1) Greenwich + Docklands International Festival Before the Sultan's Elephant there was the GDIF, a grand gala of theatre and spectacle on the streets of East-ish London. This is the festival's tenth year, and last night it was Bow's turn for a touch of international glamour avec "Les Roues de Couleurs". Normally at half past nine on a Saturday night Roman Road is home to pubbers, kebabbers and bulging teenagers eating chips. They were still here last night, but swept up in a smiling crowd come to watch semi-naked Frenchmen rolling giant wheels down this narrow shopping street. Imagine if you will pairs of fabric-swathed metal hoops, each joined by a central axle and spun round by a human operator wearing little more than a loincloth and caked-on glittery body paint. Hire some blokes in yellow safety goggles to run around waving industrial strength flashlights and the odd burning torch, stick a big PA system on the front of a tractor pumping out upbeat techno, and top the whole thing off by projecting a series of giant faces onto nearby buildings. That's what thousands of us enjoyed down Roman Road last night, with the added spectacle of several exploding suitcases (roughly one every ten minutes) shooting a shower of tissue paper into the sky. The experience was unexpectedly entrancing, with a gleeful crowd following the parade of spinning wheels from one end of the street to the other. Several residents watched smiling from their open windows, the older folk unable to believe this was really happening on their doorstep, the younger folk recording the passing lightshow on their mobiles. The procession continued for a good hour, bringing traffic to a standstill, before ending in Mile End Park with a bang so fierce that I felt the heat from several rows back. A bit of a triumph really, and all the better for bringing art and pageantry into the hearts of people who wouldn't dream of stepping inside a gallery or going to the theatre. If you're interested there are two more events today - a party in Greenwich this afternoon and a pyrotechnic finale at Three Mills tonight. [brochure]
2) London Architecture Biennale London has some fantastic architecture, and over the last week its streets have hosted the second celebration of London's architectural fantasticness. It's all part of Architecture Week2006, a national excuse to go out and look at nice buildings. The London event has three foci - Kings Cross, Clerkenwell and Southwark - joined by lots of pink stickers dotted across the pavements inbetween. At the heart of the Biennale is Smithfield House, just north of the meat market, where there are a couple of disappointing exhibitions and a trestle-table "shop" (currently selling off Biennale merchandise at half price). There have been a few good one-off events, notably the sheep drive through the City and some intriguing tours and lectures. The colourful panels stuck unobtrusively to the handrails along the Millennium Bridge relating Peter Ackroyd's history of the Thames are also particularly fine, and deserve not to be peeled off at midnight tonight. But overall the 2006 programme feels rather too spread out, making it much too easy to overlook many of the sites and attractions. And the Bienalle's poorly joined-up website doesn't help either, hiding all the interesting stuff beneath a desperately ineffective search engine. Hopefully the 2008 Bienalle will have a little more magic.
3) Bow Arts Trust Open Studios My (very) local art studio (which used to be a nunnery) has opened its doors this weekend so that its 90 resident artists can show off their works. You don't care because you have no intention whatsoever of visiting, but I just wanted to say that I stumbled upon Amy Lame in there yesterday afternoon schmoozing with oneof the artists. Bow's cutting edge, you know, arts & media-wise. Well, maybe just this weekend.