It feels like it has been months since my London trip but in reality it isn’t even one month since I was there! It has been a long, long time since I lived in London but the second I stepped off the train there was something comfortably familiar about its rhythm, pace and vibrancy. Eager to get started, I left St Pancras and made straight for the Wellcome Collection.
There were two special exhibitions on – States of Mind and THIS IS A VOICE. I’ve mentioned previously on the blog my own sleep misadventures (including, but not limited to, talking, walking and vivid dreaming) so States of Mind was of particular interest to me.
Exploring phenomena such as somnambulism, synaesthesia, and disorders of memory and consciousness, the exhibition will examine ideas around the nature of consciousness, and in particular what can happen when our typical conscious experience is interrupted, damaged or undermined.
That said, THIS IS A VOICE was also fascinating and included some captivating sounds and melodies, not to mention a look at the role voice plays.
I had lunch and then headed off to Tower Bridge to find my hotel. Once checked in, I realised I had a couple of hours to walk along the river and perhaps get a quick look at Tate Modern. The river walk was fantastic and oddly quiet until I neared my destination so I took my time. Tate Modern is a striking building with the new extension really helping it stand out proudly along the river so, of course, I took pictures.
— Donna Brown (@_mrs_b) August 2, 2016
Despite my leisurely pace, I still had well over an hour before Tate Modern closed, so I started working my way round some of the collection but decided to save the special exhibitions until I had more time. It’s an incredible space with so much to see and it just can’t be rushed. (In the end, even a return visit and spending over 5 hours there in total wasn’t enough!)
I started the second day at the National Gallery and before I knew it, was making note upon note about things I was thrilled to see. There are too many to list here – I will add some to my Padlet of discovery before too long, I’m sure – but this was a particular favourite:
I also saw George Shaw’s exhibition, My Back to Nature.
A former Turner Prize-nominee, Shaw is renowned for his highly detailed approach and suburban subject matter, and for his idiosyncratic medium – Humbrol enamel paint, typically used to colour model trains and aeroplanes.
Alluding to the theme of woodland in the collection, ‘My Back to Nature’ resonates with Shaw’s own experience of walking in the forest near his home town as a teenager, with the feeling that “something out of the ordinary could happen at any time there, away from the supervision of adults”.
This work is striking for its detail and Shaw really does manage to hint at so many potential different stories in each of his works.
There was a lovely showing of Dutch flower painting, including some stunning work by Rachel Ruysch. This use of colour and the featuring of, amongst other flowers, the tulip (one of my favourites), made for a lovely display.
I then headed to the British Museum, eager to see the Sunken Cities exhibition. Security measures were very much in place but full credit to the museum staff who kept things moving along very efficiently.
I had underestimated how big the museum was and quickly realised that this, too, was not somewhere I wanted to rush through. Instead, I stayed for hours. The Sunken Cities exhibition in itself was mindblowing – to think so much has been uncovered and yet so much remains to be retrieved! – but in general the vast array of things to see and appreciate was remarkable.
Now many hours into my day, I once again returned to Tate Modern. It was late opening, which meant I could go and spend the time on the exhibitions that they really deserved. First off was Georgia O’Keeffe and I had been thinking about this exhibition for months. It did not disappoint me. I have long since been fascinated by her beautiful flower paintings and how vibrant and enveloping they are. They were thrilling to see together in this wonderful space but I had a new delight to appreciate: every other picture. From her bones to her skies to her landscapes, everything she created just encompasses fold upon fold of beauty and colour. I felt like I had been given a gift to be able to wander round that exhibition. It was truly incredible.
I then moved on to Mona Hatoum’s exhibition. I am still thinking about this one, a lot, which I suspect is a good thing.
Two of my favourite pieces were + and – and Impenetrable (both of which you can see in the video). Bizarrely, although Light Sentence is featured in the video, I didn’t see it. I can only assume I took a wrong turn somewhere (which would be a very ‘me’ thing to do). In general, I found this very clever and provocative. It has stayed with me and I hope it will stay with me for a long time.
I saw many, many things during my time at Tate Modern and I still managed to run out of time even after a total of 5 hours there across my visits. Now, with the extension, it is a massive space that really requires a day there. When I’m next in London, that will be my plan. In the meantime, I made lots of notes, as per usual, and had I done nothing else in London other than visiting Tate Modern, it would still have been a thoroughly worthwhile trip!
Natural History Museum
I was already feeling a bit sad on day three but I knew I still had a few hours to make the most of so I deposited my bag at the train station and was queuing at the Natural History Museum in time for opening. Even so, it was still a lengthy queue but it was worth the wait. I was hoping to see the Colour and Vision exhibition at the very least, bearing in mind I wanted to cross the road to the V&A Museum before heading back to London St Pancras. As it happened, I managed to see that and work round quite a few other things.
Colour and Vision is a lovely exhibition looking at colour in many forms and featuring some beautiful species and ways of looking at colour. I particularly liked one video where a gentleman who couldn’t see colour discussed the beauty of a greyscale sunset.
Follow a 565-million-year journey through the eyes of nature. Uncover how vision first evolved and how colour in animals suddenly became the difference between life and death.
Marvel at nature’s spectacular palette and see how a rainbow of pigments and iridescence can be used as a warning, a disguise or even an irresistible invitation. Colour in nature is a big influence for art, design and innovation.
I wish I’d had more time there but it was great to see some of the species, drawings and information displays and I did have a nice couple of hours there.
Finally, it was time to head to the V&A Museum before my train. Realistically, I knew I didn’t have enough time but I figured if I could see two of the special exhibitions – Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear and Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design – I could finish the trip on a real high. Obviously, these are two very different subjects but both had a focus on design and how things change over time so they weren’t as far removed from one another as you might imagine. That said, I suspect Ove Arup had the comfort of females far more in mind than many early underwear manufacturers!
There is a lot to see at the museum and thankfully I did manage to see a little more than those two exhibitions but, alas, my time ran out (even skipping lunch for cake did not do!) but not before I had managed to squeeze in The Camera Exposed, which also meant I discovered Calum Colvin. Definitely a win!
And that was London. A blur, now I look back, but a wonderful one. I know some people might think I’m missing out by not doing things during the evenings on these trips but exploring during the day and working at night has enabled me to have a very full summer. Also, I’m already exhausted by the time evening arrives. I’m not sure how much more excitement I could take!
Instead, I’ll just carry on enjoying these discovery days. Not so many left now this summer but I’m now very determined that this era of discovery is not going to be confined to a summer project. Watch this space…