diamond geezer

 Monday, March 07, 2011

I don't know what you did at the weekend, but I visited all this lot. For nothing.

Barbican Weekender (Barbican: 5th and 6th March)
Think of it as a crèche for children and adults. Two days of music, film, theatre, art, dance and candy floss. A host of artistic activities scattered around the Barbican Centre with a bit of a funfair vibe. You've missed it now, but the Weekender kept a whole host of middle class families busy over the weekend. Especially impressive was how it kept the kids busy. The BBC Symphony Orchestra had hung bits of metal from scaffolding and were encouraging tiny folk to hit them, in rhythm. A bloke with a laptop sat downstairs converting rhythmic human movement into on-screen folded-envelope dancers. And outside there was a 30-foot pink pig with holes for udders, through which 10 lucky viewers could peer to watch some performing arts. Like I say, you've missed it now, but the Beat The Champ exhibit in The Curve goes on until May. Brooklyn artist Cory Arcangel has selected 14 video game consoles from the 1970s to the present day and recorded a ten pin bowling game on each. All 14 games are running in a loop, projected along the full length of the gallery, so you can see how video games have evolved as you walk from one end to the other. "Yes", anybody under the age of 30 was being told by their elders, "graphics really used to be that basic once". And just in case this doesn't sound arty enough, Cory's engineered his 14 games so that every single ball rolls into the gutter. No pin ever gets knocked over, nobody ever scores, and the entire series drifts slowly into obsolescence. It's fun to watch though, for about ten minutes or so, and a fascinating look back at the entertainment we used to think was cutting edge.

Maslenitsa (Trafalgar Square: 6th Mar)
On the depleted list of festivals Boris still celebrates, this Russian bash still earns its place. Maslenitsa is a traditional Russian pre-Lent festival, getting in some fun before the serious fasting begins, and this is the third year London's Mayor has celebrated the event. Essentially it's an excuse to stick a lot of Russians on stage, surround Trafalgar Square's fountains with supposedly Russian food stalls and generally flog Russian culture. I arrived to the sound of an accordion duet, thankfully a bit more rocking than you might expect, while a large furry bear danced amongst the audience in front of them. It didn't take long to work out that the majority of the crowd in the Square was Eastern European, lured here by a series of popular homegrown artistes and a cheery feeling of togetherness. A lot of white, blue and red flags were being given out, half by a mobile phone company and the rest by the Russian Tourist Board. I even walked away with a free Russian newspaper, whose content made absolutely zero sense to me but was clearly reaching its target audience. Two particular food stalls had ridiculously long queues, which on closer inspection were French creperies dressed up with Cyrillic script. Just like our Pancake Tuesday, Maslenitsa is celebrated with thin batter-y "blinis" to use up all the butter, eggs and milk before Lent. Next week in the Square it's the turn of a St Patrick's Day celebration, which presumably will be a little more drunken, and then we wait to see if Boris is going to call St George's Day for the Easter weekend.

The Clock (Queen Elizabeth Hall: 6:30pm 5th Mar to 6:30pm 6th Mar)
As cinematic experiences go, this 24 hour epic is hard to beat. American artist Christian Marclay has put together a series of film clips in which clocks and timepieces appear, then run them together over a complete day so that each clip appears in order synchronised to the correct time. He didn't compile it all by himself, he had a dozen researchers scrutinising thousands of films to find all the temporal bits, but he's run them together brilliantly to create a compelling chronological narrative. Could be Stan Laurel accidentally upsetting a mantle clock followed by James Bond slicing through ropes with his bladed wristwatch, if that's what the hours and minutes dictate. 'The Clock' has been screened in London before, but this weekend it's been playing in real time at the Purcell Room on the South Bank. Some may have sat through the full 24 hours, but most like me dipped in and out for a flavour of the entire epic. The action rose to a crescendo every hour on the hour, because o'clocks are so often used in movies as deadlines (for Wild West shootouts, Titanic sailings and the like). Other references were merely incidental (a fleeting glimpse of a wallclock), or subtly essential to the plot (like Robert Powell's Big Ben dangle in The 39 Steps at 11:43 precisely). It was hypnotic, watching to see which Hollywood snippet turned up next, but also frustrating wanting to know but never finding out how the plot developed. One particularly nice thing - nobody in the audience had to light up their mobile phone to check what time it was! I managed 2½ hours of Clock-watching before creeping out, but it'd be great to watch the whole thing in one day one day.

Harry Beck and the London Tube Map (Church Farmhouse Museum: until 27th March)
When I visited this Hendon museum back in January I said I'd go back, so I have. I'd visited just too early to see their latest exhibition of tube maps, which is now complete and labelled and open. And it's very good, for a small two-room exhibition in a peripheral part of town with no admission charge. There are (I counted) 25 card copies of the fold-up tube map, from pre-Beck designs to the dawn of the wheelchair blob. They're displayed in glass cases so you can see the cover and reverse as well, with a minimal commentary hinting at the map's evolution and how much Beck disliked some of his successors' designs. That Hutchinson map from 1963's a bit much, isn't it, all nasty angular corners and unnecessary medial stretching. Several larger poster maps are included, along with more general tube ephemera garnered from ticket halls and platforms networkwide. If you like this sort of thing then you'll like this, and it beats waiting until next year for an official tube map celebration at the London Transport Museum. Church Farmhouse Museum seemed to be ticking over nicely this weekend, with umpteen visitors enjoying their visit. But its days are numbered, and that number is 22. Budget cuts in Barnet mean that the museum will definitely lose its funding on 1st April, so it's closing for good at the end of March. Maybe a bunch of volunteers will step up and enact a Big Society miracle, but more likely the building'll be hived off and the museum will be lost. You have three more weeks to get here, six stops up the black line along its northwest bifurcation. Don't be late.

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