Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Saga of the slides - one woman's battle to ride the tubes

Art attack: Tate Modern
is the site of a new
sliding installation

Tate Modern's Unilever series has been phenomenally successful. This is a series of annual commissions sponsored by Unilever for Tate Modern's cavernous Turbine Hall. Unilever has been sponsoring these commissions since 2000, when the gallery opened, and they have generated a huge amount of interest. Olafur Eliasson, for example, had people sunbathing and picnicing in the glare of a huge 'sun' for his Weather Project installation from October 2003 to April 2004.

The latest artwork in the series is Carston Holler's Test Site: huge, tubular slides wriggle their way down from the upper floors of the gallery. Metal and clear perspex, the slides are pretty impressive simply as sculptures, but they're also interactive. According to Tate Modern's website, Holler is interested in both the 'visual aspect of watching people sliding and the inner spectacle experienced by the sliders themselves, the state of simultaneous delight and anxiety that you enter as you descend'. But more importantly, it's fun!

So, purely in the interests of research, I made my way to the gallery one Saturday a couple of weeks ago. It's free to go on the slides, but for the ones on the top floors you need a ticket. The queue to the ticket desk was huge, so I had a wander around the gallery, thinking it might quieten down. After a rather trippy hour in the newly hung Poetry and Dream room and a good few minutes walking up and down interactive installation Sliding Doors, a new acquisition for Tate Modern and also by Holler, I returned to the ticket desk. The queue was the length of the Turbine Hall. I gave up and went to Wagamama for lunch.

Watch this space for more adventures with Tate Modern slides...

Read more about Holler's commission here:
The Unilever Series: Carston Holler

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Business as usual

A few weeks ago I received an email warning me that ‘they’ want to demolish Borough Market and urging me to sign a petition. I was understandably astonished and outraged at the idea of this historic market being destroyed; and I clicked the link to take me to the petition.

To come: An artist's impression of the new bridge (l) and new Borough High Street entrance into London Bridge (r)

The petition is protesting the building of a viaduct by Thameslink to extend and improve train services out of London Bridge station. The new bridge and entrance into London Bridge from Borough High Street is one of the most spectacular developments. A bit of digging, however, turned up no evidence to back up the claim that Borough Market is under any real threat. The expansion will involve knocking down some buildings, 20 of which are listed.

But the market itself isn’t one of those buildings. In fact the Trustees of Borough Market have moved to distance themselves from the petitions. In response to the current slew of websites, the Trustees have said that they aren’t supporting or promoting the petitions and that they haven’t been consulted over their wording or accuracy.

Philip Peart of Borough Market has been working with Network Rail to negotiate the best possible deal for the market. As he says, the management, traders and many customers of Borough Market will ensure that it remains safe, and he is somewhat upset about the petitions. He is bullish about the future of the market.

The developments will be disruptive, the traders will have to vacate the area for around 18 months and they are losing some of the buildings. The Trustees were served with a compulsory purchase order. These buildings will be knocked down and then rebuilt; they will be rented back to Borough Market. The market would prefer to own the buildings.

But the market will reap some benefits. Network Rail and Southwark Council will help with the temporary move. And Network Rail has agreed to give the market a makeover, with a new roof and new glass entrance. The market has two roofs, one of which is listed. Network Rail will remove this, restore it to its former glory and then replace it. The company will also replace the second roof. Even without the new viaduct, the traders would have to vacate the area to save the roof, and that would be at the market’s expense.

Preliminary works will begin July 2008, with the building starting January 2009. It’s a fairly straightforward project, and Philip Peart will be working with Network Rail to overcome any problems, according to him ‘the idea that the market is under threat is rubbish’. As much a possible, it will be business as usual for both traders and customers!

Monday, 12 February 2007

Getting to know you part 2 - A walk on the wild side

If bus tours are a great way of seeing London without any effort, walking tours are a way of getting to know something very specific with slightly more effort. Whatever your interest there’s probably a walk for it. Jack the Ripper, pubs along the River Thames, Victorian London, the British Museum, ghosts, even the Beatles are all covered in one walk or another.

Jack the lad: A victim is found (Source: London Walks)

The most well-known company is London Walks. They run hundreds of walks every year, whatever the weather and whatever the date. There are even walks on Christmas Day. Their most famous is the Jack the Ripper walk, one of the guides for which is Donald Rumbelow. Internationally renowned as the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald was the man Johnny Depp turned to when researching the Ripper for his film, From Hell. Too bad he didn’t pay as much attention to the accent. Think about it though, by shaking this man’s hand, you’ve almost touched Jack Sparrow.

Time please: The George Inn is London's last remaining galleried inn

I haven’t done the Ripper walk, but I have done several others and I’ve never been disappointed. I met an American couple on the Along the Thames Pub Walk. They were on their third trip to London and they told me they made a point of doing at least one walk every time. I saw them the next day in Greenwich, small world. London Walks’ guides are knowledgeable and entertaining. These are people that clearly enjoy what they’re doing. Graham of the Ghosts of the Old City Walk really warmed to his subject on a darkening winter’s night. It wasn’t just a walk, it was performance.

And for the less lively of you out there, don’t let the word ‘walk’ put you off. Leisurely stroll with plenty of breaks would be more accurate, just not as punchy.

London Walks

Thursday, 1 February 2007

The market place

Borough Market has been a part of South London for centuries. It recently celebrated 250 years on the same site, but has been in the area since Roman times, when no doubt the invading armies were delighted to find this ready source of Saxon snacks. Today, Borough is famed across London for its organic produce. It’s also surrounded by restaurants and cafes serving dishes made from Borough-bought produce; it truly is a foodie heaven. It’s beloved of Jamie Oliver, who is a regular at Cranberry, which sells nuts and dried fruits, and wild boar specialists Sillfield Farm. But don’t let that put you off.

Pollen count: The scent of flowers permeates the market

Farmers trade alongside specialist stalls, such as Spanish Brindisa and L’artisan du Chocolat and you'll find fruit and vegetables, fresh-cut flowers, breads, cheeses, cakes and all kinds of meat Not a farmers’ market as such (because of the presence of the more exotic produce), much of the food is still locally produced and the farmers’ stalls in particular will be able to tell you exactly where that bunch of carrots came from. Because the fresh produce is organic, it’s seasonal; at the moment you’ll find lots of root veg, apples and pears.

When I visited recently the place was packed, it’s probably best to arrive early if crowds drive you to distraction. And bring cash with you – there are ATMs close by but the queues are really quite depressing. The market itself is wonderful; it’s the kind of place that the word ‘bustling’ was invented for. It’s awash with a cornucopia of smells – those flowers, freshly baked bread, the aroma of cooking meat, all blend into one surprisingly mouth-watering scent.

It would be easy to spend a fortune. The stalls are all piled high with goodies, and some of it is quite expensive, especially some of the rarer cuts of meat. I managed to buy nothing more than some bread, olives and a chocolate brownie. And it was all delicious. Proper bread is a world away from supermarket-bought stuff, so who cares that it costs twice as much? Besides, this way the money goes to the producers, not supermarket shareholders.

But back to that brownie. Oh, the brownie! Soft, sticky, moist and more chocolaty than a visit to Cadbury World. The stall was so laden down with them I'm surprised it didn't buckle under the weight. I’m going back on Saturday just to get another one. Or two. If only to relieve that stall...

Borough Market