) agenda.

 

It is also easy to be wary and critical of Ruskin. His alleged inability to consummate his marriage to Effie Gray does nothing to endear him to modern audiences.  Equally, in middle-age his at best, unfortunate and misguided, apparent fixation on children has since provoked every emotion from unease to revulsion.  These are the controversies for which in the years since, he has at times been best known. Though with contemporary eyes it is also easy to see the roots of at least some of this in a closeted up-bringing, that was bizarre even by the standards of the time. It is also easy to berate Ruskin for his pronouncements on the working class and how they should better live, from a place of financial and social safety – though in the Victorian era (and indeed today), he is hardly alone in this.

 

‘The Power of Seeing’ avoids these issues completely – and therein lies one of its strengths – in removing the conventional smokescreen of controversy that has surrounded Ruskin – the visionary nature of his work shines through, with a clarity hitherto unseen. In these complex and divided times Ruskin appears to speak from a simpler age and his voice is all the louder for it.

 

The Power of Seeing is a valuable contribution to what is already a year of renaissance for Ruskin.


© All text and images copyright Later Than You Think unless otherwise stated

 

Winter Lights – Canary Wharf

I know the year is well and truly underway when once again it is time to wrap up warm and head out into the night at Canary Wharf for Winter Lights.  Now in its fifth year this celebration of all things light has, like so much of the Wharf’s Arts and Events scene, embedded itself in my annual calendar.

 

The arrival of‘ Sasha Trees’ in Westferry Circus early in the new year reminded us that Winter Lights was on the way.  The appearance of neon firs so soon after Christmas was a welcome festive reminder – and provided a taster of what was to come. The environment and our relationship with it are the underlying themes of this year’s ‘Lights’.  Referenced in a number of installations utilising movement and sound to encourage reflection not only on our planet and the impact of our actions upon it, but also consideration of our responsibilities to the other life we share it with.

 

‘Whale Ghost’ (Cubitt Steps) is an emotionally haunting work.  A skeletal frame and whale song soundtrack portray a simultaneous power and vulnerability. As the (I presume) life-size undulating Whale skeleton ‘swims’ alone above us we wonder whether this is the last Whale?

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Whale Ghost – Cubitt Steps

‘The Last Parade’ (Crossrail Place) is unobtrusive, located as it is ‘on the shore’ of the water feature below.  It would – just about – be possible to pass by and not notice it and I suspect this is partly the point.  This is an engaging and atmospheric work both because of the evocative soundtrack of animal calls, and the random and sometimes surprising nature of what comes next – as in nature itself.  I found myself viewing this next to a lady out walking her dog.  I’m not sure who was more enthralled – us or the dog – as he struggled to comprehend these creatures and their sounds, appearing and then fading.   The Last Parade reminds us of both the dangers of complacency and that time is running out – as some of these animals fade away for what may be the last time.

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The Last Parade – Crossrail Place

‘Plastic’  and  ‘waste’ were the environmental concerns of 2018.  Nowhere are these more evident than in ‘Recyclism’ –  a new platform for artists with a concern for the environment.   The futuristic worlds exhibited are built entirely from waste materials including old electronics and packaging.  Headsets are available as you enter Recyclism and bring colonies on Mars and other imagined worlds to life sufficiently that we are experiencing a future slightly more believable than science fiction.

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Recycled Future – from Recyclism

Submergence (Montgomery Square) – the largest version of this work ever shown – with 24,000 individual lights and the opportunity to immerse oneself – literally inside the installation – will I imagine, be the Instagram hit of the 2019 ‘Lights’.

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Submergence – Montgomery Square

The Canary Wharf estate is constantly growing and evolving and once again this Winter Lights utilises an area of the Wharf ‘under construction’ – namely ‘Two Hearts’ projected onto Newfoundland Place (viewed from Cubitt Steps).  This is probably the largest of the installations – and one of the most prominent.  Though for sheer ethereal eeriness 2018’s use of the then uninhabited, Level -3 at Crossrail Place is hard to beat.

 

 As in previous years part of the Wharf’s substantial permanent outdoor at collection – ‘We Should Meet’ (Crossrail Place), ‘Lightbench’ (Canada Square Park), and ‘BIT.Fall’ (Chancellors Passage) – is included.  Although not ‘officially’ an installation, the Cabot Square fountains – featuring lights and movement synchronised to music – have a Las Vegas-esque quality about them – complete with a movie theme soundtrack – and as ever the stunning backdrop of One Canada Square.

 

Finally, another regular – the simply beautiful ‘Angel’s of Freedom’ – also returned this year. Always popular (who doesn’t love an Angel?)  and what a great selfie backdrop.  The underlying sentiment – ‘everyone can become an Angel in their own way’ – has obvious appeal – not least when our planet needs us all to be guardian angels now more than ever.

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Angels of Freedom – various locations


all text and images – © Later Than You Think

Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2019 – on now until Saturday 26th January.

Downland a map and brochure from

Canary Wharf Arts and Events

https://canarywharf.com/arts-events/events/winter-lights-2019/?instance_id=

 

 

 

Snapping the Stiletto – Essex Women: Adversity Adventure and Aspiration

In artistic terms 2018 was, rightly, dominated by work marking the centenary of the end of WWI and (partial) female suffrage. ‘Essex Women: Adversity, Adventure and Aspiration’ from the Snapping the Stiletto project looks beyond suffrage to the lives of women in the century since and has just launched a county-wide tour starting at the Epping Forest District Museum.

Snapping the Stiletto was created specifically to bust a stereotype.  Namely that of the ‘Essex Girl’  – a “derogatory term applied to a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterized as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic” and – typically stiletto-wearing.  This is, I hasten to add, the OED definition and in no way mine!  It is a stereotype which had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990’s – fuelled by the fall-out from Thatcher’s Britain and the ‘Laddette’ Culture.  Indeed the stiletto stereotype may have receded sufficiently in public consciousness that one wonders at the extent to which younger visitors to the exhibition will be aware of it to start with.

Having said that, if the myth does persist, then ‘Essex Women’ certainly does ‘bust’ it.  Information and exhibits are organised around themes including ‘Women at Work’, ‘Campaigning Women’ and ‘Migrant Women’. This facilitates understanding of the diverse range of contributions to the progress made in women’s lives during the last century – most of which were made by ‘ordinary’ women, often under extraordinary circumstances.

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Essex Police Museum/Snapping the Stiletto

One of several opportunities to learn more about the key role many Essex women played in events of national importance begins with the contribution of Essex women to the war effort.  At the start of WWII Essex was largely agricultural and as a consequence the county’s Women’s Land Army (WLA) was one of the largest in the country – playing a key role in keeping England fed during the wartime shortages. This also included many women from East London (then part of Essex) joining the WLA, sometimes against the wishes of their families.  They endured both challenging working conditions and prejudice, with determination and perseverance – relishing the new found freedoms and independence that life in the WLA gave them.  And in doing so they paved the way for much of the changed perception of the role of women in the decades since.

Indeed their contribution in both wars was paradigm shifting to the extent that the exhibition rightly  poses the question ‘would women have made the progress they have in the last 100 years if there had been 100 years of peace’?

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The ‘Women at Work’ strand also includes women in technology and engineering for well known Essex companies such as Marconi and Bentalls.  This includes Florence Attridge at Marconi – who was likely to have worked on the British Type 3 Mark radio sets used by special agents during WWII and received the MBE for her work.  There is also material on women in the Essex Police and the Essex Fire Service.  Tellingly this spans an era from the Leyton Fire Chief who publicly stated “No woman is going to come into my fire station while I am here” in the 1930s – to the current leadership of the entire Essex Fire Service by Jo Turton.

 

This also to an extent overlaps with the ‘Migrant Women’ theme which chronicles the experiences of four young women who left the West Indies between 1956 and 1971 to work as nurses in the UK. Negotiating an unfamiliar climate and culture, and strict working conditions, not to mention levels of prejudice that seem unbelievable today, the individual experiences of these four women vividly brings to life that of many of their contemporaries.

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West Essex Suffrage Banner

‘Campaigning Women’ links back to the suffrage movement with panels on Rosina Sky (a self supporting businesswoman prominent in the Women’s Tax Resistance League)  and Adelaide Hawken – one of the first female councillors and magistrates – known both for her contribution to family health in Southend, and also to suffrage.  It also includes a panel on Doris and Muriel Lester and their work for social justice and peace across the world from their roots in east London and Loughton.

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For an exhibition led by a project aiming to stereotype-bust, the inclusion of a display of shoes – many of them ironically stilettos – and contextualised by Marilyn Monroe’s quote “give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world” – is more than a little incongruous. But aside from the (actually intentional) ironic twist, these objects are a serving a multi-layered purpose.  Donated by a range of well known Essex women – including Helen Mirren, Sally Gunnell and Kate Silverton – they are to be auctioned towards the end of the exhibition run – with proceeds going to a women’s refuge charity.  It also has to be said that so far, the inclusion of Ms Mirren’s shoes has given the exhibition a level of publicity it may have otherwise (sadly) struggled to achieve – at least this early in its run, though that the launch drew an attendance of 60+ bodes well.

 

Unusually this exhibition has been largely created by the work of 150+ volunteers from across the county.  Contemporary Essex women working in different roles from research, through to transcription and interpretation, often embedded in the communities in which their ancestors worked and campaigned have brought these stories to life with a resonance that only increases our understanding.  That each touring location will also be able to supplement the core material with the histories of their own, will only enhance this.

 

The stilettos (excluding those to be auctioned of course) are well and truly snapped


‘Essex Women : Adversity, Adventure and Aspiration’ is at Epping Forest District Museum until 16th March 2019, before touring various Essex locations.

 

Snapping the Stiletto is a two year county-wide project exploring how women’s lives have changed since the extension of the right to vote to women (aged 30 and over) in 1918.  In addition to the centenary of some women being given the right to vote, 2018 also marked 90 years since the Equal Franchise Act which granted women the same voting rights as men, and 50 years since the major strike by women machinists at the Ford plant at Dagenham in Essex which led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

 

The project is funded by a grant from the Esme Fairbairn Collections Fund, to work specifically with 11 museums and galleries across the county to use material from their existing collections to discover – and share – the hidden stories of the lives of Essex Women.

See Snapping the Stiletto for more information.

https://snappingthestiletto.com/

The author contributed interpretation to this project for the Women in Wartime theme, and proposed the exhibition title.

42nd Street

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Tonight 42nd Street – the epitome of a great West End show – ends its run at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Having promised myself I would go since it’s arrival in 2017, on New Year’s Eve, I finally made it.  It was a wonderful way to end 2018, reminding me of everything I love about theatre.  I was lucky enough to see the 1980s production (also at Drury Lane) – as well as the Broadway revival in 2003 (at the then Ford Center for the Performing Arts – ironically on 42nd Street itself).  And the current London production is – by a very long way – the best.

At the heart of 42nd Street is a universal story.  Peggy Sawyer – the girl from the chorus line, who with hard work and some lucky breaks overcomes setbacks to become a star.  There is a Peggy Sawyer somewhere in all of us – striving to get on in life and looking for the opportunity that will make our dreams come true.  There are also contemporary edges – Peggy’s search is for professional success (rather than love).  When stardom does arrive she stays true to herself and chooses to go to ‘the kid’s party’ instead of the Ritz – an authenticity that also resonates with contemporary concerns.

It is said that great musicals are those that send you home humming the show tunes.  I found myself on the way to the theatre mentally singing ‘We’re in the Money’ and ‘Lullaby of Broadway’.  A good story, and memorable show tunes are however, not enough alone for a bona fide hit.  This one has the other key ingredients in spades.  The production values are faultless.  A chorus line of 50 is rare in the contemporary west end and it is breathtaking to witness.  With a choreography that is both coherent and fluid, from the iconic opening number and sight of those tap dancing feet as the curtain rises, to tapping through ‘we’re in the money’ atop giant coins. 42nd Street is also a visual delight with a glittering range of costume changes from pastel to sequin as we join Peggy on her journey.

The Theatre Royal’s vast stage is well utilised. Spectacular dance numbers with a large toe tapping chorus line, reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood musicals, were made for a stage this size.  Indeed it is hard to imagine 42nd street anywhere else.  That life imitated art during the original London production (when a teenaged Catherine Zeta Jones became a real-life Peggy Sawyer. Finding herself, by chance, propelled from the chorus line and second understudy to stardom when both the lead and understudy were unable to go on) has only added to the mythology.  The rest, is as they say, history.

The cast are outstanding with the chorus line both technically faultless and demonstrating an easy exuberance and genuinely believable love for this show.  They deliver an electric and uplifting atmosphere – that makes us root for them all from the start. Clare Halse is an excellent Peggy – but the star of the show is Bonnie Langford who delivers an assured but emotionally nuanced – and sympathetic -Dorothy Brock.

A light goes out in London’s West End tonight.  I hope its not long before we see the like again.

Writeidea Festival 2018

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Attending the Writeidea Festival this year for the first time in a while, I was reassured to see how strong it is.  The programme is eclectic, mixing some big names (Chris Difford, Viv Albertine, the Gentle Author), with the less well known.

 

Most of my writing tends to be longer, or as one recent review recipient tactfully put it, ‘very detailed’.  So in the interests of brevity this is a very brief taster of Writeidea 2018, reflecting both my interests and heritage – and what I could logistically fit into a visit on Saturday 17th.November.

 

Like Melanie McGrath, I come from the second generation east end diaspora of Essex, and having enjoyed her talk a few years back on the writing of ‘Silvertown’, ‘Pie and Mash down the Roman Road’ was a must. Readings from her latest work, brought the Roman Road and its inhabitants – from eel magnate George Kelly to ‘Auntie Ginger’ – vividly to life.   McGrath also treated us to a history of the truly global dish that is Pie and Mash via the ancient history of Bow and Stratford.  A palpable affection for the east end life of old (not that old actually) as it was lived, is the essence of McGrath’s work.  Her public acknowledgement of the debt to those whose experiences contributed to the book, was a salutary reminder that many of the last witnesses to a way of life largely still to be documented are leaving us, and time is of the essence in ensuring their history is known.

 

Three of my grandparents carried Huguenot surnames of varying lineage and I am always interested to learn more about my Huguenot heritage.  Joyce Hampton’s ‘The Story of the Huguenots: A unique legacy’ did not disappoint. Hampton describes the persecution suffered by the Huguenots in France, their emigration and determination to overcome subsequent challenges with an emotion that is quite raw.  She is also passionate in her belief that their wide ranging legacy for contemporary life (including everything from annuity calculations to Reading Glasses) deserves wider recognition.  As the first ‘refugees’, we still have much to learn from the Huguenot experience, and Joyce Hampton’s work is a valuable contribution to this.

 

Rounding off the day with ‘The Life and Times of Mr Pussy’, couldn’t have been better.  In a departure from his established work on the life of the East End, the Gentle Author shared an intimate portrayal of his life with a loved feline companion.  The Gentle Author understands cats, and their world.  But beyond this he also demonstrates true insight into the complex relationships between human and animal and the extent to which these underpin, mark and define the milestones of our lives, carrying us through everything from the everyday to bereavement.  Mr Pussy, would I think be proud.

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In the last decade Writeidea has, grown in scope and reputation, but retains at its heart a direct relationship with the historical context and multilayered cultural heritage of east London.  This is its core strength.  Embedding the festival in a location not known for literary activity, and (through Arts Council Sponsorship) maintaining free entry, delivers an inclusivity which is both welcome, and sadly far from the norm.

Here’s to the next 10 years.


© All text and images – Later Than You Think/ A Sense of Place

Writeidea Festival 2018 continues on Sunday 18th November at the Whitechapel Idea Store.

See here for further information

 

Remembrance Art Trail – Canary Wharf

In these final days of the World War I Centenary, Canary Wharf is again staging a Remembrance Art Trail produced by the artist Mark Humphrey in collaboration with the Royal British Legion (RBL).  Returning to the Wharf for the first time since 2014 the Trail includes six of the previous works, with five others seen together for the first time.

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Every One Remembered – Jubilee Plaza

On exiting Canary Wharf tube station into Jubilee Plaza one is immediately confronted with ‘Every One Remembered’ – a 7m high Perspex box containing a bronze sculpture of the centenary soldier.  A thoughtful figure periodically surrounded by swirling poppies symbolising his comrades remembered. Being both imposing and yet simultaneously quite personal, this sets the tone for the Trail.

Nearby, in Montgomery Square ‘Lost Soldiers’ is the only major work to incorporate personal items that were used in battle. The positioning of helmets on top of poles mirroring the WWI practice of staking the rifles of badly injured soldiers in the ground near where they lay, and placing their helmet on top to advise others of their presence amidst the chaos. Including as it does helmets worn in all major conflicts from WWI to Mosul in 2016, this is an entirely sobering work, in particular the decimated helmet from the Somme, and the pole with no helmet, signifying conflict to come.

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Lost Soldiers (Montgomery Square)

The 2018 Trail demonstrates effective use of contrasting scale to evoke emotion.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘Lost Armies’.  The positioning of a pristine pre-battle army, and its dismembered post-engagement remains – either side of a path in Jubilee Park, is all the more effective for the fact that the armies are in miniature against the backdrop of a giant tree species. Behind the ‘battle scene’, two large heads (by implication belonging to leaders) appear to argue, as if oblivious to the destruction around them.

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 Lost Armies (Jubilee Park)

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Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square) occupies one of this year’s most iconic backdrops (One Canada Square), and within the context of the trail can be read in two ways.  From tubes almost full with poppies to those containing almost none, representing successive loss, and in the other direction from less to more, representing the journey of the injured towards rehabilitation and hope.

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Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square)

The Canary Wharf Estate being both relatively compact and accessible, lends itself to art on a grand scale. Yet the inclusion of photographs of members of Mark Humphrey’s family who served, together with the polished and engraved (Somme 1916) shell case carved at the frontline by his Great Grandfather, bring a very personal and human element to this exhibition.

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Brass Shell Case carved by Mark Humphrey’s Great Grandfather

These items are exhibited in the foyer of One Canada Square, appropriately shown together with Humphrey’s two collaborations with former serviceman Nick Beighton, which are also deeply personal in nature. These chronicle Beighton’s journey from the attack in Afghanistan 2009 in which he lost his legs, through pain and the darkness of depression to his success as a Para-canoeist in the 2016 Paralympics.  Panel 4 of ‘Trauma to Champion’ entitled ‘Darkness’ is almost completely black with a singular pinpoint of light – and by association – hope.

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Nick Beighton Part 1 (Trauma to Champion:Windows of the Soul)

Positioned across the Wharf in strategic locations with some iconic backdrops, the Trail has a slightly epic quality. Like much of the other work produced for the centenary, these exhibits are gifts to the ‘Instagram age’.  They are also designed to provoke response, and to encourage all of us – whether rushing to or from work – or making a special visit – to stop and reflect on the nature of sacrifice.  However it is also a thoughtful collection which serves to both remind us of what we owe to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, while also considering the nature of recovery and redemption – a distinctive feature of the 2018 Trail.

Canary Wharf is a particularly (and perhaps to some surprisingly) apt, location for remembrance.  The docks on which the estate stands took the full force of London’s Blitz. Their location as both a supply hub and site of manufacturing (key components of the Mulberry Harbours for D-Day were made nearby) making them an obvious target. But there is also a more contemporary resonance – over 50% of the current security staff in the Wharf are former members of the armed forces, and the 2018 Trail successfully takes its focus beyond remembrance and the honour of sacrifice, to encompass the redemption of a life beyond injury and loss.

The Wharf also lends itself to remembrance in other ways.  Its squares and gardens are carefully designed and themselves encourage personal reflection – indeed Mark Humphrey has spoken of creating ‘a destination’ at which visitors can pay their respects.

During the last four years there has rightly been an intense focus on the Centenary of WWI.  With the veterans of that war already gone and those of WWII fast leaving us, there is an urgency to ensure that successive generations understand the events and personal sacrifices that continue to shape the contemporary world.  There have been some truly innovative and engaging artistic responses to the Centenary (see ‘At the going down of the sun’   for ‘A Sense of Place’ in 2017 for thoughts on the contemporary relationship between remembrance and art). Humphrey’s work for the Canary Wharf Trails easily stands with the best of this, and may indicate how our national relationship with remembrance could evolve as we move beyond the centenary.


The Remembrance Art Trail Canary Wharf is on until 11th November 2018

Find further information, including a downloadable map and details of walks here.

 

Rhythm and Reaction

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Marking the centenary of the arrival of Jazz in Britain, Rhythm and Reaction offers an eclectic overview of the effect on British society, of this most controversial of musical genres. In particular social and cultural effects and the extent to which the very existence and evolution of Jazz, was driven in no small part by the technological developments of the day.

 

Jazz is a visual music and lends itself to display, yet this remains a largely neglected area for UK galleries. And the few exhibitions with Jazz as a theme have tended to focus on a single aspect.1 The remit of the 2018 exhibition at Two Temple Place is considerably wider and consequently much more ambitious.

 

The exhibition space is intuitively curated with the ground floor room devoted to pre- and early-jazz, and the first floor concentrating on the music of British and American dance bands in the 1920s and 30s. The chronological context is supplemented by a number of sub-themes including; art and design, dance, race, technology, and transport. If I have a criticism it is that each sub ‘theme’ felt like a tantalising taster and some could have been an exhibition in their own right.

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Brightest London and Home by Underground 1924, © TfL
The expansion of public transport in the interwar years (in particular the London underground) enabled wider access to some of Britain’s existing clubs and newly built dancehalls, in which dance itself was radically changed by the arrival of Jazz – colourfully illustrated here through costume, sculpture and iconic London Transport marketing posters of the era. Improvements in recording technology and radio also increased the accessibility of Jazz beyond those able to enjoy live music, while artists from the conventional to the surreal embraced the genre.

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Dancing, M Hartley 1929

Many of these ‘developments’ are represented in the objects on display (sourced from a wide range of lenders including major galleries, the National Jazz Archive and private collections, some of which may be displayed for the first time). These include early examples of; the gramophone, 78rpm records, the radio – and the modern drum ‘kit’ and saxophone, both of which were essential for the Jazz ‘sound’.

Console Drum Kit c.1938                              Tenor sax c 1938

Jazz has long been associated with subversion. And in this context Rhythm and Reaction reflects on its role in developing a sense of freedom for some (especially the young) while simultaneously threatening the establishment, at a time when existing social norms had inevitably been disrupted by war. It also acknowledges the extent to which the development of Jazz in Britain was influenced by attitudes to race, and for a period of time, – the implicit operation of dual culture – within which Jazz was ‘sanitised’ into dance music for (among others) the BBC, while African American Jazz thrived in ‘underground’ clubs.

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Detail from the Breakdown, J B Souter, 1926
Rhythm and Reaction is likely to have a wide appeal encompassing as it does social and cultural history, the development of popular music and leisure, and art and design. However I am often struck by the extent to which Jazz is one of the most contested of musical genres. What is loved by one enthusiast can be detested by another, and vice-versa, and debates on what even constitutes ‘Jazz’ can be some of the fiercest amongst fans. I suspect purists may wonder (as I overheard a murmur) ‘but what have ceramics to do with Jazz?’ (or similar).

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Detail from Royal Winton Jazz Coffee set. (Private collection)

But this is to miss the point. The strength of Rhythm and Reaction is precisely in this breadth of approach. That the influence of Jazz was so pervasive – as well as producing an iconography that gave its name to an entire ‘age’ – only serves to underline its potential for both freedom and subversion. Rhythm and Reaction captures this well, and I suspect Two Temple Place has a major hit on its hands.
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About Two Temple Place
For those new to it, Two Temple Place will be a delight. Completed in 1895 (by John Loughborough Pearson) as the estate office for William Waldorf Astor, the building and in particular it’s interior, is a stunning exhibit in its own right. Highlights include substantial wood panelling, carving and stained glass windows.
Visiting Rhythm and Reaction provides a rare opportunity to enjoy this building which closed to the public for most of the year). Since 2011 Two Temple Place has been London’s first exhibition space dedicated to raising national awareness of collections around the UK in collaboration with regional partners, and has treated us to everything from William Morris to Sussex Modernism.

© text and images Later Than You Think (unless otherwise specified)

1 A recent example being the Fashion and Textile Museum’s 2016-17 exhibition ‘The 1920’s Jazz Age – Fashion and Photographs’.


Further Information
Dates: now – until 22nd April 2018

Times: daily 10-4.30 EXCEPT:

• Closed on Tuesdays
• opens at 11am on Sundays
• closes at 9pm on Wednesdays

Travel: Temple tube station (Circle and District lines) less than 5 minutes walk

Two Temple Place
https://twotempleplace.org/exhibitions/rhythm-and-reaction/