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Top 10 free monthly culture evenings in London

May 14, 2010

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As you may know, hundreds of museums up and down the land are about to throw open their night-time doors for Museums at Night weekend. It’s a rare chance to snoop about pretending you’re Ben Stiller in that awful Night at the Museum film.

But quite a few museums and galleries in London hold monthly late nights. It’s just tricky remembering when they’re on and fitting them in. Which is why I thought I’d compile my top ten list of free monthly cool stuff to do of an evening:

1. Sir John Soane’s Museum. First Tuesday of each month. 6-9pm. Turn up (expect to queue) for a special candlelit opening. It’s dark, cavernous and mysterious in there during the day so it must be very eerie at night.
Next late: Tuesday 1st June

2. First Thursdays. First Thursday of each month. More than 100 East end galleries and museums stay open until 9pm for free.
Next late: Thursday 3rd June

3. Late at Tate (Britain). First Friday of each month. Wine, priceless art, formal galleries, bean bags, cutting edge music. An evening at Tate Britain can be rather surreal but the feeling that you’ve been allowed into a secret party is most enjoyable.
Next late: Grizedale Arts, Friday 4th June

4. Science Museum Lates Last Wednesday of each month. The Science Museum never fails to disappoint with an engaging evening of talks, interactive experiments, a pub quiz and even Silent Disco. The themes are often not what you’d expect either (read my most popular blog about such an evening here).
Next late: The Science of Genius, Wednesday 26th May

5. Tango lessons at Spitalfields market. Varies – mainly last Thursday of each month. 6.30pm. Learn to Tango al fresco at Bishops Square.
Next late: Thursday 1 July

6. Deptford Last Fridays. Last Friday of each month. Many of Deptford’s cool galleries and spaces open late, with performances, a chance to meet the artists and an after party at the Old Police Station. There’s a paid-for tour but print out a map to do it yourself for free.
Next late: Friday 28th May

7. Critical Mass. Last Friday of each month. My wildcard. Not strictly culture but you can admire London’s buildings on a group bike jaunt…destination unknown.
Next late: Friday 28th May

8. V&A Friday Late. Last Friday of each month. The Queen of late night openings, the V&A really go to town to provide well thought out evenings of fun workshops and events. Previous themed nights include a Renaissance ball and playgrounds. Events are extremely popular and book up quickly so get there early.
Next late: Dress Sense, Friday 28th May.

9. Natural History Museum. TBA. The museum stays open late each month (or so a friend told me). Hopefully summer openings should be announced soon.

10. ??? This is where I need your help. I’ve racked my brains and can’t think of a tenth. Anyone know of one? It has to be free and monthly (I was tempted to include the Barbican which opens late each Thursday or Tate Modern which is late on Fridays and Saturdays but as they’re weekly they don’t count). Help!

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A Difference in Vision

May 10, 2010

I first noticed Rosalind Davis‘ mixed media paintings last year at the Deptford X art festival. I was drawn by the vibrant colours and clever use of fabric to create collage pieces which she then paints and embroiders over.

So it was a real pleasure to be shown round her new solo show A Difference in Vision by Rosalind herself at Bloww gallery off Regent Street recently.

The above piece, from which the show takes its title, is oil and embroidery on vintage print cotton sateen. It depicts the huge Robin Hood estate in Poplar, East London which was designed in the 1960s and condemned in the 2000s (much to the dismay of many leading architects campaigning to preserve it as a modernist masterpiece).

What I really like about Rosalind’s work is the surprising contrast between her subject matter of brutalist architecture with the materials she employs to depict them – florid fabric and delicate hand stitching – to create otherworldly, surreal pieces. “I enjoy mark making with embroidery,” says Rosalind. “It’s more controlled and emphasises the fragility of our buildings and of our own existence.”

Rosalind meticulously researches the buildings she paints by photographing them and talking to their residents where possible (many of the buildings are derelict).

This one above called 26 Remain refers to the 26 remaining families in the Ferriers estate in Kidbrooke, Greenwich.

While you may recognise Elephant and Castle’s famously dilapidated, and soon to be demolished, shopping centre in this piece, Belong Nowhere.

It can take Rosalind between one to four months to execute a piece. Often sourcing the fabric becomes a mission in itself as she likes to incorporate material which reference the period of the buildings’ construction.

Her work highlights the breakdown of social housing, community and the overall failings of modernity. And it certainly lives up to this show’s title. I really like Rosalind’s unusual, thorough and intricate approach which gives layers of meaning to each picture. Go see!

A Difference in Vision runs until 9pm, this Saturday 15th May. After that you can see new and existing work from Rosalind Davis (and two other artists) at a new exhibition Wilderness which runs at Core Gallery in Deptford from Saturday 22nd May.

Cameron’s Common People

May 6, 2010

I’m round at a friend’s for an election party and he’s just played me this. I wish I’d seen it and posted it earlier. Brilliant wordplay.

Let the excitement begin!

Ron Arad at The Barbican

May 5, 2010

I finally made it to maverick designer Ron Arad’s Restless exhibition at the Barbican on bank holiday Monday. It was definitely worth the wait. Much has been written about the Chalk Farm-based designer’s show by the nationals (inThe Independent and The Guardian for instance) and on blogs such as the Londonist and the Happiness Project London so I won’t go over old ground.

I took plenty of pictures, so I’ll share a few of those instead. The interplay of changing light reflected in some of the chairs and in their shadows was absolutely stunning.

See more pictures on my Flickr page. There’s a £2 discount if you book tickets online. The exhibition runs until Sunday 16th May.

Fencing makes you sexy

April 26, 2010

If my last post wasn’t enough to entice you to take up the honourable and traditional sport of fencing then this video might seal it. The opportunity to become a sex god/goddess is within your reach as subtly demonstrated in this ad for a deodorant named…Sex by Italian fencer and former Olympic Champion Aldo Montano.

Thinking of trying something new? Fence!

April 22, 2010

Ready…en guard….fence! I hear these words every Thursday night (when I’m not slacking off) at my fencing club in Streatham. I can verify that there’s nothing like a fencing bout, akin to a physical form of chess, to cure you of crapdayitis. Because you’re concentrating on footwork, defending yourself from a waving (but blunt!) blade, and attacking and anticipating your opponent’s next move, there’s no time to worry about that report you haven’t written. It’s a great way of switching off and focusing on something completely different.

I think I’d been watching Kill Bill when I decided I wanted to know how to handle a sword….Donning a cool yellow jumpsuit had a certain appeal too (an all-white kit is almost as good). So I enrolled on an eight week’s beginner’s course and a few years later I’m still hooked.

While the history of the sport can be traced back to antiquity, its modern origins lie in 15th Century Spain. The Italians then took it up to great success inventing many of the positions used today. By the 16th Century duelling had become so popular that more noblemen died this way than in war.

The French then took up the sword, literally, when Queen Catherine de Médicis invited many of the Italian fencing masters over in the 16th Century. They subsequently invented the lighter training weapon (the foil which is the weapon I use, the others are the heavier epeé and sabre) and right of way (a set of attack and defence rules which made fencing safer and resulted in fewer fatalities during duelling). The French invention of the fencing mask in the 18th Century made the sport safer still. And of course these days we have all sorts of protective gear to make sure no one receives more than the occasional bruise, so there are no worries on that front.

So if you fancy becoming part of an ancient, graceful art why not enrol for a beginner’s course at a club? You can find your nearest club on the British Fencing Association website.

I’m biased of course but if you live in London my club, Streatham Fencing Club, is very friendly and welcoming. Our summer beginner’s course started tonight but it’s not too late to sign up if you fancy trying something new. We provide the kit each week so you don’t have to invest in equipment until you’re sure it’s the sport for you. And you never know, if you discover an unexpected talent there’s still time to qualify for 2012.

Grace Kelly Style Icon at V&A

April 19, 2010

Alfred Hitchcock famously described Hollywood legend Grace Kelly as a “snow covered volcano”. Outwardly demure and born with an innately cool and classic style but inwardly smouldering with passion (much like me…if only!). She had affairs with many of her (often much older) leading men from Clark Gable to Bing Crosby. However, her millionaire Irish immigrant father was very controlling, forcing her to end relationships he considered unsuitable.

When she won her Oscar for The Country Girl he was quoted as saying “I simply can’t believe Grace won. Of the four children, she’s the last one I’d expected to support me in my old age.” Grace Kelly’s driving motivation to become a successful actress and subsequently one of the most famous women in the world was her father’s approval. It was also why her lovers, before she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, were often father figures.

I tell you all this because you won’t find any mention of it at the V&A’s new exhibition Grace Kelly: Style Icon which opened on Saturday. According to the blurb the exhibition “explores, through her surviving clothes, the story of her transformation from Hollywood actress to a princess of one of Europe’s oldest royal families.” As most of the dresses must be on loan from said Royals, the Grimaldi family, we get the official version of Grace Kelly’s life.

The result is a chance to see some of her most famous outfits with supporting pictures, film reels, magazine covers and posters but without a real insight into her personal life and what made her so enigmatic and charismatic.

Still, it’s fascinating to see the gorgeous tiny-waisted costumes she wore like this dress…:

…when she played the imperious Tracy Lord in High Society, even if it has faded to grey from the baby blue of the film. High Society was her last film. She never made another after moving to Monaco aged 27. Tragic.

The focus is firmly on frocks with dresses from her early Hollywood years such as the classic black chiffon dress she wore in one of my all time favourite films Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Then there are haute couture suits, dresses and coats from her princess years from designers such as Dior and this classic Chanel suit:

It seems Grace nearly always wore white gloves (there are pairs for sale in homage in the tiny shop tucked away at the back) because of her Irish Catholic upbringing. It brought back memories of hot itchy hands when I had to wear them at my confirmation.

I had to laugh when my friend turned to me as we were about to go in and asked completely deadpan: “Do you think her incredible beauty was a handicap?” Oh yes definitely, I replied. Such a handicap she was one of the most photographed women in the world, became a princess and lived in a palace. That said, apparently Grace discovered Prince Rainier’s short temper and tendency to fall asleep when bored (often in public) a few years into their marriage. And if she had ever divorced him, he would have retained custody of their three children. However, she died in a car accident on a hair-pin bend aged 52 (look out for the picture of her and another very young Princess who met the same fate in a car crash in France).

If you like fashion, and more importantly if you value style, this exhibition is worth seeing.

It runs until 26th September and tickets can be booked here.