GO WEST: ELEPHANT WEST GALLERY WHITE CITY

EXHIBITION SPACE 

Lauded quarterly print and digital art journal Elephant has ambitiously ventured into the bricks and mortar trade, opening their own gallery space this past November in the rapidly developing area around the Westfield shopping complex in White City . The latest sweeping aspect to the neighbourhood’s £8 billion 10-year regeneration plan (following the refurbishment of the erstwhile BBC Television Centre into a court of luxury homes and public retail plaza, and the establishment of the Imperial College I-Hub collective, as well as a new media square that resonates with the area’s broadcast history), architects Liddicoat and Goldhill built around an existing petrol station, in the last few years used for a series of public art pop-ups, expanding the space to accommodate not only a mid-size gallery, but a workstation, cafe/bar and a few food stalls, purpose built for exhibitions as well as talks, music events and social networking. A new annual art prize, the Elephant x Griffin (this year with eleven shortlisted artists, all recent graduate students), has been established, the collected works now on display in the gallery’s second show. Creative director Robert Shore, espousing Elephant’s mission statement of “Life Through Art”, states his interest in curating work that gazes outward to the concerns of the wider world rather than introspectively (or onanistically) to the narrow concerns of the “art world”. Highlights of the current show include Catherine Howell’s unsettling alternative maps, bleeding resin onto the floor, borders obscured, referencing uncertain but determined migrations, traumas both physical and intellectual writ upon the canvas; Ramona Zoladek teases miraculous life out of hard plaster tubes and plastic bags, leaves and tendrils bursting out of ungenerously scaled and apportioned spaces, defying conditions, fragile but resourceful; Mariane Thoermer’s groovetastic wool rug creation is a psychedelicly crafted pair of eyes weeping lush tears, a tangled throw of thread gathered at its base;

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Louisa Stylianidi’s piping network of uncomfortably realistic ears tease the viewer near, whispering barely audible soundscapes, a tumble and jumble of incomprehension, truth and fact just out of reach; one of Kyung Hwa Shon’s pieces breaks free of the gallery parameters altogether, affixing riotously colourful jagged shards upon the facade of a building down the road, like intermittent rifts and warps into alternate realities-or playful incursions on staid urban environments. For those lacking the consumerist gene, for whom the idea of wandering around the mania of a shopping mall-no matter how aesthetically modernist or impressive-is anathema, here is now a civilised reason to alight at White City Tube Station, an oasis just a few steps to the right outside the door. Elephant x Griffin closed on 13 January

https://elephant.art/west/ 

 

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EMPTY SPACE: INTRONAUTS @ JACKSONS LANE

THEATRE/PERFORMANCE 

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At the risk of sounding wantonly churlish, this production from Green Ginger as part of London Mime Festival is such a catalog of careening, unfortunate conceptual and narrative errors that it very nearly exhausts any sense of goodwill towards its good intentions that an audience member may harbor. In the near future, people (privileged, perhaps, although the class structures underpinning the process are never made implicit) are able to purchase and have bodily inserted a miniaturised human worker, the intronaut of the title, to carry out essential maintenance tasks. The poor, exploited, overworked title character is cursed to spend her days mired in the dirty work, sent cavalierly to the distressed regions of the host, suffering the biological hostilities of the gullet, gut and anal passage (in the blunt opening sequence).

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The piece continually flirts with the intriguing premise that host and worker share similar profiles of isolation, frustration, boredom, a certain sadness just on the edge of crushing despondency, but this interesting idea is never properly developed (the host’s insomniac state, his inability to concentrate, prevents his worker from finding much rest between punishing chores). Fatally, the creators decide to embody the intronaut, who, in the performance by one of the company members, comes off as a stroppy, insufferable teenager, indulging in a protracted series of cringingly juvenile behaviour, in great and regrettable contrast to the powerfully poetic use of the puppet elsewhere, who with visual ease and elegance suggests the vulnerability, terror and fragility of the intronaut’s existence.

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The sophisticated visual production is leagues ahead of all other aspects (there is a great use of projections upon a scrim screen and a beautiful sequence of the brain materialised as a rounded cabinet, the drawers of which each hold an emotional memory or trigger) and you wish the creators had trusted this to carry the show and jettison the dialogue and the awkward performances (neither member is a gifted enough actor to lend proper nuance and depth to the central relationship). Perhaps the hush of gesture and behaviour, a mute communication, playing to the physical strengths of the artists, may have better emotionally defined the tender, unwieldy contours of the relationship.

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The brief textual transmissions between the two, the host hesitant, the intronaut speaking in a robotic childlike voice trying greatly to comprehend the increasingly desperate demands, provide some of the most effective and poignant moments, all the better for brevity. When the host requests a visit to his brain (a no-go zone for the intronaut for the dangers inherent) to research and “solve” his melancholy, the ethical dilemma is swiftly dispensed in favour of a great adventure, born of a stew of resentment, ennui and sudden empowerment, not exactly in the host’s best interest. In the end, the intronaut just wants to party, losing herself in a cerebral cavity, leaving her host (as in a clip from a Laurel and Hardy sketch he glumly watches at one point) in a perpetual lugubrious slapstick gestural loop. Intronauts ran from 11 Jan-13 Jan

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https://mimelondon.com/

SHAPE OF WATER: WALTHAMSTOW WETLANDS

PLACE OF INTEREST 

For years, Barnes has with unassailable prominence held the mantle of hosting London’s premier wetland centre-now a scrappy, ambitious E17 upstart is gunning for eminence in the city’s popular imagination. After a £10.6 (publicly funded) restoration of existing Victorian reservoirs, Walthamstow may now with great pride assert their claim to housing Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve, a sprawling 500-acre site with a 13-mile network of pathways, a beautifully restored engine house that offers a cafe, children’s centre and gift shop, and a viewing deck at the top of Grade 2-listed Italianate Coppermill Tower that affords a stunning widescreen optic kick of the surrounding grounds and Lea Valley. From its elevated platform, a guest may see a comprehensive cluster of London landmarks in close succession, from City skyscrapers, Canary Wharf, the Olympic Village development, even, most surprisingly, Ally Pally (and, at another vantage, for football fans, a distant-but impressive-view of the new Spurs stadium). The grounds are bisected by the fairly busy Ferry Lane/Forest Road exchange, so the solace and serenity of your visit may be momentarily shattered as you cross between the sections. For avid anglers and birders, opportunities abound, countless berths available from which to practice the passions; small islets provide sanctuary for a variety of birds throughout the year, and the environment is officially recognised as a breeding ground for the grey heron, cormorant, tufted duck and egret. Scattered throughout the space are engineering remnants of its past, including two majestic water gate towers that speak of Victorian solidity and style. In the atrium above the cafe (The Larder, serving hearty fare), the most incongruous element is found: a neon piece from legendary local business God’s Own Junkyard, a blinged-out glitter heart with a written greeting that would not look out of place at Studio 54. The period Ferry Boat Inn (now a pub, formerly a ferry house-there was once a bridge toll to pay), located on the main road, is another option for sating the appetite. Although I very much enjoyed my crisp winter walk amongst the wildlife, I await a return in the  gentler air of spring or summer for a more indulgent, less bracing idyll. The reservoirs are not merely cosmetic-they remain operational, supplying water to 3.5 million Londoners. Officially (and modestly) open since October 2017, this free public space (a parking fee applies should you drive) is a fairly secret gem that needs to be discovered. You needn’t have to travel to Surrey or Kent for a swift commune with the country air.

https://www.walthamstowwetlands.com/

TALK OF THE TOWN: EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE @ APOLLO THEATRE

THEATRE 

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Imagine the surprise, on careers day in class, when 16-year-old Jamie demonstratively, declaratively states his aspirations to become nothing short of the most fabulous drag queen to ever rise from the environs of Sheffield. To the great consternation and concern of his teacher Miss Hedges (at my performance portrayed by a  rather underpowered, uncertain Michelle Visage of Rupaul’s Drag Race) and his classmates, Jamie sets off on his inspiring journey to full expression, defying judgement, hostility and rejection.

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This feel-good  hit musical coasts along on the energy and goodwill of its cast and the skillful sensitivity of its musical score (most devastatingly in the second-act “He’s My Boy”, sung with raw soul by actress Rebecca McKinnis, acknowledging the great complexity of her love for her son, a bewildering mix of protectiveness and fear and anger and wonder and sadness-she emerges as the strongest and most poignant character of the show). The music and lyrics are a collaboration between Dan Gillespie Sells (of pop group The Feeling) and Tom MacRae, also responsible for the production’s script.

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Its intentions, rightly so for a West End show, are towards big celebration and euphoria, but (especially and admirably in the second act) real life is allowed to flower enough for brief engagement with the more sour and dark aspects of Jamie’s story, entrenched behavioural threats to his stability and sense of self for a moment throwing him off course. His relationship with his father, although left commendably unresolved, is the narrative that suffers the greatest from its broad parameters.

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With the assistance of a group of veteran drag queens down at the local club (who take Jamie under their fiercely watchful care) and former drag legend Loco Chanelle tenderly mentoring him in the finery of the profession (and the unequivocal support of his mom and “auntie” Ray), Jamie is given the solid foundation he needs to flourish. The unemphatic diversity on display in Jamie’s school is a laudable aspect to the production, a respectable reflection of the U.K. educational system (Jamie’s best friend, Pritti-a tender performance from Lucie Shorthouse-faces her own struggles against discrimination and prejudice as a young Muslim woman).

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Anyone who thinks Jamie’s intention to attend his prom in a dress and heels will not be realised (and that the school will not come to his defense, even the token school bully and censorious administration) has clearly never seen this type of musical bauble before, an effervescent and buoyant slice of optimism. The audience floats out of the theatre on a high of the best of human conduct.

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The only thing left tantalisingly absent is the scene of Jamie’s initial drag performance as his alter-ego Mimi Me-the first act rather frustratingly concludes just as he is to take the stage, leaving the audience to imagine myriad scenarios of (fabulous or fledgling) triumph. The show is based on a 2011 BBC3 documentary starring the real-life Jamie Campbell.  Everybody’s Talking About Jamie books through 28/2019

https://www.everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk/

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