Been there done that: Illumini Every couple of years, Jane Webb curates an underground art exhibition. Last time it was St Pancras Church crypt, and this time it's the cellars beneath Shoreditch Town Hall. That's right, proper underground. Theart's appropriate for dingy dark spaces too, much of it light-based or self-illuminating, which means lightbulb sculptures and neon signs and illuminated gravestones and that sort of thing. The theme of the 2010 bienniale is Secret Subterranean London, which means exhibits based on air raid shelters, closed tube stations and lost rivers. You get the feeling it was enormously fun to put together. Visitors are warned at the entrance to watch their step in the dark, and maybe to pick up a torch so that they can peer more carefully at the exhibits on the way round. A labyrinth of ill-shaped rooms leads off from the main chamber, each broadly themed with a combination of art and subterranean facts. Stare at a cross made up from glowing red test tubes whilst reading up about London's plague pits, for example, or stand beneath an origami winged horse whilst discovering the background behind the Cabinet War Rooms. Some of the printed-out information is prone to spelling errors (apparently "Aldwych tube station was shit for 6 years during WW2"), and a lot of it is hard to read without a torch. Nevertheless a series of free tours and talks being delivered throughout the week-long exhibition adds excellent factual depth. This being Shoreditch the audience was a little on the trendy side when I visited, but there were also a couple of families with excited young children enjoying the space and the spookyexhibits. The underlying aim is to maybe sell you some art, and rightly so, but the commercial side is properly understated with an emphasis on atmosphere and experience. Admission is free, which I think is rather excellent, but hurry because Illumini 2010 is only open until Wednesday evening. And then watch out for a one-off Crypt-mas special back at St Pancras church in December, complete with glowsticks, grafitti and grotto. Thanks Jane, another winner.
Been there done that: Thames Festival Mid-September's when the South Bank clogs solid with people come to celebrate London's essential riveriness. This is one of the Mayor's major festivals, produced by an independent charitable trust, and fills a weekend with music, misadventures and merchandising. It's also very spread out, so expect to walk quite a long way if you want to see the lot. At City Hall there's a Blue Ribbon Village, filled with eco-friendly kid-oriented family stuff. A massed choir of Year 5 pupils were singing their hearts out in the Scoop when I passed, not that I could see anything thanks to a cordon of proud spectating parents. Once the market stalls and food booths petered out there was nothing special to see before Southwark Bridge, rather a long way upstream. Here, for Saturday only, the Feast on the Bridge. Pick from burgers, tagine, organic beer or some other epicurean delight, then take a seat at one of the long trestle tables across the river and gobble down the lot. It was a bit like Borough Market, but above the arches rather than below, and with less quail. The next festival epicentre's outside Tate Modern, including the unlikely combination of lindyhop-jive action and riverside pottery-firing. And then a tedious diversionary walk to avoid railworks under Blackfriars Bridge, making this less a River Festival and more a Walking Along A Busy Street Festival. Young kids I suspect would enjoy the Fairy Tales travelling art circus outside the Oxo Tower, with a variety of edgy-yet-twee activities they can get stamped off in a special passport. Adults were better catered for along the final stretch of South Bank, lined by craft stalls, Eastern European Tourist Boards and the ubiquitous food wagons. Plenty of interesting rivery-spectacles and music events have been planned, ending up with a grand firework display tonight. But one long stroll from end to end was enough for me, and I departed entertained yet not excited.
Been there done that: The Vauxhall Expo A little further along the Thames, yet on a greatly reduced scale, was yesterday's SE11 community event held in Spring Gardens. A horseshoe of localgroups clustered near the City Farm, which was itself holding an Open Day, and attempted to engage citizens in a variety of worthy causes. The Vauxhall Gardens Allotment Association was here, and volunteers from the Cinema Museum, and even folk from the Kennington Cross Arts Lav. The council was here too, in complete contrast to the total absence of Boris's administration at the Thames Festival. At one stall visitors were encouraged to drop coloured balls in buckets to give their opinions on Lambeth's potential future as a "co-op" council. One particularly strong gust of wind sent the buckets flying, surely rendering the afternoon's votes null and void, but that didn't stop the embarrassed organisers scrabbling to return the spilled balls to (hopefully) the correct receptacle. At a nearby stall I learned that there are imminent plans to rebrand this green space as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens - the famous name used here in the 18th century - although nobody's yet altered any of the entrance signs. 21st century entertainment included a wind quartet in formal dress playing tunes in a haybale arena, the occasional curly-horned ram on a heavy-petting walkabout, and an earnest lad with a megaphone wandering around urging attendees to head over to the Dog Show, now! The entire event was on the same scale as a village fete but with a definite inner-urban emphasis (bike safety checks rather than cake stalls, for example). I've been to thrillinger, but I left wishing my end of Bow did something, anything, similar. [obb report & pics]