On evidence of initial sampling of contributions to this annual citywide gallery event (which offers welcome space to emerging or less well-connected international artists), the bleak has come to roost. At Rodeo, Franziska Lantz’s oppressive room of mobiles fashioned from found-object detritus dredged from the shores of the Thames (a gamut of animal bone fragments, rusted industrial instruments and soiled camouflage coats) speaks of memory, waste and death. A viewer is made to walk uncomfortably amidst the hanging wreckage as a vinyl soundtrack mix of tribal beats and faint electronic pulses plays from a corner-I was astonished that the material has origin in London, as I felt I was in the presence of the sad unearthed casualties of conflict from a war-ravaged Middle Eastern or African nation, or that I had inadvertently wandered  into a back woods cabin from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. img_1100A similar distress is found in the desiccated figures of Kris Lemsalu’s “Phantom Camp” series in the garret space at Southard Reid, porcelain faces twisted into expressions of tumultuous anguish, hands scraping agonisingly at the face, as if to admit complete and utter defeat, unable to stare directly any longer at a great horror. Most of the bodies are bound amorphously within dirty sleeping bags, appearing mummified, nestling closely as if seeking (and craving) a shelter and warmth that never arrived. img_1099The spectre of migrant crisis (or of more localised homelessness) is suddenly and strikingly present. Even Neal Jones’s “Allotment Paintings”, the most anodyne of all the offerings with their relatively serene garden landscapes, are structured with fairly violent finger drags along the canvas. img_1102Relief is found at Project Native Informant, with Loulu Margarine’s howlingly psychedelic daisies splayed across the gallery walls, and Yuri Pattison’s playful cityscape crafted out of circuit boards, a trenchant comment upon the ubiquity of technology, the beating heart and venous system that now underpins society. Cut us now and we will only bleed data. img_1101

I will explore the East End galleries hosting Condo in an upcoming post-I look forward to more instructively challenging material, hopefully with the same abiding core of integrity as to be found in the works reviewed above. img_1098




THEATRE img_1096

Full confession: I’m not the target audience for this style of knockabout, madcap farcical comedy (this particular work being a staggeringly skilful and highly creditable example of its genre), but I was gradually won over by its sheer relentless and ever-increasing inventive energy and brio. Character and incident are of the broadest dimensions, but a great care and concentration is evident in the script, lending the absurd proceedings their own consistent internal logic, and there are a few verbal and visual bits of business valiantly carried through the production to great and steadily clever effect. img_1097The story is simple, orbiting around a group of people (the staff at a humble Midwestern bank branch , roguish criminals on the lam) who become enmeshed in a series of schemes and counter schemes to burgle a precious jewel being held briefly in the bank’s vault. Especially in the second act, the theatrical sleight-of-hand cranks up to thrillingly creative levels (a sequence of forced perspective with two of the actors alarmingly engaged with harnesses and bolts, and another with a trio of actors scuttling unnervingly through a duct system across the highest part of the stage, culminating in a set piece worthy of a Mission:Impossible film, all three anxiously dangling off ropes above the stage floor, colliding and retracting with what could only be referred to as balletic grace).  I wasn’t expecting the play to head off in such conceptually imaginative directions, an indication of its creators’ ambitions beyond mere screwball. The cast as a collective attack their roles with vigorous gusto, indulging the rich vein of verbal gymnastics with a dizzying professional elan. Although a few of the set pieces may run on past their prime, this would be the only criticism I could level against what is an unequivocally entertaining night out at the theatre, as evidenced by an audience overcome with rolling, chortling laughter at the performance. This play is the latest member of a growing dynasty from Mischief Theatre Company, following on the heels of the popular “Play That Goes Wrong” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong”.




A man shuffles onto the stage, unsteady of foot, trailing a sense of whimsical but pointed desolation in his wake, and begins to enact the rituals of preparing a meal. Each gesture is excruciating, the very objects surrounding him convening to defeat him (there is a beautifully structured bit of hostile business with a chair, in which he becomes torturously ensnared, that manages to be both convulsively funny and poignant in equal measure). He is soon joined onstage by another man (it’s not stated, but you imagine they are brothers or at least longstanding comrades), equally weary and unmoored, and a mix of boredom and ennui lead to an increasingly inebriated spiral of cheerfully dangerous behaviour and action, the sections involving knives the most queasy and disquieting of all. Visually, they are a brilliant contrast, one a lean nest of nervous energy, the other a burly crate of placidity. img_1089A Beckettian comic despair informs much of the action-any opportunity or potential seems long ago past, both men now left spiritual paupers, a broad horizon constricted. Following the supper, they break into an inexpert, inexact (but stunningly precise physically) gymnastic routine, including complex lifts and feats of balance and strength, which suggest either a history as acrobats and circus folk, or merely the daring, crowning culmination of their drink-fuelled mania. It takes peak performers to inhabit simultaneously the states of drunkenness and agility. img_1090The audience is startled into self-consciousness at the conclusion as the two men become aware of being watched, neither of whom seem too amused at the imposition of their domesticity. It continues straight through the curtain call, uncomfortably protracted by the refusal or disinterest of the performers to quickly retreat from the set. At the performance I attended there was a  moment where the actors, in character, reacted with playful disbelief to a patron who, with supreme obliviousness, walked with deliberate step directly in front of the actors as they took one of their first bows. Although I wish the show’s second half had built a surer sense of anarchic energy (as it is, the action crescendoed, then retreated, finally working its way to a reflective ending), there is no denying the talent or reach of this creatively rich French company that locates its material at the intersection of narrative, dance, movement and the fairgrounds. This show has completed its run (you can see excerpts online), but the Mime Festival continues through the beginning of February, and a few shows remain available. img_1091



img_1085Braving the bracing temperatures of a January evening is well rewarded by the majority of the pieces in this annual (and increasingly popular) illuminated art show, prevalently situated across the Canary Wharf grounds. Event maps excitedly clutched in hands and a feel of adventurous discovery licking along the trail, there is a great swell of energy generated in festivalgoers. Perhaps in anticipation that crowds may need longer periods of shelter, the amount of work available in the -3 Crossrail interior level has increased this year into a full corridor of offerings (including this year’s most notable and popular work, a sculptural tunnel of light which is manipulated via headset by an audience’s EEG brainwave patterns). img_1086Many of the pieces in this section are of an interactive nature, incorporating digital scanners, motion detectors, and in one case welcoming members of the public to stand in front of a screen and merge with the process, absorbed as an aspect of the work.img_1066 The most impressive selections (to me) remain those that achieve great resonance with simple means: a series of shifting gossamer geometric projections upon a spray of water; a Thameside zigzagging field of colourful reflector tape strung tautly between trees (lit incandescently by uv lights from below) that speak rhythmically to the river, and a small plot of literate glowing reeds that appear to cluster in tranquil contemplation in a corner of Jubilee Gardens. img_1087Even if some of the material falls short of individual ambition or effect, the inherent thoughtful scope and sense of spectacle keep the whole event on course. Winter Lights  runs through 27 January and can be viewed from 4-9PM each evening img_1065


DAY OUT img_1075

Either because I am a masochist or just merely unadulterated in my obstinacy (and driven by unmodest curiosity), I found myself exploring the final stage of the Shipwright’s Way, the trail about which I wrote a few weeks back detailing my experience with the challenging terrain of its initial stages miles away in the Alice Holt Forest region. I could not prepare myself for the vastly contrasting conditions of this concluding section of the route which amounts to an immensely pleasurable and scenic coastal walk along broad expanses and paved roadways. img_1076Portsmouth is replete with picturesque sights, from the gargantuan Historic Dockyards (a full day of activity in itself, with access to several brilliant examples of Britain’s naval might and glory) to the sleekly modern curve of the Spinnaker Tower with its observation deck  (a shapely pledge to the city’s nautical identity) to the stunning retail development of Gunwharf Quays.img_1081 Old Portsmouth is a period marvel of pubs and housing, mostly undisturbed by the contemporary, dotted with remnants of the city’s military past (the Square and Round Tower which were amongst the earliest stone fortifications, the glorious ruin of the Garrison Church). The area also provides an intriguing tiered walking path informed by a structure of defence walls. Positioned slightly offshore are the curious and imposing circular Solent Forts, once solid bastions of protection now repurposed as luxury accommodations and events spaces. img_1083Further along are the attractions of the South Parade Pier and the sprawling complex of the Royal Marines Museum. Southsea neighbourhood is well worth a diversion, a satisfying mix of humbly cheap and cheerful traditional businesses with trendy bistros and cafes, coexisting comfortably. Just off the slightly bewildering sight of the Flemish inspired clock tower (with its wooden medieval soldiers standing guard) is the one establishment I would recommend you not miss if visiting the area-Pie & Vinyl, a cafe featuring a full homemade menu of the beloved staple (with several vegetarian and vegan options) along with a full-service music shop with space for many an in-store appearance by up and coming alternative bands. img_1077The decor is a shower of funky eclecticism, a storm of knickknacks crowding the shelves, soft lighting casting an inviting twilight thrum upon the dark wood surfaces, as if happening upon a warm inn after a day’s long journey (at least this is how I encountered it in the late afternoon hours). img_1078Trains run frequently from Waterloo station and the travel time (if on a fairly direct route) is just over an hour. I must also assure any travellers who suffer overactive bladders need not worry, as I’ve never encountered such a prevalence of public loos in my life as I did along this promenade. Extraordinary. 

Click to access shipwrightsway-section12.pdf




Traditionally perceived as a period of temper following the profligacy and indulgence of the holidays, this January is anything but fallow as far as culture is concerned. Four major events colour the month with brilliant pomp and activity, grabbing 2017 by the collar  with untrammelled artistic abandon. Rather than succumb to the chill of the season, London has chosen to embrace a creative conflagration, boldly announcing the start to its cultural year with no time for idleness or inertia. For now, I leave you with a mere listing; more specific entries will follow as I experience works within each programme. img_1068

THE INTERNATIONAL MIME FESTIVAL runs from 9 January-4 February, featuring the finest (mostly) European companies specialising in physical theatre (circus, movement, masks), in both narrative and expressionist styles. img_1069The festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this year (with a few new anxieties regarding its future in a post-Brexit world, with economic and licensing issues setting new precedents and difficulties), and the schedule is, as usual, full to burst with visual invention and extravaganza, locations spread across the capital from the Barbican to Sadler’s Wells to Highgate.

CONDO, now in its second term after a wildly successful inaugural year, once again brings attention to the breadth and wealth of London’s smaller galleries. Partnering with their fellow independent curators and owners from galleries across Europe and the U.S., wall/shelf/floor space is given over to developing artists not yet contracted with major institutions, or those lacking resources for promotion.img_1072 As a principle, it holds a solid integrity, and offers great shivers of excitement and opportunity for the adventurous patron to possibly discover a major new figure. So influential was last year’s debut that a few of the more well-known independents are joining the event this year. Condo runs from 16 January-11 February, and is well worth a few days of exploration, easily divided into sections of the city (with the added allure of discovering areas not frequently traversed).

WINTER LIGHTS FESTIVAL at Canary Wharf offers an illuminated trip through the squares and passageways in the concrete and steel financial sector of the city, discovering the softer, more reflective heart of the district, the oases of green amidst the hard hustle.img_1071 The most impressive (and unexpected) space is the roof garden of the new Crossrail station, a stunning promenade amongst plants, trees, shrubs and flowers from across the world. From a quiet perch on a bench framed by foliage, you may look up into an open sky fixed with soaring skyscrapers-quite a frisson is created by this juxtaposition. Winter Lights runs from 16 January-27 January img_1070

The MAGICAL LANTERN FESTIVAL, with this year’s “Exploring the Silk Road” theme, returns to Chiswick House and Gardens, offering a 75-minute journey through the grounds decorated with spectacularly scaled and colourfully lit sculptures representing images from the famed trading route. img_1073A new feature in 2017 is a 600 metre ice rink, along with the returning fairgrounds and food stall marketplace. I wrote extensively about my 2016 experience in a post last January. The festival runs from 19 January-26 February img_1074

So, there is absolutely no excuse to suffer a dry January (at least culturally) in London. Enjoy!






Above and beyond its artistic merits (which are unequivocally monumental), this environmental installation is a marvellous transformation of an existing space, mutating usually stark and harshly lit corridors and rooms the dimensions of which induce a queasiness into darkly mysterious, cramped and unsettling chambers littered with the unearthed detritus and remnants of an apparent archeological dig. The material speaks of lost empire and decline and the passing of majesty. Kiefer has titled this work after the great hall in Norse mythology where Odin receives battle-slain warriors with all-embracing glory and honour, and indeed famed names of figures keep appearing in various works. You are immediately plunged (after a casually informational speech by a museum employee as to the safety protocol to follow as many of the works are lead-based) into what looks like an abandoned institutional wing or field hospital, a mess of crumpled covers and rusted bed springs, occupants long absent. Subsequent rooms continue to reveal rich and striking wonders: a rotting cultural archives, choked with enormous dusty tomes with disintegrating pages and drawers crowded with similarly compromised topographical charts, rolls of film strips documenting buildings and sites unspooling off the walls-the shelves rise uncomfortably high on both sides, and you feel the unwieldy weight and pull of the objects, as if the materials belong to those with hands and bodies far larger than yours-Gods, perhaps; img_1060another invites attendance as if at a wake for the seeming great beast of empire itself, represented by a large stone heavily burdening a mattress, a formidable span of wing protruding from either side; a spiral staircase in severe state of distress, twisting to no fixed location, bedecked with soiled dresses suggests apocalypse .img_1061 The final room contains a sequence of intimidatingly scaled vitrines which Kiefer uses as his own cabinet of curiosities, assemblages of items such as clothes, stones, beds, trees, all arranged as fossilised remains and artefacts of a vanished civilisation. Surrounding the cases are a series of Kiefer’s soaring canvasses depicting ancient towers and landscapes troubled by textural decay-violent peeling, vicious swathes of dark and annihilating paint, rough-hewn overlays of clay as if the earth is reclaiming dominance. Even his most optimistic painting, of a stretch of road with an effusion of flowers bordering each side, persists under a sun which seems to have exploded.img_1059 Kiefer doesn’t do small or quiet, and this latest work bulldozes in the most fascinating and exquisite way-it’s impossible not to emerge with a blissfully titanic disquiet that is deeply satisfying. The show runs through 12 February and is not to be missed. img_1062