Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn

 

Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”

 

Olafur Eliasson

 

Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)

 

In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.

 

Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010

 

Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

 

Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.

 

In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.

 

 

The splendid Dale Chihuly exhibition at Kew Gardens

sapphire star dale Chilhuly

Sapphire Star, 2010

 

I am not sure why it took me so long to visit the ‘Chihuly – Reflections on nature‘ exhibition at Kew Gardens, but I finally managed to catch it a few days before it ended. It was not the best day to visit Kew, but the autumn foliage made up for the grey and drizzly weather.

I was glad that I made it because I thought it was was the best U.K. exhibition I saw this year. American artist Dale Chihuly‘s stunning nature-inspired glass sculptures did not look out of place at Kew, in fact, they undoubtedly enhanced the gardens in many ways.

 

img_4079

img_4077

img_4089

Chihuly at Kew

 

With a map in hand, I wandered around the gardens in search for his 32 sculptures installed at 12 different locations. Aside from the Rotunda Chandelier at the V & A entrance, I don’t recall seeing a lot of Dale Chilhuly‘s works in the U.K., so this exhibition was a fascinating opportunity to see an artist who has spent the last 50 years perfecting and experimenting on a skill/craft/art that he loves. Even on a grey day, Chihuly‘s glass sculptures still looked magnificent, and it was hard not to be gobsmacked by the intricate craftsmanship and dazzling colours.

 

Temperate House Persian

Temperate House Persian  Temperate House Persian

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew  Chihuly at Kew

Fiori Verdi

Chihuly at Kew

 

Besides the outdoor sculptures, the indoor ones looked marvelous too. The Temperate House Persians – a new artwork specially designed to be suspended inside the world’s largest and newly restored Victorian glasshouse could be admired from below and above. Meanwhile, some of his other works inside the glasshouse appeared to be camouflage e.g. ‘Fiori Verdi’ among the exotic plants, which was quite a pleasant surprise for the visitors.

 

‘Summer Sun’, 2010

Opal and Amber Towers, 2018

Lime Crystal Tower, 2006

 Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower

Top: ‘Summer Sun’, 2010; 2nd row: ‘Opal and Amber Towers’, 2018; 3rd row: ‘Lime Crystal Tower’, 2006; bottom row: Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower, 2013

 

One of the most conspicuous outdoor sculptures at the exhibition was ‘Summer Sun’, a bold piece consisted of 1,483 separate elements. Yet the most complex one is ‘Scarlette and Yellow icicle tower’, which has 1,882 separate elements.

Out of all the installations at the gardens, my personal favourites were the ‘Niijima Floats’ and ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’ inside the Waterlily House. Named after a volcanic island in Tokyo Bay, the ‘Niijima Floats’ installation at the Japanese rock garden was made up of brightly coloured glass spheres in various sizes, some of which weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg). A series introduced by Chihuly in 1991, the colourful spheres looked unexpectantly harmonious with its surroundings; I especially liked the Chinese pagoda backdrop. I felt a sense of tranquility and balance looking at this installation, and it was unfathomable by intellect – you could only feel it, which probably made it more powerful.

 

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

'Niijima Floats' (1992 - 2008)

‘Niijima Floats’, 2019

 

‘Ethereal white persian pond’ inside the Waterlily house was another breathtaking installation. As soon as I entered the glasshouse, my eyes were captivated by the extraordinary white and translucent striped glass flowers supported and rimmed with steel standing on the surface of the pond. Again, I felt that the glass flowers belonged there, in the pond with the water lilies and lotus leaves. The reflection of the glass sculptures on the water created a dreamlike/surreal effect, which made me believe that these flowers are part of nature and that there is no difference between the sculptures and nature.

Chihuly has said that he wants his work “to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there.” And I believe that he has certainly achieved this.

 

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

'Ethereal white persian pond', 2018

‘Ethereal white persian pond’, 2018

 

The last location I visited was the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, where visitors could see his sketches, drawings, smaller glass sculptures and a film detailing Chihuly’s creative process. It was interesting to see many artisans working alongside with Chihuly in the production process, hence the collaborative efforts are essential for his final pieces.

 

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew  Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

Chihuly at Kew

 

Although I have visited Kew Gardens almost annually (usually with a friend who lives locally) for the last few years, I have never been able to cover the entire area. There is always something new to discover here, and on this visit, I spent almost an hour inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory examing the carnivorous plants in a maze-like glasshouse.

 

kew gardens  kew gardens

KEW

kew plants  kew plants

kew

kew gardens

 

Although Kew is popular with visitors all year round, I personally love coming here in autumn. I enjoy hearing the rustling sounds of autumn leaves being blown in the wind, and the crunching sounds produced when my shoes made contact with the leaves. Perhaps it is due to global warming, but I feel that autumns here have become shorter, and if this is the case, then we need to cherish this season before it vanishes altogether – which will be almost unthinkable but not impossible. Watching the autumn leaves fall onto the ground is a reminder of our fleeting lives, although it comes with a sense of melancholy, there is also much beauty in it. I think nature is our best teacher, and maybe this is the reason why I will always want to return to Kew in autumn.

 

Chihuly at Kew

autumn foliage Kew  autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew

autumn foliage Kew  FOLIAGE KEW

FOLIAGE KEW

autunn foliage

 

 

Wong Ping: Heart Digger at Camden Arts Centre, London

wong ping heart digger

 

One of my favourite art organisations in London is the Camden Arts Centre. The reason is quite simple: they are not mainstream, and they always take risks. While many famous art institutions like the Royal Academy of Art and the Tate rely heavily on big names and blockbuster shows, Camden Arts Centre is like a breath of fresh air. The artists that exhibit there are often overlooked by other institutions, but I have yet to encounter a disappointing exhibition there.

I came across Hong Kong artist Wong Ping‘s animations around a year ago in Hong Kong, and was captivated by the bold graphics and dark humour. It came as a surprise when I learned that he would be having a solo exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre, since he is hardly a conventional artist.

It turns out that Wong Ping is the inaugural recipient of Camden Art Centre’s new Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze (2018). The Prize was established in collaboration with Frieze Art Fair to nurture and celebrate the most innovative artists of the moment, who have yet to receive the recognition their work deserves. Hence, the exhibition was included as part of the prize awards.

 

camden arts centre

wong ping heart digger

 

After receiving his BA degree in multimedia design from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, in 2005, Wong Ping returned to Hong Kong and worked in TV post-production on cheesy dramas. Bored of his day job, he started making animations at home and posted them on his blog in 2010. The aesthetics of his technicolour and distinct animations recall the styles and colour palettes of the Memphis Group and 1980s video games. Yet this visual language is naive, eye-catching and unique. Interestingly, this childlike and gleeful aesthetic do not match the twisted, dark, and absurd contents. Sex, politics, family issues and social conflicts are the common themes featured in his animations. He is a keen observer and a fierce critic of our dystopian age.

The ‘Heart digger’ exhibition runs across two venues, with an off-site temporary space at Cork Street in Central London. At both sites, there are oversized inflatable animals (giraffe and rabbit) and screens showing his explicit and amusing animations.

 

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

 

This timely exhibition coincides with the Hong Kong protests that started in June (and still on going). At the Camden venue, a heart-shaped grave has been dug in the back garden from which emerge segments of a giant dismembered inflatable giraffe. In a statement at the exhibition, he mocked Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and officials saying that they have buried part of the giraffe’s neck in the backyard so that they could use the giraffe’s neck as a tunnel to escape from Hong Kong. Therefore he cut off the section of the giraffe’s neck in which the officials were hiding, and hid it in storage on Cork Street.

 

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

 

At the Cork Street space, two of his recent works – Fables 1 (2018) and Fables 2 (2019) – are shown. They are part of an ongoing ‘morality tale’ series that feature different animals such as a convicted capitalist cow, a nun elephant, and a three-headed homicidal rabbit (which is also an inflatable installation).

Perhaps Wong Ping‘s work is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he is an important voice during this political crisis in Hong Kong today. As a pro-democracy activist, he uses his art to raise awareness and spread political messages to an international audience. Nobody knows what the future may hold for Hong Kong, but it is often during these unsettling times that the finest art would emerge. My wish is that ultimately these art works would connect and help to heal the wounds of the people in Hong Kong.

 

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

wong ping heart digger

 

 

Wong Ping: Heart Digger exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre will end on 15th September.

 

 

LCW 19: Creative Inspiration Walk – Text in the City

black friar pub

 

How many of us pay attention to the text and typography around us in the city? When we are rushing around the city, we tend to miss what is right under our noses. During the London Craft week, I joined the “Creative Inspiration Walk: Text in the City” organised by The Goldsmiths’ Centre and City of London. The two-hour walk explored the city’s lettering heritage and craftsmanship focusing on engraving and carving of text.

Our meeting point was Blackfriars station, and right opposite the station is the Grade II listed Art Nouveau The Black Friar pub built in 1875, and remodelled in about 1905 by the architect Herbert Fuller-Clark. Much of the internal decoration was done by the sculptors Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole. I have always been fascinated by the facade of this pub, especially by the mosiac y the mosaic type and wonderful metal signage outside. Although this stop was not part of the walk, I thought it is apt to include it here.

 

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Black Friar Pub

 

The first stop of the walk was located in the new concourse of the station. Fifty four stones from the original Victorian station, each engraved with destinations served by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), have been preserved and relocated. The stones list destinations as diverse as Bickley, Marseille, Gravesend and Venice, as the LCDR advertised Blackfriars’ links to towns and cities of the south east, and the business capitals of Europe via cross-channel steamers. These blocks were removed from top to bottom, one-by-one, by chiselling the mortar joints between each stone. The lightest stone weighs 54 kg and the heaviest stone about 120 kg. The lettering on the sandstone was gilded with 24 carat gold leaf before it was rebuilt in the new location.

 

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars stationThe 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

 

From one of the station’s platform exits, we were led to a rather grey and gloomy concrete square outside of the brutalist British Telecom owned office building called the Baynard House. Surprisingly, in the middle of the empty square stands The Seven Ages of Man, a 22-foot cast aluminium sculpture by British typeface designer, stone letter carver and sculptor, Richard Kindersley. The sculpture was commissioned by Post Office Telecommunications and unveiled in April 1980.

Inspired by William Shakespeare‘s pastoral comedy As You Like It, in which a monologue is spoken in Act II Scene VII Line 139. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play and catalogues the seven stages of a man’s life, sometimes referred to as the seven ages of man.

The high column features seven sculpted heads, stacked in totem pole fashion, on top of each other. The youngest is at the bottoms and it gets older as you progress up the column; on the pedestal, Shakespeare’s verses are inscribed around it.

This is a fantastic piece of sculpture, but its odd and hidden location is unlikely to draw passerby’s attention (unless they look up from the street level). It is certainly a hidden gem in the City of London.

 

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of Man

 

We then walked towards the river bank, and under the Millennium bridge stands The Millennium Measure designed by British sundial maker, hand-engraver & sculptor, Joanna Migdal in 2002. The Millennium Measure measures is the gift of the court & livery of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers to the City of London in commemoration of the millennium. It comprises a 3 sided, 2 metre (2M = 2000MM) rule depicting two thousand years of history of the City, the Church and the craft of scientific instrument making. The initials ‘MM’ stand for ‘Millennium Measure’, ‘millimetre’ and ‘two thousand’ in Roman numerals.

 

london river

sundials

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure

The Millennium Measure

 

Although I have walked past St Paul’s Cathedral many times before, I have never paid much attention to the public art outside of it. To my surprise, on the pavement at the western end of the churchyard is a floor-plan of the pre-Fire Cathedral with an outline of the present one superimposed on it. Designed by Richard Kindersley (see above), the 7m long installation is made of various Purbeck marbles and Welsh Slate. The outlines were created through the use of waterjet technology, which enabled the stone to be inset in a manner which would either be impossible or prohibitively expensive if done by hand. The inscription around the border was hand carved into the stone, noting the Great fire of London in 1666 that destroyed much of the medieval City of London.

On the other side of the Cathdral at the west end of the Festival Gardens, there is a bust of the English Poet and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne by the sculptor Nigel Boonham. Underneath the bust feature lettering by one of UK’s foremost letter carvers, Andrew Whittle.

 

st paul's cathedral

Richard Kindersleyst Pauls cathedral Richard Kindersley andrew whittle

andrew whittle

st paul's cathedral  st paul's cathedral

 

On the northside of the Cathedral, there is another installation by Richard Kindersley called People of London. It is a memorial to the people of London who died in the blitz 1939 — 1945. Carved from a three ton block of Irish limestone, the memorial has large carved letters and gilded around the edge reading: “REMEMBER BEFORE GOD THE PEOPLE OF LONDON 1939 — 1945”. On top is a spiral inscription written by Sir Edward Marsh and used by Churchill as a front piece to his history ‘The Second World War’.

 

People of London

People of London

People of London memorial 

 

Not far from St Paul’s, we visited the enchanting Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden, which is situated on the site of the Franciscan Church of Greyfriars, established in 1225. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but later destroyed all but the west tower in WWII. It was decided not to rebuild the church and some land was lost to road widening in the 1960s. The present rose garden was laid out on the site in 1989 with rose beds and box hedges outlining the nave of Wren’s church, with wooden towers representing the pillars that held up the roof.

At the garden, a new public art installation (2017) was created to commemorate Christ’s Hospital School’s 350 years presence in the City of London, 1552-1902. The installation is a 2.4m long bronze sculpture by renowned sculptor, Andrew Brown, casted at The Bronze Age Foundry in London. It was selected following an open competition organised by the City of London Corporation, and it is positioned close to where Christ’s Hospital was originally founded in Newgate Street.

 

img_4388-min

img_4393-min

img_4394-min  img_4391-min

 

Nearby, there is another well-hidden small garden called The Goldsmiths Garden. It is located on the site of the churchyard and medieval church of St John Zachary, which was damaged in the Great Fire. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (also known as the Goldsmiths’ company) had acquired land here in 1339, and built the earliest recorded Livery Hall. After part of the Company’s property was demolished in WWII, the site was first laid out as a garden in 1941, redesigned in later years. A central fountain was installed in 1995 and the ‘Three Printers’ sculpture (1957) by Wilfred Dudeney was relocated from New Street Square in 2009 in the sunken garden.

Commissioned for New Street Square by the Westminster Press Group, the sculpture represents the newspaper process, with a newsboy, a printer and an editor. The printer (the figure on the left) is holding a “stick” which contains the metal type spelling out of the sculptor’s surname. This piece is Britain’s only public monument to newspapers. However, when the area was redeveloped, the sculpture was removed and ended up in a scrapyard in Watford. Luckily, It was rescued by the writer Christopher Wilson, who persuaded the Goldsmiths’ Company to reinstall the sculpture.

Another interesting feature at this garden is that several golden leopards heads can be seen at the entrance. The leopard’s head is actually the company’s symbol. There is also an arch presented to the Goldsmiths by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. Designed by Paul Allen, the arch incorporates the London Assay mark for gold in the shape of individually made leopards heads.

 

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths GardenThe Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

'Three Printers' sculpture formerly in New Street Square, installed in St John Zachary Garden, May 2010.

The Goldsmiths Garden

 

A large (but easily-missed) metal memorial ‘Aldersgate Flame’ stands outside of the Museum of London was erected in 1981. On the face of the memorial are enlarged facsimile extracts in cast bronze of Anglican clergyman, evangelist, and co-founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England. John Wesley’s account of the events of Wednesday May 24th 1738, as described in his original printed text of the first edition of John Wesley’s Journal. On the back of the Memorial are the names of the three local tradesmen concerned with Wesley in the production and marketing of the Journal.

 

Aldersgate FlameAldersgate Flame

Aldersgate Flame

 

I am not sure how many Londoners are aware of the competition-winning sculptured stone bench (erected in 2006) at the circular Smithfield Rotunda Garden. Designed by Sam Dawkins and Donna Walker from Edinburgh University, the bench is inscribed with text and quotes relating to the history of the area, and the carving process was managed by apprentice stone masons from Cathedral Works Organisation in Chichester.

However, it is hard to read the inscribed text, and the bench looks out of place here. Most passerby would ignore it and choose to sit on the wooden benches instead, which is a shame.

 

img_4427-min  img_4428-min

 

Finally, before finishing at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, we stopped at Turnmill Street in  Farringdon, outside of a building to look at the inscribed letters above. Built in 1874, the building was formerly the premises of Ludwig Oertling, whose firm ‘manufacturers of bullion chemical and assay balances and hydrometer makers’ remained there until the 1920s. Although the premise is now occupied by Spanish restaurant, the inscribed lettering remains above it.

 

long lane

farringdon

farringdon station

Farringdon

 

As always, I learned a lot about London’s history during the two-hour walk, which is why I love joining guided walks in different parts of the city. It also encourages us to observe more as we wander around the city. There is so much to explore in London, and all you need is curiosity and awareness.

 

 

Hong Kong heritage: Tai Kwun 2010 vs 2019

tai kwun

tai kwun

 

Since its opening in mid 2018, Tai Kwun (means ‘big station’ in Cantonese) has become the hottest heritage destintation in Hong Kong. Located at the eastern end of Hollywood Road, the 300,000sq ft compound comprises three declared monuments: the former Central Police Station, former Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. The revitalisation project is the biggest conservation project in Hong Kong –costing HK$3.8 billion– was led by The Hong Kong Jockey Club in partnership with the Hong Kong Government. The aim was to redevelope the site into a world-class heritage and arts centre.

 

Tai kwun

Tai kwun

tai kwun

 

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who are also responsible for the city’s M+ museum of visual culture (opens in 2020), worked with UK conservation architects Purcell, and local firm Rocco Design Architects to revitalise 16 historic buildings, a prison yard and parade ground dating between 1864 and 1925. Aside from restoring the old buildings, two new buildings – JC Contemporary and JC Cube – were added to house an art centre dedicated to contemporary art, and a 200-seat auditorium, respectively.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

tai kwun

After the restoration (2019)

 

Interestingly, I was lucky to have visited the compound just before the restoration works began in 2011. In 2010, the annual deTour creative festival (which coincides with the Business of design week) took place here, so I was able to explore the site and record the exteriors and interiors before the restorations began.

When you look at the photos, you would notice that no significant structural changes were made to the 16 heritage buildings aside from new paint, the removal of wires and some essential restoration works. It is never easy to restore heritage sites, especially a compound with 16 buildings, and I think this project has to be one of the most sucessful cases in Hong Kong (if you look at the disastrous 1881 Heritage in Kowloon, then you would know what I mean).

 

Central Police Station

central police station

central police station

central police station  Central Police Station

central police station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station   Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

The exterior of the site in 2010

 

central police station  tai kwun

Entrance – Before and after

 

The two new buildings are clad with a façade unit system made from 100% recycled cast aluminum, and the units create a contrast with the historical masonry blocks underneath. The the cast aluminum units have a distinctive roughness and texture, which helps to reduce the reflectivity and glare during the daytime. At night, light emitted from the building would be partially screened by the façade units, but without creating light pollution. The new additions have certainly made the site even more ‘instagrammable’ among visitors.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

The new JC contemporary & JC Cube designed by Herzog & de Meuron

 

Wandering inside the JC contemporary building, I was reminded of the new extension at Tate Modern in London, which was also designed by the same architectural firm. The use of concrete and the design of the spiral staircases are very similar. The catch with employing starchitects is that they like to apply their signature styles onto most of their works; the best example is Norman Foster‘s airports – honestly, the world doesn’t need another cloned Foster-style airport! I do hope that the new M+ museum is not going to be a replica of Tate Modern.

 

jc contemporary  jc contemporary

jc contemporary

jc contemporary

Inside the JC Contemporary building: the spiral staircase

 

jc contemporary Wing Po So

jc contemporary Wing Po So

jc contemporary

jc contemporary wong ping

Art exhbitions: 1st & 2nd rows – Wing Po So’s 6-part practice; last row: Wong Ping’s animation

 

The 177-year rich history of the heritage complex reflects Hong Kong’s ups and downs during the British colonial era. Not only Ho Chi Minh was imprisoned here for 2 years in 1931-33, it was also used as a Japanese army base during the Second World War. Visitors can find out the history of the complex at the heritage storytelling spaces, and free guided tours are available daily.

As always, shopping and restaurants play a major role in a complex like this. Thankfully, the shops and restaurants here are mostly independent and local rather than chains like Starbucks or Pizza Express. A cultural centre needs alternative shops and restaurants to differentiate it from other shopping malls, and Tai Kwun has achieved this.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

The heritage storytelling space, the former prison cells and a former court room

 

Although I think the architects of the project have successfully restored and revitalised the complex, I can’t help feeling that ‘something’ is lost in the process as well. Perhaps this is inevitable due to the scale of this project.

When I look at the photos taken inside the prison in 2010, the place had a slightly eerie and atmospheric feel, whereas now, the prison looks more polished and embellished. It is a shame that many of the fascinating old signage and inmate call system were removed too. Without these details, the prison looks more like a film set, and the authenticity is lost. But then again, as most Hong Kongers would say: “Hong Kong is a city with no memory” (old buildings are constantly being torn down and replaced daily), so when it comes to conservation, this probably is the best that you could ever hope for.

 

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

The prison cells before the restorations (2010)

 

Save

Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint at M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong

m+ pavilion   Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

I have always been fascinated by Japanese American modernist artist, designer and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi‘s work, yet I have never visited his museum in New York even though I used to live there. I have seen his work at MOMA and at other art institutions in America, but oddly enough, I have rarely seen his work being shown outside of America. Hence, I was quite excited about his exhibition in Hong Kong before my visit.

The ‘Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint‘ at M+ Pavilion exhibition is based on an ongoing conversation between two artists who never met: Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) and the contemporary Vietnamese Danish artist Danh Vo (born 1975). Vo, who has in recent years explored and researched Noguchi’s life and art, and has included Noguchi’s work in his installations with increasing frequency. This exhibition shed light on each artist’s protean body of work.

 

 Isamu Noguchi This Tortured Earth  Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi Ghost

 Isamu Noguchi bamboo Basket Chair

 

Occupying the main exhibition space were Noguchi‘s sculptures, furniture, lighting and worksheets. Noguchi‘s biomorphic sculptures remind me very much of another artist from the same period: Barbara Hepworth. Yet he was also a brilliant designer and landscape architect; his iconic coffee table designed in 1944 is still in production (now by Herman Miller/Vitra) after more than seven decades. Another classic design series are his Akari Light Sculptures, inspired by his trip to Gifu in Japan where it is famous for its manufacture of paper parasols and lanterns. Over the years, he created a total of more than 100 models, consisting of table, floor and ceiling lamps ranging in size from 24 to 290 cm.

In the middle of the room, there was a Chinese-style pavilion Untitled (Structure for Akari PL2) designed by Vo to hang Noguchi‘s paper lamp sculptures, and for visitors to rest. It blended extremely well with Noguchi‘s works.

 

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi Leda

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

Outside of the building were a few cargo containers where Vo‘s works were exhibited. Like Noguchi, Vo‘s life was shaped and influenced by Eastern and Western cultures. Due to his refugee background, Vo often addresses the issues of history, identity and belonging in his work. His conceptual works often weave archival fragments together and personal references. He also doesn’t believe in providing explanatory material, hence, it’s up to the visitors to interpret his work. Last year, Vo held a sold exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, so he is undoubtedly one of the most prominent Asian artists working today.

 

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo’s conceptual art work

 

 

The Arvind Indigo Museum in Ahmedabad, India

arvind indigo museum

arvind indigo museum

 

If you visit Gujarat, you are likely to pass through/visit Ahmedabad the largest city and former capital of Gujarat. The Old city of Ahmedabad was the first in India to be declared as UNESCO World Heritage City in 2017. The historic city is also known for its textiles industry and it is home to one of the best textiles museums in the world: The Calico Museum of Textiles. Founded in 1949 by the industrialist Gautam Sarabhai and his sister Gira Sarabhai, the museum has a stunning array of Indian textiles dating back to the Mughal period, as well as collections of sacred bronzes, Jaina manuscripts, sculptures, and Indian miniature paintings etc. Visits to the museum must be booked well in advanced as there is only one guided tour per day (except Wed), and no photography is allowed. The 2.5 hour long tour is guided by a knowledgable but rather stern lady, and I found it hard to listen to her and take in all the history and information. Despite the fascinating collection, it was hard to enjoy the tour when being rushed around and forbidden to linger.

 

Arvind indigo museum  Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

 

Luckily, there is a new museum in the city that is less formal and more relaxing, and it is dedicated to indigo. The new Arvind Indigo Museum is located at the former Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum, hence it is a bit confusing if you are trying to look for its website. When we visited, the museum had just opened (partially), hence there were no other tourists and no prior booking was needed. Set among tall trees and lush gardens, the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum complex consists of two buildings restored by renowned architect Rahul Mehrotra. The colonial structure was built in 1905, but it was closed during our visit. The new indigo collection is called “Alchemy” and it is displayed in the adjacent building, the Claude Batley house built in the 1930s, which showcases indigo-dyed textiles, art and objects created by renowned contemporary artists from Indian and around the world.

 

Arvind indigo museum aboubakar fofana

Amit Ambalal's "Birds Of A Feather Flock Together"  Amit Ambalal's "Birds Of A Feather Flock Together"

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum  Arvind indigo museum

First and last rows: Aboubakar Fofana; Second row: Amit Ambalal’s “Birds Of A Feather Flock Together”

 

Natural and indigo dyeing has made a huge comeback in recent years due to the issue of sustainability in the fashion and textiles industry. Therefore the opening of this museum is a timely one. Indigo is an indigenuous dye and it comes from a native plant called Indigofera tinctoria, grown mostly in Tamil Nadu nowadays.

The chairman and managing director of the 88-year-old textile and denim company Arvind Ltd, Sanjay Lalbhai wanted to pay homage to this magical dye that is closely related to his company and Indian’s heritage, so a 20,000 sqft museum dedicated to the artistic manifestations of indigo was born.

 

Arvind indigo museum  Arvind indigo museum

Artisan Kirit Chitara’s rendition of ‘Mata ni Pachedi’.

Arvind indigo museum hansika sharma

Arvind indigo museum  Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum Bhagyashree Suthar

Arvind indigo museum  Arvind indigo museum

manish nai 95 Natural Indigo Sticks installations

2nd row: Kirit Chitara’s rendition of ‘Mata ni Pachedi’; 3rd row: Hansikar Sharma; 5th row: Bhagyashree Suthar; 6th right and last row: Manish Nai indigo-dyed aluminium and 95 Natural Indigo Sticks installations

 

The exhibition is ambitious and fascinating because it goes way beyond textiles… there are sculptures, paintings, paper art, and even furniture. You can expect the unexpected here, and I think the curation is top-notch. Whilst the exhibition features many local artists, there are also works by artists from other parts of the world like Malian arist/designer, Aboubakar Fofana, whose beautiful indigo-dyed textile works can be seen hanging at the entrance area and in the courtyard of the new building.

 

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum shola carletti

based upon's indigo fragmented crack

Arvind indigo museum Manisha Parekh

Arvind indigo museum Manisha Parekh Annie Morris  Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum Nibha Sikander

Arvind indigo museum Nibha Sikander

Nibha Sikander  Arvind indigo museum Sachin Tekade

Arvind indigo museum Sachin Tekade

3rd row: Shola Carletti‘s “essence”; 4th row: British duo Based Upon‘s “indigo Fragmented Crack”; 6th: Manisha Parekh’s paintings and British artist Annie Morris‘s sculpture made with indigo-dyed concrete, plaster, sand and steel; 7th, 8th and bottom left: Nibha Sikander; 8th right and bottom right: Sachin Tekade

 

The exhibition shows how diverse the indigo dye can be, and it is not just restricted to textiles. After the intense guided tour at the Calico Museum, it was pleasant to spend the afternoon here in a more relaxing setting surrounded by beautiful artworks. The museum is due to fully open in 2020, and I look forward to returning here again in the future to see more indigo art works.

 

Arvind indigo museum Alwar Balasubramanium

Arvind indigo museum Alwar Balasubramanium

Arvind indigo museum Tanya Goel

Arvind indigo museum

  Arvind indigo museum ‘Container’ by Kavin MehtaArvind indigo museum Shihoko Fukumoto

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum

Arvind indigo museum Aboubakar Fofana’s denim installation

1st & 2nd rows: Alwar Balasubramaniam’s indigo landscapes; 3rd row: Tanya Goel; 5th left: Kavin Mehta’s ‘Container’; 5th right: Shihoko Fukumoto’s ‘Time Space’, made with indigo-dyed linen; 7th & 8th rows: Vipul Mahadevia’s “Kimono, the fabric of life”. Bottom row: Aboubakar Fofana’s Indian denim installation

 

 

Spring in Kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

After days of traveling to and from various small towns and villages, I finally arrived at a big city – Kanazawa – the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. Before my visit, I had heard that it is a historical and picturesque city which has been nicknamed ‘Little Kyoto’. Although like Kyoto, the city escaped air raids during WWII and has preserved many historic architecture; it does not remind me of Kyoto at all.

During the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle was the headquarter’s of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa. Hence Kanazawa is also known as the ‘samurai city’ with a samurai district at the foot of the castle where many samurai residences used to live.

Now the city is still seen as an important city in its region, and with the new shinkansen line opened in 2015 that connects the city to Tokyo in less than 3 hours, it is attracting more tourists from overseas and within Japan.

 

kanazawa castle

kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

One thing that struck me when I arrived was the sightings of many Western expats here, which was quite unexpected. And after experiencing amazing hospitality for days, I did experience some unfriendly service here (perhaps I was just unlucky), which did slightly spoil my stay.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa 

kanazawa

 

Kanazawa Castle Park is a large park in the city centre, and you can enjoy a pleasant stroll here. While I was walking through the park, I also saw a few Japanese couples taking wedding photographs here, so I guess it is a popular spot for wedding photography.

The castle was the headquarters of Kaga Domain, ruled by the Maeda clan for 14 generations from the Sengoku period until the Meiji Restoration in 1871. Like most ancient buildings in Japan, the castle was burnt down several times, and now the surviving structures include the Ishikawa Gate from 1788, the Sanjukken Nagaya and the Tsurumaru Storehouse all of which are designed Important Cultural Properties. Since the castle’s keep no longer exists, it did feel a bit like walking around a ‘film set’ in a samurai film.

 

Kanazawa Castle

dsc_0583

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle Park

 

One of the most popular attractions in Kanazawa is the Myoryuji Temple (aka the Ninja temple) built in 1643. It is so popular that visitors are urged to reserve for their daily tours in advance through their phone (no emails) reservation system. Tours are conducted in Japanese, but there are written guides for foreign visitors. Unlike its name suggests, the temple was not home to the ninjas, but it served as a secret military outpost for the Maeda lords.

The building is constructed with a complicated network of corridors and staircases, traps, secret rooms and escape routes. From the outside it appears to be a two story building, but there are actually four stories with 23 rooms, 29 staircases and a lookout tower.

Despite the troublesome reservation system ( I got my hotel to call the day before), it is still worth visiting this ingenious temple. There are some very inventive and eye-opening ideas and creations, so it is not to be missed.

 

Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple (also known as the Ninja temple)

 

Another main attraction is the The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art designed by SANAA (Sejima and Nishikawa Architects and Associates) in 2004. The minimalist circular building is located within a park with some outdoor sculptures scattered around it.

There were two temporary exhibitions at the time of my visit but they were charged separately, which I thought was rather steep, so I picked only one of them. The most photographed art work here (the only work that can be photographed inside the museum) must be Leandro Erlich‘s ‘Swimming Pool’ (only accessible with a paid ticket) – a deceptive looking ‘pool’ where people appear to be underwater. It is probably the most memorable work at this rather small and average art museum. Personally, I think the architecture outweighs the contents, which is a bit of a shame.

 

kanazawa

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art  leandro erlich swimming pool 

leandro erlich swimming pool  leandro erlich swimming pool

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and its art works include Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Colour activity house’ and Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’

 

One lesser-known attraction is the Yanagi Sori Design Memorial, which is affiliated with Kanazawa College of Art that houses the celebrated industrial designer’s designs and furniture.

Yanagi Sori (1915 – 2011) was an influential Japanese designer who founded the mingei movement that promoted Japanese folk crafts and the beauty of everyday objects. He was also known for his simple, organic and functional designs. His iconic Butterfly stool, which was designed in 1954 after visiting Charles and Ray Eames, was chosen as part of MOMA’s permanent display, and it is still being produced today.

 

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

 

Yanagi taught at Kanazawa College of Art for almost 50 years, and after his death, his design studio donated 7,000 of his designs, products, and materials to Kanazawa College of Art, which gave birth to this free memorial space.

This is not a major tourist attraction (I only saw one other Japanese visitor during my visit), yet it is worth a visit if you are interested in beautiful Japanese designs.

 

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

Yanagi Sori Design Memorial

 

If you love markets and seafood, then Omicho Market will be seen as ‘heaven’. There are about 200 shops and stalls, as well as restaurants and sushi bars focusing on seafood. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner here (which I did), and I could have eaten more if I had a bigger stomach. I love wandering around food markets and it was fascinating to see the variety of seafood available here. If only London’s markets offer 1/4 of the stuff I saw here, I would be visiting the markets daily!

 

Omicho Market  Omicho Market sushi

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market and the amazing seafood

 

To be continued…

 

London’s winter art & design exhibitions (17/18)

Alan Kane for tate

The most playful Christmas lights decorations by Alan Kane for Tate Britain

 

img_7731

Anya Hindmarch’s love letter to London around Valentine’s day: chubby hearts over different parts of the city

 

During the winter period, the best places to hang out in London are probably inside art museums and galleries. Although it is usually a busy period for me, I would still try to squeeze in some ‘art afternoons’ during the week as a way to escape from the stress.

This winter, there were/are numerous inspirational and exceptional exhibitions being shown in the city, and here are some of the ones I particularly enjoyed:

 

Art

I loved the ‘Other Rooms’ exhibition by Milan-based French artist Nathalie Du Pasquier at the Camden Arts centre. It was bold, playful, enticing, and traversed the boundaries between art, graphic design, and architecture. As the founding member of the Memphis group, her works certainly reminds me of the designs by the group’s founder, Ettore Sottsass.

 

img_6646-min  Nathalie Du Pasquier

Nathalie Du Pasquier

Nathalie Du Pasquier

Nathalie Du Pasquier

 

As you walk through the rooms, you might ponder if this is art or design, but then you would realise that her alluring works are beyond these terms… through her works, I saw humour, curiosity, beauty, and hope for the future.

 

The One Two Three Swing! installation by superflex

The One Two Three Swing! installation by superflex

Danish design collective Superflex‘s The One Two Three Swing! installation at Tate Modern

 

Admittedly, I am not always a big fan of Tate‘s mega exhibitions; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the two Russian exhibitions at Tate Modern this winter. Russian avant-garde artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov‘s ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’ was delightful and imaginative, and the maze-like installation ‘Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) 1990’ was the highlight for me.

 

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov   Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’ at Tate Modern

 

To mark the centenary of the October Revolution in 1917, almost every major museums/ institutions in London has had a Russian-related exhibition during the last year. After seeing three different exhibitions at the British Library, the Design Museum, and the Royal Academy of arts, I think that the ‘Red Star Over Russia A revolution in visual culture 1905–55′ at Tate Modern actually surpassing them all.

Perhaps the reason was that the exhibition showcased an extraordinary collection of 250,000 items from the turbulent period collected by one single person – the photographer and graphic designer David King (1943–2016) while he working for The Sunday Times Magazine in the 1970s. Behind all the items on display, there are fascinating or tragic stories which provided contexts and backgrounds for the viewers. Through the rare propaganda posters, prints, posters, letters, photographs and everyday objects, we could see David King’s passion and humanity that the other exhibitions failed to convey.

 

Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55

Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55  Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55

red star over russia

Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55  Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55

Red Star Over Russia A revolution in visual culture 1905–55′ at Tate Modern

 

From Russia to China: I often feel quite mixed about contemporary Chinese art, and I think that the hyperbolic auction prices are mostly inflated and artificial. But I was curious about ‘Zhongguo 2185 (China 2185)‘, an exhibition curated by by Victor Wang featuring ten young artists from China at Sadie Cole. The exhibition title was inspired by Liu Cixin’s 1989 ‘critical utopian’ Science Fiction novel, ‘Zhongguo 2185’, which was written during the rapid socio-political reforms of the 1980s, and remains unpublished to this day – circulating only on the internet.

 

Lu Yang, Power of Will – final shooting

Lu Yang, Power of Will – final shooting

Zhongguo 2185   Zhongguo 2185

 

I found the exhibition quite intriguing and thought-provoking. The most discernible was Xu Zhen‘s satirical ‘Supermarket’ installation located next to the gallery, which was filled with emptied grocery items that can be seen in most Chinese supermarkets. All the items (or packaging) were available for purchase, and I decided to buy an emptied water bottle just for fun. Then the cashier told me that I made a good choice, and said that their drinks were selling exceptionally well at this ‘fake’ shop!

 

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket

‘Zhongguo 2185’ at Sadie Cole

 

The first time I saw American artist Mark Dion‘s work was at Frieze art fair, and I was immediately captivated by his nature-inspired art work. His new retrospective, ‘Theatre of the Natural World’ at the Whitechapel Gallery (until 13th May) provides a fascinating introduction to those who are not familiar with the artist’s work.

 

mark dion

mark dion

mark dion  mark dion

mark dion

mark dion

 

Mark Dion is an explorer, environmentalist, collector and activist, and his love for nature is palpable in his works. The playful exhibition is designed to be like the cabinets of curiosities, where visitors would wander and discover the wonders and oddities of the natural world.

There is an aviary containing 11 pairs of finches and an apple tree in room one, and a recreation of a museum’s backroom on another room upstairs. There is also a big cabinet that contains a vast array of bric-à-brac like bottle caps, fragmented ceramic pieces and shells etc that were excavated from the the river banks lead by Dion and local volunteers for the The Tate Thames Dig project in 1999.

The exhibition is fun and appealing, but not exactly provocative. While some activists/artists like to make strong statements or be persuasive, Mark Dion acts more like an observer and educator, and the exhibition is his invitation for visitors to explore and observe our relationships with nature.

 

mark dion

mark dion

mark dion

mark dion  mark dion

mark dion

Mark Dion’s ‘Theatre of the Natural World’ at Whitechapel gallery (until 13th May)

 

Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness

Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness at Whitechapel gallery (until 8th April)

 

The exhibition that I consider a must-see of the season is ‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style‘ (until 10th June) at the V & A museum. This is a dazzling, comprehensive, and nostalgic exhibition that would transport you to a different era – an era when ocean travel was associated with glamour and luxury.

Honestly, my perception of mega cruise ship holiday was quite negative before seeing the exhibition; perhaps it was more to do with the clientele and how cruise ship holidays are being marketed these days. Although I won’t be rushing to book a cruise ship holiday soon, the exhibition has evoked some kind of curiosity and interest that I have never experienced before.

 

ocean liner  ocean liner

img_7522

ocean liner  ocean liner

img_7539

img_7536

img_7537

 

I think this is one of the best V & A exhibition i have seen in the recent years, and I was quite blown away by the scale and contents. There are rare posters, ship models, wall panels, furniture, dinnerware, fashion etc… and it even features a deck chair and a wooden panel fragment from a door in the first-class lounge on the Titanic – the most famous and tragic cruise ship of all time.

 

img_7546

ocean liner  ocean liner

‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’ (until 10th June) at the V & A museum

 

Big names dominated the art scene in London this winter – including three excellent ones that at the Royal Academy of Arts: Jasper Johns: ‘Something resembling truth’ (a pleasant surprise), Dali/Duchamp (never knew they were friends!), and Matisse in the studio (who never disappoints).

I also enjoyed the small but lovely ‘Rodin and Dance: The essence of movement’ at the Courtauld Gallery, and the more conventional but still brilliant Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. Perhaps it is only in London and Paris where you see solo exhibitions of all these masters within the same period.

 

Illustrations

However, the two exhibitions that I was most eager to see this winter were ‘Winnie-the-Pooh: exploring a classic‘ at the V & A (until 8th April) and ‘Tove Jansson (1914-2001)’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery. It is great to see that illustrations are being treated more seriously, at last.

I just can’t imagine anyone not being moved by Winnie-the-pooh and its adventures. I have always loved this bear (along with other bears like Rupert and Paddington) since i was young. This exhibition proves that its charisma has not diminished after all these years. V & A has done a remarkable job in creating a fun setting that resembles Ashford Forest for children and adults. Yet it was the original sketches by EH Shepard that I was most interested in – they are wonderful and spellbinding. I can’t wait to read the books again.

 

winnie the pooh  winnie the pooh

winnie the pooh

winnie the pooh

winnie the pooh  winnie the pooh

winnie the pooh

‘Winnie-the-Pooh: exploring a classic’ at the V & A museum (until 8th April)

 

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)‘s retrospective at Dulwich Picture Gallery was another pleasant surprise for me. The exhibition was not just about the Moomin characters, it also showed many Tove Jansson’s earlier works as a painter. The 150 works included a selection of self-portraits, paintings and graphic illustrations, which revealed Jansson‘s talents, determination and dark sense of humour. Like Winnie-the-pooh and friends, the Moomin characters are still loved by children (and adults) of this generation. How amazing.

 

tove jansson  tove jansson

‘Tove Jansson (1914-2001)’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Calligraphy

After spending three years learning Arabic calligraphy, I would not miss the opportunity to see an exhibition of a contemporary master of this craft. Like my teacher, Hassan Massoudy is also Iraqi, and has been described by French writer Michel Tournier as the “greatest living calligrapher”. Massoudy studied figurative paintings at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France, which I believe has had an influence on his calligraphy style.

 

img_6818

img_6827  img_6822

 

His solo exhibition ‘Breath, gesture and light‘ at the October art gallery showcased a selection of beautiful and sublime calligraphy works that looked almost like abstract paintings. Yet as I have learnt, it takes years/decades to perfect those strokes, and unlike painting, you cannot rework a stroke (it would simply ruin it), so every stroke has to be precise. It is a very meditative activity that requires concentration, control, patience and skills. Arabic calligraphy is both an art and a craft, and Massoudy is a master of both.

 

img_6834

img_6823  img_6839

 

Design

I tried to visit the Jewish Museum in Camden twice before, but failed to get in because of wrong timing (tip: avoid visiting on a Friday afternoon). Finally, I arranged a visit with a friend to see the ‘Designs on Britain’ exhibition (until 15th April), and we were both impressed by the size of the museum and the curation of the exhibition.

It is a shame that we are living in a day and age when anti-immigrant sentiments seem to be spreading in the Western world. Yet when we look back on the history of the Western world, many developed countries not only relied vastly on immigrants, even their citizens’ ancestors themselves were also immigrants (e.g. the US). This design exhibition reveals how 20th century design in the UK was profoundly shaped by the arrival of pioneering Jewish émigré designers from continental Europe. There are many iconic designs that can be found here, but I think the graphic design part that stood out for me. The vintage posters and logo designs are fantastic – and it made me wonder what would U.K. be like today without the contributions of these and other immigrants? I simply cannot even imagine it.

 

'Designs on Britain'

'Designs on Britain'  'Designs on Britain'

'Designs on Britain'

‘Designs on Britain’ exhibition (until 15th April) at the Jewish musuem

 

It is quite rare to see a major graphic design exhibition in London, so ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?‘ exhibition at the Wellcome collection was overdue and imperative. Curated by graphic designer Lucienne Roberts and design educator Rebecca Wright, founders of publishing house GraphicDesign&, with Shamita Sharmacharja, the exhibition explored the relationship between graphic design and health. There were over 200 objects including posters, signage, packaging, advertisements and printed matters etc.

There were several free workshops that accompanied the exhibition, and I attended two of them: one was on the functions of fonts and another was about creating awareness on dementia. I had great fun at both workshops, and I think the institute is a real gem in this city.

 

wellcome collection

wellcome collection  wellcome collection

wellcome collection  wellcome collection

Graphic design workshops that accompanied ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’ exhibition at the Wellcome collection

 

Photography & film

I have always been a fan of Wim Wenders’ films, especially his earlier works. His photography exhibition ‘Instand Stories. Wim Wender’s polaroids‘ at the Photographer’s gallery revealed his natural gift as a storyteller. The exhibition showcased a selection of his enormous Polaroid collection taken between the early 1970s and mid 80s. Some of Wender‘s photographs are stunning, and it is hard to imagine that they are taken from a Polaroid camera. And even if some of them are out of focus, they are able to convey certain emotions/moods. I found the exhibition very inspiring, and it made me want to use my mother’s recently repaired SX-70 immediately!

 

wim wender's polaroid

wim wender's polaroid  wim wender's polaroid

img_6586-min

‘Instand Stories. Wim Wender’s polaroids’ at the Photographer’s gallery

 

‘Hiroshi Sugimoto: Snow White’ at Marian Goodman featured a collection of photographic works from Japanese artist Sugimoto’s Theatres series since 1978. The series began as an experiment in which Sugimoto used a long exposure to capture the thousands of moving images on a single frame of film. The aftermath of this process is one of a gleaming, pure white screen.

The haunting images of abandoned theatres and grand music halls around the globe suggest impermanence – one of the core principles of Buddhism. In recent years, there has been a growing cultural fascination with abandoned buildings, perhaps the decay, ephemerality, nostalgia, and faded beauty remind us that like these buildings, our time is also limited, and the only thing that we can do is to live fully in the present.

img_6605

img_6604  img_6603

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Snow White at Marian Goodman

 

John Akomfrah: Purple at The curve, Barbican addressed some crucial issues of our times: climate change, human communities and the wilderness. Akomfrah chose to show this through hundreds of hours of archival footage, and newly shot film via six-channel video installation. The videos reveal how human’s relationships with nature have changed over the decades, and the damage caused in a short time period. Nonetheless, no matter how much we want to ‘save’ our planet, the most powerful people in the world don’t seems to care, which is quite disheartening.

 

John Akomfrah: Purple

John Akomfrah: Purple

John Akomfrah: Purple at The curve, Barbican

 

Two German photographers turned out to be the talk of town in 2017. One was Wolfgang Tillmans, whose first exhibition at Tate Modern divided many ( which I wasn’t particularly interested in); and the second was Andreas Gursky, whose retrospective was the first show at the Hayward Gallery after it reopened following a 2-year renovation.

This exhibition (until 22nd April) is about scale… almost all of his prints are mammoth in size, and yet the contents are detailed, beguiling, humourous and insightful. Capturing different corners of the world, his photos show us the beautiful, the ugly, the absurd, the hidden and the unwanted. Gursky is not only a brilliant story teller, he also manipulates, distorts and challenges the viewers. What is reality and what is fake? We live in a day and age where the boundary between the two is blurry and we no longer can trust what we see, hear and read anymore. We can’t even trust our own judgements… so what remains is our intuition.

 

img_7739

hayward gallery

img_7740

img_7741  img_7742

 

Beyond the exhibition, I was surprised to see how little the gallery has changed after the 2-year renovation. I asked one of the gallery’s staff about this, and she struggled to give me a definite answer at first. Later, she said that a new ceiling and skylights have been installed. Two years to change the ceiling and rooftop sounds a bit ridiculous, but there you go. At least, the new exhibition is better than all the ones I have seen before the closure – surely, that’s a good sign.

 

img_7743

img_7755  img_7756

img_7757

img_7745

 

 

The most disappointing exhibitions:

 

Rachel Whiteread‘s retrospective at Tate Britain could have been excellent, and yet it was let down by the curation and lack of contexts. Apart from the area outside of the main exhibition room where her sketches, texts and photos were showcased, there was almost no information on the actual pieces inside. How were visitors supposed to relate to the few concrete boxes piled up on top of each other? Apparently, they were removal boxes from her mother’s house – I only learnt about this in the ‘Imagine’ programme before seeing the exhibition. Unlike ordinary sculptures, her conceptual concrete or glass pieces convey little emotion; they may appeal aesthetically, but without context, they seem cold and empty.

Like many other British artists of her times (think Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin), Rachel Whiteread has always been controversial. People seem to either love her or loathe her. I, on the other hand, feel quite neutral towards her, and I do find some of her concepts and works to be quite bold and thought-provoking. However, this exhibition has not done her much favour, and you can’t even blame her for it. Like the Barbara Hepworth exhibition, I feel that Tate Britain’s curators have missed the mark here.

 

rachel whiteread  rachel whiteread

rachel whiteread

rachel whiteread  rachel whiteread

Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain

 

My friend and I saw  Basquiat: Boom for Real at the Barbican, and we both felt that Jean Michel-Basquiat’s works and talent have been overrated. Could it due to the fact that he died young? It was a popular show, and there were some interesting concepts and works, but that was about it.

 

gilbert & george

 

I am aware that Gilbert and George were relevant decades ago, but in recent years, their work seem repetitive, tired and dare I say – boring. How many times have we seen their trademark multi-panelled ‘photopieces’ featuring the two of them in different outfits or without any?

At theirTHE BEARD PICTURES AND THEIR FUCKOSOPHY exhibition, they added their Fuckosophy – using the ‘f’ word repeatedly… Is this meant to provoke or make us smile? I don’t get it. To me, they are like a once prestigious brand that made its name decades ago, but has failed to innovate or excite people as time passes. They may still be highly respectable in the art world, but honestly, I think it’s about time that they consider their retirement.

 

gilbert & george

gilbert & george

Gilbert & George’s ‘THE BEARD PICTURES AND THEIR FUCKOSOPHY‘ at the White Cube gallery

 

I felt quite disappointed after seeing ‘Beazley Design of the Year 2017′ exhibition at the Design museum. I was surprised by the shortlists and they made me wonder if the design industry has regressed rather than progressed. Yes, there were some interesting designs, but few were ground-breaking or truly innovative. I have visited the exhibitions over the past few years, and I have never felt as disappointed as this year.

The museum’s new home is also a let down. It feels cold, austere, and it doesn’t make me want to linger. I do miss the former smaller but more inviting museum spot by the Thames.

 

designs of the year 2017

Beazley Design of the Year 2017 at the Design Museum

 

I am sure that I visited Agadir in my early 20s during my first trip to Morocco, yet it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I remember Marrakesh, Tangiers, Essaouira and Ouarzazate well – and even the disappointing Casablanca – but I cannot recall much about Agadir. Could it be due to the fact that the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 and what we saw was a soulless city with little imprint?

The exhibition ‘Yto Barrada: Agadir ‘at The curve, Barbican (until 20th May) shows a complex portrait of a city in transition – how it dealt with the challenges after a seismic disaster. The modernist/Brutalist architecture drawn on the black curved walls looks interesting, but I am not sure if these buildings do look as appealing in reality. There are sketches, photographs, texts, crafts, as well as videos; but I felt that the exhibition is slightly incoherent and lacked cogency. Evidently, a lot of research had been conducted for this exhibition, so it is regrettable that it didn’t leave a strong impact on me… just like the city itself.

 

Yto Barrada: Agadir

Yto Barrada: Agadir

Yto Barrada: Agadir  Yto Barrada: Agadir

Yto Barrada: Agadir at The curve, Barbican (until 20th May)