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=

 

 

 

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/

Winter Lights

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Now in its fourth year Winter Lights at Canary Wharf has gone from strength to strength and as apparent by the numbers viewing on the opening night earlier this week, it has become a fixture in the calendar for many Londoners. Expectations were high following, last year’s success at the darc architectural awards (Winter Lights won for ‘Best Creative Lighting Event’ in 2017), and 2018’s offering does not disappoint.

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The programme includes over 30 installations, across the Canary Wharf Estate, ranging from Tom Dekyvere’s Apparatus Florius which is literally woven into the flora of Westferry Circus Park, to the selection of smaller works by Amber Stefani (Amberlights) which give an impression of art deco influence, at Crossrail Place. Most installations are sited outdoors in the Wharf’s parks and public spaces. However 2018 has seen the inclusion of a greater number of indoor works. A welcome development, given the inevitable annual timing of Winter Lights, and an innovative use of some spaces.

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This is particularly true of Level -3 at Crossrail place. This is the location of a new yet-to-be-occupied shopping mall, which will in the near future no doubt be a constant blaze of light and activity. Yet descending into this subterranean space in its current state, which aside from the installation spaces themselves is only dimly lit, encourages a sense of trespass. As though these light creations have quietly inhabited this other world to which we are not (yet) invited, and we observe or participate as intruders. Level -3 shows a wide range of work from the mesmerising and aptly named ‘On Your Wavelength’ (by Marcus Lyall) in which a massive into-infinity light sculpture is controlled by your thoughts via a headset, to the beautiful ‘Reflecting Holons’ (Michiel Martens and Jeske Visser) which has an ethereal almost unsettling feel.

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Another development this year was the inclusion of more individual interactive installations, though I suspect that the queues for those that offer a one-to-one interactive experience – especially Sunlight Graffiti in Jubilee Place and Luma Paint Light Graffiti at the Crossrail Roof Garden, will grow considerably through the run. I only had time to try Sunlight Graffiti which was great fun. Directed where to stand and handed a ‘little sun’ with which to produce my ‘art’ – the photographic evidence of this creation had arrived by email by the time I returned home.
It is impossible with limited time and space to describe in detail all the installations but here are some of my favourites this year…

Polaris (Laurent Font) at Cabot Place, inspired by the northern lights is deceptively simple yet compelling. Luminous green light moves around the small space in constant change and evolution. A peaceful and calming experience.

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Approaching Westferry Circus I expected to view an installation on the green in the middle of the park. It took a minute or two to realise that Apparatus Florius was all around us. Weaving organically through the trees and shrubbery light combined with sound to deliver an ethereal experience reminiscent of walking within a forest at dusk. With added magic.

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I also particularly enjoyed Halo (Venividmultiplex and FosFor Design). The suspension of an apparent giant halo above the fountain in Cabot Square is another great example of Winter Lights working with the existing landscape of the Wharf. When the fountain pool is still the reflection can be mesmerising, and viewed by approaching Cabot Square up the steps from West India Avenue the halo appears to cradle the One Canada Square Tower.

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While Winter Lights has no overall theme a number of this year’s works (Sunlight Graffiti, Polaris, Halo, Apparatus Florius, and Intrude) are inspired by, or reference the natural world and environment, in particular the presence of the sun. A timely reminder of its role in our lives, not least at the stage of the year when we see it least.
Canary Wharf has a growing and well-loved arts scene, with the summer theatre and concerts season drawing large crowds. The Wharf is also home to one of the UK’s largest public art collections – from which several permanent works – Bit.Fall, Lightbenches, and Coup de Foudre II – feature in Winter Lights.

See Winter Lights if you can. Rarely is technology so beautiful. It’s a welcome antidote to the dark post-festive days and many of the works lift the spirits and soothe the soul in ways that are unexpected and endure beyond the evening visit.

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© all text and images – copyright Later Than You Think


Additional information

Dates: Now until 27th January 2018
Cost: Free
Time: Available 5-10pm.
Travel : Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line, DLR), several bus routes pass through the Wharf, Thames Clippers stop at Canary Riverside (very close to Apparatus Florius)
As far as I am aware all works are accessible to visitors with restricted mobility, though visitors should be prepared for the amount of travel required between (some) sites. Sound is also a feature of many.
Download a map in advance here (hard copies can also be collected from installation locations). Personally I would allow a good 2-3 hours to visit all the sites (not allowing for queuing for some). Warm clothes and comfortable footwear (expect a reasonable amount of walking between locations) are advised, and it can be helpful to plan a route beforehand to ensure viewing as many as possible. Of course the ‘Lights’ are ideally placed to enable viewing a few here and there as you enjoy other activities – and there is no shortage of places (to suit all budgets) across the Wharf for food and drink.