The ‘new’ ICA

In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955


I used to hang out at the ICA when I was an art student many years ago. It was the ‘IT’ place for ‘cool’ art and art house films, I even remember seeing Derek Jarman‘s film for the first time there. I don’t remember when I stopped going there, but its appeal slowly diminished over the years. And not surprisingly, for many years it has had to go through financial problems as well as identity crisis and management changes.

After the departure of Ekow Eshun, Gregor Muir took over as the Executive Director last year, and finally, the ICA is back on form again. After being a Barbican member for two years, I decided to end the membership and joined the ICA for the first time.

There was an issue initially because my membership card arrived about 1 month after I signed up and I had to call a few times to get it sorted! Not a great start but luckily, things have improved since. Last Friday afternoon, I went to see two documentaries almost back to back, which reminded me so much of my student days! It felt good to relive and be in that kind of spirit once in a while…

The first documentary, Marx reloaded (2011) was sold out soon after it was released about 2 weeks ago, proving that the return of Marx is not a myth! The film investigates the current global social and economic crisis that we are facing under capitalism and how Karl Marx‘s ideas are making a comeback due to many’s dissatisfaction with our current situation. I have not read Marx‘s manifesto but I have read of his ideas through other sources and I am quite curious about the subject. Although many critics accused of his ideas as utopian, I think they can be used as basis to explore more… but realistically, something new/ innovative needs to surface soon to rescue our problematic society!

The second documentary, Axis of Light: Eight Artists from the Middle East (2011) is a a poignant documentary directed by Pia Getty, which depicts the on-going conflicts and struggles in different parts of the Middle East seen through 8 leading artists from the region. I have always been fascinated by the culture and arts in the Middle East (I blame this on watching too much Sinbad cartoon when I was child!) esp. Arabic calligraphy and architecture. Hence, I find Rachid Koraichi‘s work completely memerising, but overall, it was eye-opening to see and hear from these artists talking about their work and inspirations. Having just seen Youssef Nabil‘s exhibition in Paris (see my Paris exhibition entry), it made me understand him and his work more after seeing the film. This is a very touching and genuine documentary that should not be missed.

Apart from the cinematic revival at the ICA, the current exhibition, In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955, is also very intriguing. It exhibits the lesser-known serial publications produced by artists around the world from 1955 to the present day. The highlights for me included American photographer, Eleanor Antin‘s 100 boots postcards (1971-73) … although I have the book, it is not quite the same as seeing the postcards in person! Another surprise was to see Japanese photographer, Araki Nobuyoshi‘s black and white photocopies, Zerokkusu (1970) bound beautifully in a traditional way.

If the ICA stays consistent and continues with impressive exhibitions and screenings like these, I think it will attract a lot more visitors or member, though the downside is that either events will be fully booked all the time or they will have to seek a larger premise!

Axis of Light will be screened until 4th March and In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955 will end on 25th March. Both the screening and exhibition are free of charge. Click here for more info.


From graffiti to art: Style Wars

The most famous street art gallery: East side gallery, Berlin


I have always been fascinated by street art and graffiti, and I have taken photographs of these works of ‘art’ for quite a few years esp. during my travels. Hence I was glad that I managed to get one of the last few seats to see “Architecture on film: Style Wars” at the Barbican, curated by The Architecture Foundation. The screenings included: “Style Wars“, directed by Tony Silver in 1983 and a short film: “The subconscious art of graffiti removal“, directed by Matt McCormick in 2002.

In “Style Wars“, it documented the battles between the pioneering graffiti artists in New York in the early 80s. Silver interviewed these artists, their families, the then-mayor, Ed Koch, MTA workers, metro passengers and even passerby. The most interesting part is seeing the relationship between graffiti and hip-hop (including break dancing and rapping), and how this emerging subculture movement that started in the late 70s became part of the mainstream modern day culture. The film also shows graffiti entering into the New York art scene in the early 80s despite many who saw it as simply as vandalism.


Southbank, London


Portland-based director, Matt McCormick directed “The subconscious art of graffiti removal“, a short documentary that has taken a rather unique and mocking approach towards the subject. It documented the removal of graffiti by city council workers, who according to the director, managed to create works of art that could be compared to Rothko without realising it! The tone of the narrator by fellow artist and her use of terms seems to be indirectly mocking those pretentious art critics (professional or not!) who we sometimes encounter at art exhibitions. Humourous and unusual, with interesting cinematography.

It is interesting to see the ambiguous meaning of what we call ‘art’ these days. It is certainly more subjective now and more influenced by cultural trends than it used to. I have gathered and posted photos that were taken over the years onto my Pinterest board, you can click here to view them. Check out the Berlin ones, I think this city has the best ‘graffiti/ street art’ in the world!


Silent meditation retreat


Not so many years ago, I used to enjoy the ‘cool’ lifestyle. Then one day, this lifestyle became superficial and meaningless to me, and my life took a very drastic change.

I never would have imagined myself becoming a nature-loving person who would regularly hike, meditate and go on retreats in the most basic accommodations with strangers from all ages and backgrounds (this surprised most of my friends too). In the past, my ideal out-of-London weekend would revolve around consumption: Being taken to swanky country hotels, enjoying multi-courses dinners that fulfill my senses and then shopping at outlets for hours before returning back to London! I don’t regret those hedonistic days, but getting older (and perhaps slightly wiser) means my priorities in life have changed completely.



These days, walking boots and fleece are items that I cannot live without; blissful moments occur when I meander in the countryside and be in touch with nature. Spending a weekend meditating with almost 40 people in silence made me become more aware of the noise in my head and sounds that I would normally miss when I am in the city.

Watching sunrise, clear night sky with countless of stars and hearing sounds of birds and wind made me realise that abandoning the ‘cool’ lifestyle turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.




Pilgrimage at Wellcome Collection

Is religion the topic of the moment? I would say ‘yes’ judging by the talks and events happening in London in recent months. I have always enjoyed the exhibitions and events organised by the Wellcome Collection but as it becomes more popular, it is also harder to book onto their free events.

I managed to book onto the ‘The Culture of Pilgrimage‘ talk, which was part of the Pilgrimage evening that coincided with their two current exhibitions, ‘Miracles and Charms‘. I visited the exhibitions a few months ago, and was especially fascinated by ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings‘, which exhibited over 100 of votive paintings from Mexico documenting ‘miracles’ experienced by ordinary Mexicans dating from the 18th century to the present day.

The evening talk was given by Professor, John Eade, exploring briefly on religious and secular pilgrimage sites from Lourdes to Graceland, which was interesting but not as much as the Q & A afterwards. I think the fact that the public are interested in religion again and its place in our secular society is a good sign; it shows that we are questioning our lifestyles and our consumption-driven society, even though religion may not be the cure for the crisis we are facing today.

The evening also included a screening of ‘Loudres‘ (2009), which I saw when it was first released here, and coincidentally, it will be aired on BBC4 on Sunday 19th Feb at 10.30pm. This is a beautifully shot, intelligent and objective film on religion, faith and human nature. Along with ‘Of Gods and men‘ (2010), they are the two of the best and memorable films on religion and faith in recent years and I highly recommend them!

Miracles and Charms will end on 26th February.




Coffee has always been my obsession and I can’t drink enough of it. But since a few years ago, I developed a new obsession with green tea latte (basically it’s matcha powder + hot milk + sugar), which was almost impossible to find in London until recently.

Everytime I go to Japan/ Asia, I would stock up on the small tubes/packages of green tea latte to bring back to London. One time, my stock ran out and my friend in Hong Kong kindly took the trouble to send me 2 boxes in the mail! Although recently Japan Centre started to stock them, I find them to be overpriced.

I have tried many Japanese brands including Muji (not available outside of Asia), although it doesn’t taste the best, it is a quick fix if you are in a hurry. Normally, I am not into lattes or sweet drinks as I don’t even put sugar in my expressos, but for some odd reason, I don’t have an issue with sweetened green tea lattes. Recently, I decided to create my own homemade matcha lattes, so I bought the matcha whisk as well as matcha powder from Japan. So far, I have yet to make my first proper homemade one!!

Then one day, I spotted green tea latte on the menu in Tombo, a small Japanese cafe in South Kensington. I was over the moon especially when I saw the heart-shaped white foam; I can’t say it’s cheap but at least I know where to cease my craving when my stock runs out.

In Japan, matcha flavoured food and drinks are extremely popular, even Starbucks offer Matcha lattes (too sweet for my liking). There is also Haagan Dazs green tea ice cream and green tea flavoured Kit Kat, the list goes on and on. One of my favourite pastimes in Japan is browsing in convenient stores, from 7-eleven to Family Mart to Lawson (there’s also Natural Lawson for the health conscious), where you will find hundreds of green tea items, which is quite amazing.

Now I think matcha muffins will be my next baking adventure…



Goodbye +J!

Finally, the successful collaboration between Jil Sander and Uniqlo has come to an end. Who could have guessed that Uniqlo would be the retailer to launch Jil Sander‘s comeback? From what I recall, this is probably one of the most successful fashion designer + retailer collaborations in recent years besides the H & M one.

Since A/W 2011 was the last season, most items were snapped up pretty quickly in London esp. during the sales. I happened to walk past Uniqlo in Paris and was glad to see quite a few +J items still available (and in my size). Eventually, I bought this military green mid-length wool coat, reduced to €80 from €200! It is a classic and timeless coat that will last a long time, so I am very happy with this purchase.

Now I wonder if the new UU collection, a collaboration with the funky and avant-garde Japanese label, Undercover will bring surprises or not?

Looking at their official campaigne photos (here), Jun Takahashi seemed to have toned down and designed a ‘wearable’ family collection. Though all will be revealed in a month’s time, so we will have to wait and see…


War of the atheists

I am a bit reluctant to talk about religion on this blog as it is a sensitive subject (along with politics), but I cannot bear the ongoing religious debate anymore. I think it is a propaganda started by Richard Dawkins to divide our society into two groups: believers (in his eyes: ignorants) and non-believers (intellects/ rationalists like himself). The debate seemed to have cooled down until philosopher, Alain de Botton (who is everywhere these days) joined in, and now it is back in the limelight.

In many ways, I am glad that someone non-radical has spoken out against Dawkins because I am sure there are many of us who do not think that science has all the answers and that religions are complete nonesense. However, I am not entirely convinced by De Botton‘s plan for an atheist temple. He is making a loud statement against Dawkins, but is this adding fuel to a rather tedious and unnecessary debate?

I went to De Botton‘s talk on ‘Religion for Atheists‘ last week, a talk to promote his new book of the same title. It was a longer version of his talk on Ted, however, I do agree with him on many points. i.e. atheists can learn a lot from what religions have to offer. One remark stuck in my head afterwards was his suggestion for ‘religious tourism’. He asked, “Since culture has almost taken over as the new religion in our secular society, why can’t we pick and choose what suits us best from different religions (without being disrespectful) like we do with culture?” Good point. I feel that I have been doing that for the past few years as I became more interested in Buddhism and Daoism. I do not consider myself a very religious person but I try to understand and integrate different ideas, teachings, values and practices i.e. meditation into my daily life (without being dogmatic), which subsequently, I think has made me a happier and better person. ( N.B. The concept of a belief-free and agnostic Buddhism is discussed in the book, “Buddhism without beliefs” written by former Buddhist monk, Stephen Batchelor.)

Naively, I wish that all human beings can live peacefully in spite of each others’ skin colours, classes or religions, but I know it won’t happen because of our egos and need for power/control. We always believe that we are right or know better and constantly want others to agree with us. If only we could see how pointless this is. Whether Dawkins likes it or not, religions are here to stay esp. during difficult times like now. Science cannot give support or comfort to those who are experiencing crisises or bereavements, whereas religions or their communities can. Sometimes, even spending ten minutes in a religious sanctuary such as a church, temple or mosque can be incredibly peaceful and healing regardless of your belief system. What Dawkins lack is empathy and tolerance, ironically, these are the qualities that many religions try to install in us.

Looking at it objectively, we can see that the fundamental issue is not to do with religions nor science but with us, human beings and our limited and egocentric mindsets.

Alain De Botton‘s Atheism 2.0 on Ted:




Beat the winter blues… baking

My walking group’s outing to the Chilterns has been cancelled due to the snow, so I am staying indoors for the day. Then I suddenly had this urge to bake… I love cooking but baking isn’t exactly my thing. However, since I discovered a great muffin recipe last year, I have been experimenting on variations based on this recipe.

This healthier recipe uses yogurt instead of milk and olive oil instead of butter. I have previously made blueberry muffins with blueberries and blueberry yogurt. This time, I am using Rachel’s Organic low-fat vanilla yogurt with chopped banana and crushed dark chocolate.

The muffins may not look like the ones sold in the shops, but they are healthier and more delicious. For someone who has never really enjoyed baking, I am starting to enjoy it more, maybe this is also due to the influence of BBC’s ‘The Great British Bake Off‘. So if you haven’t baked for years, why not try again because you may be quite pleasantly surprised!


Beat the winter blues… California dreaming

No, I haven’t flown to California yet… I was listening to ‘California dreaming’ while I was out in sub-zero temperature and I couldn’t stop daydreaming (one of my favourite hobbies) about it!! Oh, how I wish I was there now! You will know what I mean when you look at the photos… sorry, didn’t mean to depress those of you who are experiencing the cold weather in Europe now!

Yet my meditation practice also reminds me to be in the present moment, so I have no choice but to leave my California dream behind and cope with the cold and gloomy weather here…



Beat the winter blues…

After a hectic trip to Paris, I had to return to work… i.e. back to my computer. Ironiclly, as much as I like what I do, I don’t enjoy working in front of the computer all the time, hence, I would try to get out whenever possible esp. out of London.

The drop in temperature this week has affected me slightly… I suddenly felt the winter blues and I knew the best cure was to take a break and go for a walk in the park esp. while the sun was still out.

Primrose Hill is one of my favourite spots in London, but something has changed since I last came… the bench and map are no longer there, instead they are replaced by some wooden benches and wooden fences everywhere. I am not sure what is going on, but I hope the council is making an improvement rather than ruining the place like they often do.

There are many trendy cafes in the area, but I chose to go back to an old favourite, Trojka Russian tea room. I don’t go there for the service ( at least, that part is truly authentic) nor food… it’s just a nostalgic factor. As I see the rapid changes going on in London, I started to return to familiar places just to make sure that they are stil there… I never used to do this, is this a sign of aging? The good news is that this place is still the same… well, almost… except that I detected a smile from the waitress’ face this time! I went for the vegetarian pelmeni, a dish that is similar to homemade Polish and even Chinese dumplings. It’s a comfort food that served its purpose on a cold February day…

Walking back through the park, I started to notice silhouette of the trees and their branches; I realised that I haven’t looked up for a long time and it felt incredibly good to do so. It was then I noticed my winter blues slowly melting away, with my foot steps seemingly lighter, all I longed for was to get back home and make myself a cup of hot drink.