Sustainability themes were prevalent in this year’s installations (straight through to materials used), but the majority of the spectators gathered -in throngs on an early Saturday night-were predominantly engaged on the level of pure sensation. Lights whirled, flickered, sprayed, pulsed and coursed, set in and around the parks, plazas and squares of London’s concrete financial village. Liquid Sound in Cabot Square brought brash, unapologetic Las Vegas ostentatiousness to its choreographed fountain display; Affinity invited an audience to immersive itself in a neural network;

Stratum, with its grid of lights, conducted a symphonic conversation with viewers; the psychedelic forest of Sasha Trees (returning from last year’s programme) decorated a construction space with their hyperreal colours; Neon Tree and its nest of Chihuly-like squiggles pleasantly infested the body and limbs of a random tree in Canada Square Park;

the landscaped pools of Jubilee Park transformed into illuminated ball pits to the delight of kids (and more than a few adults), while nearby Squiggle unspooled like a river in tranquil undulation; Lactolight commanded  Westferry Circus with its outsized circular wheel of light and sound array. The only piece not to work successfully was Sky on Earth which attempted to impart to a viewer the sensation of flying above a storm cloud (here mimicked by strobe lights and bubbles)-the space in which it was situated was too expansive and broad to be able to attain proper intimacy, and the way in which the crowd was marshalled through the experience was much too quick and rushed for any sort of meditative relation.

I will never quite understand the need to locate a selection of works indoors (a defeat of the purpose for an outdoor, after-hours lights festival), but much magic is made on a crisp January eve as you wander trails and paths to discover the next jolt of lit excitement. Canary Wharf Winter Lights ran through 25 January

Please visit Instagram for my video posts of this event

Winter Lights



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An apotheosis of feel-bad, this production by Brooklyn-based Nick Lehane, albeit skilfully crafted and gracefully conceived, is hell-bent on punishing an audience, overwhelming with bleakness, absenting any mere base frivolity of entertainment. Within the narrow confines of a cage in a biomedical lab, under the harsh chill of forensic lighting, an exhausted ape listlessly paces, anxiously alert to heavy-footed movement of technicians and the constant sound of animal distress. Heavy on its conscience, buried deep in the bones, is the weighted knowledge that the spectre of death draws closer.

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Its only succour is escape into felicitous memories of its time spent in the embrace of fostered “family”, a time in which motion was freer, more expansive and relaxed, and treatment more loving (the light transitions to a warmer hue and the soundtrack to softer ambience in the remembrance interludes). The puppeteers (fully revealed) manage to extract a great deal of poetry out of every articulation of the simian creature, a clever visual punctuation of the themes of humans being both companionable and manipulative in their relations with animals.

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Yet the sad, harrowing tale of this mistreated beast sadistically travels towards a very constricted and hopeless conclusion, a final ecstatic image (beautifully wrought) of a nearly cosmic return to home that is in truth its last gasp. The creators don’t even try to redeem humanity or search out any gesture of salvage, which is not necessarily their responsibility, but it feels like a grave reprimand to the spectators-we are seen incapable of grace or any higher virtue. And only squalid death is a given. Chimpanzee closed on 25 January

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Almost indescribable (akin to the process of trying to recover a dream, its essence continually eludes conscious apprehension), this piece by Belgian group Peeping Tom, the third in a loose family trilogy, propels itself mostly along the ferocious strength of its sheer confounding, eye-popping visual energy and verve. On evidence, its contemplation of the state of childhood is troubling, locating within it an almost anarchic psychosis, a condition without regulation of boundary or limit, not only creatively or imaginatively, but morally and ethically.

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The lead character (embodied by mezzo soprano performer Eurudike de Beul who cuts quite a disorienting, overgrown figure riding a child’s bike in her short red-skirt and ankle socks) often stops to have a tantrum that dramatically escalates to full operatic bellow. Trapped within a tight space between forest edge and cliff wall (both of which pulse with menace and from which treacherous, unexplainable figures-human or otherwise- occasionally emerge), she is witness to-and often complicit in-terrible acts of incomprehensible violence.

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Elastic dancer Yi-Chun Liu enacts a jaw-dropping balletic sequence as her body flops and heaves and twists under a barrage of bullets fired indiscriminately and inexplicably from a rifle (first brandished by a threatening local male, soon placed into the hands of the young protagonist who proceeds to orgiastic release). That it is predominantly the Asian performers who are imperilled hints at a cultural theme not fully addressed. There is the sense of a corrupt adult world which bleeds down to the child, helpless in the face of poor example of conduct, adrift without nurture. A forensic team periodically appears to clear debris and cleanse the environment. At certain points, and quite unexpectedly, Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes cross the mind; David Lynch would very much appreciate the surfeit of surreal musings.

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This is far from a cosy, romanticised view of the child, instead a minefield of terrifying, anxious impulse and whim, a landscape of traumatic experience. With relentless eerie, eccentric imagery (an undulating earthworm, an unsteady hybrid human/deer, trembling  ovular discs that disgorge scuttling creatures, an arboreal newborn trailing umbilical roots), this will haunt the mind even in the daylight hours. Whether or not it adds up to any sort of thematic coherence, or is anything beyond a bravura collection of unsettling sequences, this expressive descent is unforgettable on a primal level. Child (Kind) continues through 25 January

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Dining options continue to proliferate in the rapidly developing Elephant & Castle neighbourhood currently in the mid-phase of a mammoth £2.3 billion pound regeneration project centred around the notoriously maligned roundabout. In one corner of the vast lot now designated Elephant Park once stood the (late, lamented, short-term) Elephant Works, a container village of creative business start-ups and young restaurateurs easing their way into the marketplace. In its shadow is latest arrival Sawyer Street corridor, a passageway of carefully curated, informal international cuisine storefronts, all independent purveyors, many sourced from the local area (former tenants of the adjacent mall or from the East Street Market just down the road).

Already in place is the vegan Ethiopian Beza (with its wry and sweet ace proprietress/chef), Japanese tonkotzu bar Koi Ramen, Caribbean specialist Tasty Jerk and Pan-Asian providers Pot & Rice, with an Ecuadoran and Lebanese on the way. They join coffee house Hej and wine bar maestros Diogenes the Dog, in place since early 2019. Mercato Metropolitano, the mighty and successful food hall launched in 2016 in a temporary home nearby will be moving in to a new space later this year, relaunched as MM Factory. A local pub has also opened onsite, The Tap In.

The surrounding grounds of the new-build flats have plenty of broad green promenades, and attention has been paid to aesthetics, with accents of quirky light installations and plentiful plantings and recreational areas (a strict and focused programme of sustainability has been built in to the development as well). E&C is quickly taking on the contours of a destination spot. Those who may remember this environment as the location of the infamous Heygate estate will be suitably awed.

Of note: further down on Walworth Road, eccentrically situated within a run of more traditional shops, is the modern, bright cafe Louie Louie with its 2-4-1 early evening craft cocktails and rotating guest chef menus. And while in the area, visit the Cinema Museum and avail yourself of this absolute gem, attend one of their film clubs (silent, film noir, etc) or talks with historical luminaries from the film world-indulge and cultivate this irreplaceable London cultural institution. The city’s all the richer for it.





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Not quite the love story its creator claims in the press notes, this wildly imaginative multimedia piece (incorporating film, projection, animation, movement, puppetry, dance and an epically ominous, distressing sound and visual design, its tale played out on a series of screens) bleeds a bleak, lonely tale of disenfranchisement and alienation, charting an unhealthy, helpless flight into irresponsible, annihilating fantasy. A rebuke to the improper, disproportionate uses of fancy, this story follows its lead female character into uneasy realms of stormy mental health issues and emotional distress. Beleaguered, she floats through her monochrome life, a monotonous burden of dispiriting  work and the most basic structure of quotidian rituals.

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Often, she is trapped and restricted  within the smallest, most cramped screens: the tight confines of her bed, an unforgiving negative space closing in around her; the imprisonment of her daily descent via the lift, mercilessly mocked by the broad, open spaces of her fellow apartment dwellers, lovers and families living out colourful, close-knit lives, which may as well be taking place in another universe. Her colleagues are faceless, defeated automatons, waiting for the work bell to sound the day’s end; she and her fellow commuters stand blankly at bus stops, going exhaustively through the motions. Only in her nightly dreams may she find succour (and excitement) living out a fevered relationship with a mythic creature resembling a kangaroo/human hybrid who offers illicit and companionable pleasure.

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Increasingly, her need to indulge this realm grows ever more desperate and alarming, scheming her way to expand and extend the experience through artificial means, in the process corrupting an essential purity. What should sustain curdles into destructiveness. Ecstatic, playful scenarios (a brilliant paint fight that carries across the stage, explosions of wild dance) drift determinably into despondent, hostile landscapes. The incline towards tragedy is quite startling given our assumption that the nocturnal flights will be this woman’s salvation.

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A brave concluding moment, like a protracted punctuation, finds a live character emerging on the stage painting a slogan in deliberate slow pace, invoking a (dangerous, damaged) dreamer to arise. ROOMAN continues through 18 January at the Barbican, returns only




A few words on notable shows just about to close (or, in one case, already shuttered but with a continuing resonance that moves me to comment and broaden awareness of an exceptional artist):

Bridget Riley @ Hayward Gallery

One does not interact quietly with a work by this enduring maestro of op art. Almost feral studies of the possibilities of line and colour and dimension, the longer you stare the more unhinged your optic nerve feels, carried off on a queasy sea of twist and waver and shift and throb (only in the rare occasion is there a more tranquil billow or pulse). Vertiginous and commanding, dangerous even, the most powerful canvasses seem to evince a keen consciousness that threatens to consume you whole should you look too long-it feels coiled somewhere in the back of the frame, vigilant. Both a mathematical and architectural precision guide and inform the paintings. Approaching ninety, Riley is still very much active and just as committed to her inquiries into perception: the uses of repetition, subtle alteration, manipulation of shape and line to induce a physical reaction in the viewer, a sudden loss of steadiness and certainty. Bridget Riley continues through 26 January at Hayward Gallery


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Just one week left to witness the mesmerising lightscapes of artist Villareal, panelled screens of various sizes on which cosmological phenomena play out, a swirling sequence of birth and decay, surge and collapse. Universes spin out of matter and dust, vigorous in intent and direction, whirling successions of perambulas and eddies. They are masterful meditations of pixels and binary code, a Big Bang of operational systems. Taking the cold logic of computation, Villarreal somehow alchemises it into the awe of witnessing creation, surrounding and immersing the viewer in a celestial grandeur, vaulting the individual consciousness into a wider transcendental field. Leo Villarreal closes on 18 January

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On the first floor of this two-story exhibition, Kawamata has fashioned heaving, crowded  three-dimensional devastations of crushed wooden boxes that, from a distance, mimic aerial views of disaster zones, referencing  crushed communities and human loss. The canvasses swell and ripple outwards as if the landscape beneath has erupted. A viewer is dwarfed by the scale of these pieces, as if swallowed up in an overwhelming crisis (the beleaguered wood used is in most part reclaimed from sites of conflict or blight).

Upstairs, Kawamata fashions a miracle: an absolutely serene environment of resurrection and hope, suggested  spaces of refuge and security, using as their basic bedrock the same wood material. To make the acquaintance of an artist expansive enough in spirit to see both the sober as well as the sanguine is very pleasant indeed. Kawamata could be Anselm Kiefer’s more optimistic, less bilious, cousin. Destruction/Reconstruction closed on 20 December 2019 at Annely Juda