Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made several trips to London recently. We continue to provide some increasingly peripheral help to Middle Son’s (MS’s) recovery there but there are other excuses for visits to the capital too.
Last week Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) were playing Charlton, a London team a couple of divisions higher than ‘my’ club. I took advantage of my retirement flexibility to pop up to London to meet up with Youngest Son (YS) and a bunch of his friends from university and from Australia for a few drinks by the river, the cup game itself, and then rather more drinks than I needed afterwards. FGR were surprisingly victorious in the game and the evening was a lot of fun. The Australian contingent maintained their reputation for their loud love of sport.
Next day, LSW joined me in London to take advantage of Eldest Son (ES) being away at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with his Scottish girlfriend and therefore leaving the Barbican flat free for a few days. The flat is always a comfortable and central base from which to explore cultural and culinary variety in London. Despite not planning particularly well, we had a full and interesting time including a great ‘small plates’ dinner at one our favourite buzzy restaurants, Popolo.
We had breakfast and coffee in the excellent Today Bread in Walthamstow with MS. Then LSW and I headed off to Tate Modern to see the Van Gogh exhibition. We had attempted to visit this show a couple of weeks previously but had arrived to find it closing due to the dreadful incident of a teenager pushing a youngster over a balcony. Now, on arrival, we discovered that the exhibition had finished earlier in the week; poor planning!
Not to worry though; we switched attention to the Olafur Elliason exhibition called ‘In Real Life’ and we were both impressed. I recalled seeing his installation in the main Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery over 15 years ago. That was a strange ethereal work called ‘The Weather Project’ that filled the hall with a sickly, pervasive yellow light. I wondered if the exhibition would be more of the same, especially as we emerged from the lift to the entrance into an unforgiving light display. In practice, the exhibition contained some of the themes of the previous work I had seen but it was much more than a few tricks of the light.
The exhibition opens with a large, varied array of models, ideas and experiments in a huge ‘Model Room’. This whets the appetite for what is to come and indicates some of the themes of his work around nature, sustainability, geometry and technology that are to follow in what is a varied and child-friendly show.
The closest exhibit to The Weather Project is a 39 metre-long corridor filled with fog of several different colours and ending with an impenetrable white glare, in which you see fellow visitors looming up alongside and in front of you. It was very unsettling.
What I liked about the exhibition was the variety, the invitation to delve as deeply or not into the material as one wanted, and the engagement with current issues such as the climate emergency. The exhibit relating to the melting glaciers in Iceland was particularly moving and the exhibits on Greenland tied in with recent articles I have read about ‘ecological grief’ – in this case, the sadness and stress Greenlanders feel for the disappearing ice on their land.
I also really enjoyed the exhibits proposing solutions and not just setting out the environmental and social challenges we face. An example was that showing Eliasson’s ‘Little Sun’ project on provision of pretty, portable, solar-powered lights. This is related to, or at least similar to, the devices that the charity Solar Aid provide to third-world families currently reliant on dangerous and polluting kerosene for night light. It was art with a grounded and practical purpose.
LSW and I also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition on Food: ‘FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate’. This was another exhibition that could be viewed at a variety of levels of detail. It was rather sprawling across a huge topic spanning composting and waste (probably the most interesting section of the exhibition), farming, trading and food miles, packaging, and eating.
Each section set out the current challenges the world faces given its growing population and our growing expectations for food quality and range. It then highlighted some sample projects showing how some are trying to meet these challenges.
On the side of the challenges, for example, there was a video showing the transport of a banana from Ecuador across 14 days and 8,800km to an Icelandic supermarket where it is sold for 20 (Euro) cents. Another video, similar to those I have seen before, showed the horror of factory animal farming. LSW and I hesitated before choosing to eat roast chicken as usual this weekend just gone!
On the positive side, there were waterless toilets, tableware made from coffee grounds, projects in South America preserving heritage maize species, and ideas of bringing farms (e.g. vertical farms) into cities to reduce transport demand. There were exhibits underlining the importance of cooking and eating as a social activity and of eating local food that is in season rather than expecting everything all the time. It was an interesting exhibition but I’m not sure it accelerated my progress – already gradually being made I’m glad to say – towards buying and eating food more sustainably.
LSW and I are now planning a further few days in London before the end of the month. Part II of our various activities there coming up!