Tag Archives: Ai Weiwei

On the Switch House….my love for the Tate 52/100

DSC_0037_2Faithful readers, you know how I appreciate a good staircase. Here is another one to add to the list: the gorgeous, swirling, creamy staircase at the brand new, just opened, Switch House wing of the Tate Modern. 8 years in the making, this extension gives the Tate the opportunity to showcase less traditional forms of art, as in not just things that hang on walls. Pieces that are massive or interactive or include living things like horses and parrots and people. Art that is much much further outside the proverbial box than what is now being called the Boiler House, the old power station we have known and loved. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. My children and I have studied the models across from the cloakroom, watched the earthmovers and the cranes and the ever-expanding building site and then suddenly, the skeleton of a building being filled in and filled out. The anticipation was delicious. Made all the more because by the time the doors were flung open on the dot of 4 pm, on 14 June, for those of us standing in a long queue, clutching Member’s Invites, it had been raining, monsooning, for hours. The soaking I got in the morning hadn’t dried by the repeat at lunchtime. Everything was wet. And my hair was beyond repair. Nothing to do but wrap myself into another world and allow the senses that respond to light and beauty and imagination and shock and all the things that make my pulse race, actually anything but the sensation of wet feet and clammy clothes. Because the Tate has always had a cocoon like quality for me, and this new space delivered beautifully.

I first visited the Tate in 1989, before its current groovy location on bankside, when I was DSC_0039_1spending a term at LSE. I still remember the sensation of seeing Matisse’s Snail for the first time. As though all beauty and colour and joy had been contained in one enormous canvas, just for me. I became obsessed with it. Returned to it time and time and time again. Hung a poster of it in my university room. Even once reconstruced a small version to send as a card to a friend. I felt I had been given the keys to the most wonderful, exciting, inspiring, challenging castle….a castle I moved into and never moved out. Art, good art, so often takes on a life of its own. What starts as a particular vision by a single artist becomes, over time, part of a collective memory. Collective, but yet personal. Sometimes the official interpretation of a piece holds its meaning, but more often it morphs into something much, much different, as time and history and experience influence how we respond. This is all very very good stuff. For me, the Matisse was the start of what has become a passionate love of art. Of art that I react to, that makes me feel and think and absorbs itself  into my own personality. I heard an interview with the British pop star Corinne Bailey Rae, who said that once a song is shared with the public it isn’t hers anymore, because it becomes part of other people’s experience and interpretation. That is the beauty of art, that reaction can be on such a personal, visceral level, regardless of the original. It is why places like the Tate are so popular. Why people can spend what seems like ages in front of a piece, just looking. And why kids love it. In 2009, Tate’s Turbine Hall held Miroslaw Balk’s How It Is, a enormous container whose interior falls DSC_0038_2were covered in soft black flock which, once entered, left the visitor in total darkness. The experience was supposed to give one the sense of utter despair, to remind us of terrible terrible times in history, our own emptiness etc, etc. But that is just what the write up said. It was a huge black box. And it was half-term, always a testing time for parents and children, and those trainers with flashing lights were all the rage. We visited the installation many times. And each time it was filled, FILLED with shrieking children, dashing heedlessly, happily round and round, little lights flashing, delighted that they had been released into such a crazy kind of space. Like the most awesome game of It of all time. And when they wanted to come out, they lay down and rolled down the ramp. How great is that. Exhausted parents slumped against the Hall walls, watching from a distance, relieved and grateful. Nevermind existential fear and doubt, this was the happiest place in London. The opportunity for cliche irresistible: hope out of darkness manifest. That is art.

Mark Rothko is an artist whose work is forever being reinterpreted; I won’t toss my own ideas into that ring. But the Rothko Seagram Murals room has such a sense of sacred space I can actually feel my heart slow and then expand as soon as I walk in. A few times I have been fortunate enough to have it to myself. It is like being kissed passionately by someone you love, that feeling that nothing else matters, that everything is going to be fine, that peace is indeed possible. That is art.

But these are all things you already know. What of the new space? It is fantastic. So fresh it still smells of paint. And the art…whew…I’m not sure I have the vocabulary. I walked into the first room and was so blown away I just blurted out “wow, this is some crazy stuff.” The guard standing nearby answered, without hesitation, “I think it is all beautiful.” Well said sir, well said. There is much to admire in the Switch House, but perhaps my favourite was on the 3rd level. The Artist Rooms, a space set aside for solo exhibitions of artists DSC_0043_2already in the collection. First up is Louise Bourgeois. I love her work. I adore her much larger than life spiders. Yes, yes, I know they are often called Maman (French for mother) and carry with them all that difficult mother stuff. But not for me. I think they are fantastic and not the least bit threatening. I particuarly like the way their shadow beomes part of the image. But then I don’t have mother “issues,” my own is pretty bloody marvelous.  And I am not afraid of spiders. Quite theDSC_0045_2 contrary actually. They are protected creatures in my house. It is utterly forbidden to kill them. I watched with great pleasure as my husband carefully coaxed one out the bathroom window recently. It think they are magical, powerful, stunning things and what I wouldn’t do for a line of Louise B’s spiders and their shadows along my wall…

And standing between the old and the new wings, high on the bridge, is Tree 2010 by Ai Weiwei. His triumphant show at the RA made devotees of us all. And there it stands proudly, a country in all its many parts. Factured but whole. Just like us. A metaphor for life. And living. And the reason we need art.


Kissing Kapoor and other gifts…28/100

12003315_10153640090638377_2827318649114283287_nMy love for London is not the wise, compassionate, made sensible by experience kind of love. But the passionate, impulsive, reckless, all-encompassing love of the utterly smitten. The totally besotted. The completely infatuated. A love that convinces itself it is requited, because to believe otherwise is not possible. So when something lovely happens to me in London, and lots and lots and lots of lovely things happen to me in London, it isn’t because I am seeing magic in the ordinary, or that I am just in the right place at the right time, or that a series of actions has a logical result, rather I believe it is a thoughtful gift from my equally enamoured lover. London. A city that is so of the moment its gender is fluid. Sometimes definitely female. Other times dizzingly male. And all for me, me, me, me.

2015-09-17 09.46.55The start of the academic year always makes me feel a bit low, back to school blues. So I was delighted when a friend told me that Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor were going to be walking, a stroll “as they take every day,” explained Kapoor, from the Royal Academy on Piccadilly through the streets of London to Olympic Park. Certainly not a protest, as that would get Weiwei in trouble, but a small, everyday experience as an act of solidarity with refugees worldwide. And the public was welcome to join. I didn’t need to be asked twice. What a thing to be near two men for whom I have such respect and admiration, and in the case of Anish Kapoor, a serious crush. On such a beautiful, sunny day as well, following what felt like weeks of pouring rain. Obviously I didn’t think any of this was simply coincidence or even the power of social media, but yet another offering of love from London

Like many others, I first became aware of Ai Weiwei when he did the incredible Sunflower Seeds installation at the Tate Modern. Millions of handmade, hand painted ceramic sunflower seeds spilled out over the Turbine Hall. I took my children to see it many times. Sadly, the Tate decided against allowing people to walk through the seeds, citing something silly about health and safety. More likely they were afraid we would fill our pockets and leave the floor bare all too quickly. I later read that thousands of extras were made for exactly this scenario, yet we were still kept behind a rope. Nevertheless it was an extraordinary sight. And a fantastic visual for the explanation of a totalitarian regime and the people that live under such a government. Weiwei’s subsequent detention and increased political outspokenness have made him as famous an activist, if not more so, than artist. A true inspiration.

With Anish Kapoor it is much less intellectual and more tactile, visceral. From the first moment of experiencing his work I was hooked. I went to his 2009 show at the RA many, many times. All that red wax made me week at the knees. I went out of the way to visit his Sky Mirror in the City, in 2011. My husband convinced me to travel to Chicago for a weekend, 3 years ago, on the basis that I could spend time with Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. I can spot his work at impossible distances. I might even be able to sense when his work is nearby, such is my fondness for it. And while I would happily travel distances to see his art, I never once considered that I could meet him. Let alone kiss him…ooh London…

I was certainly not alone is my wish to walk with these two great men, and so a gaggle of the interested and the curious, along with an unfortunate crowd of paparazzi set off. For the first part of the walk I was joined by my up for an anything friend Lucy. She left me at Spitalfields for the circus (not kidding) and Sara my art mad friend joined. Sharing adventures with people of passion make things doubly fun. And doubly funny. The sky was blue, everyone was friendly and talkative, London glistened and twinkled in the sunshine and on and on we walked, not necessarily in a straightforward way. Through Westminster and the City. Along Brick Lane and Victoria Park and finally into the Queen Elizabeth Park, site of the 2012 Olympics, and finishing under the Kapoor Orbit, a structure in which I have done yoga and visited so many times I have an annual pass (not kidding). 2015-09-26 20.46.02-2 2015-09-17 13.44.36And it was here that I saw Anish Kapoor standing on his own and I launched myself at him. First gushing about how much I loved his work and how much of it I had seen and how I follow what he does….you know, typical overly enthusiastic fan stuff. And then, emboldened by the fact that he seemed pleased to hear all of this, I asked if I could have my picture taken with him. He agreed and the kissing began. Back and forth and back and forth and then Sara joined, why wouldn’t she, and he said “I have never been kissed so much before,” which made us all laugh and laugh and start again. One long, glorious, lovey-dovey, adrenaline rush. With photographs. Obviously.

2015-09-17 13.44.43 HDRWe also had a moment with Weiwei. Being the social media king that he is, he took Sara’s phone and said simply “I take photo,” which he did. And then disappeared. A most wonderful day indeed! 12043147_10153640090663377_1959867548887899261_n

Only on reflection on the Tube home did I understand what London had really given me that day. It wasn’t the chance to be near these two men or even the opportunity to have moments, albeit it a pretty fantastic several moments, with them. Instead London allowed me to meet two heroes. Always a dangerous thing. But they didn’t disappoint. Quite the opposite. Ai Weiwei was stoic and kind. Anish Kapoor divine. Simply, totally and utterly divine. No wonder his art is so sexy. I didn’t come down off my high for days. And days and days.

At times like this, even I don’t believe I get to live this life. Thank you, thank you my passionate, beautiful London.

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