diamond geezer

 Monday, November 15, 2010

Three new free exhibitions, within walking distance...

Evolving English
British Library: 12 November 2010 - 3 April 2011

It's the obvious exhibition for a library to put on. A retrospective on the English language, from ye olde to txt, and the perfect excuse to get lots of vintage books out of the archive. Some are so ye olde that you think no, surely they can't have an example of that, but they do. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from 793, the first page of Beowulf (Hwæt!) and the 13th century choral work "Sumer Is Icumen In" - all of those in room 1. A useful reminder that our world-conquering language isn't much more than a millennium old, and is actually an imported hotchpotch from (sssh) Europe. And English continues to evolve. The main gallery contains various examples of the language on a very broad variety of themes, from regional accents to advertising, and from slang to swearing. Yes, Lady Chatterley's Lover really did have the power to ****ing shock fifty years ago (I wonder whether the British Library's copy always falls open at that page). Other texts range from a Shakespeare first folio to a Rupert annual, plus the obscure novel which first brought us the opening line "It was a dark and stormy night...". A variety of media are used to get the message across - in the case of dropped aitches that's a Punch cartoon and a clip from My Fair Lady. Or, to take the example of Received Pronunciation, you can read the BBC Guide to it, listen to a spoken example of it, or jig along to Sophie Ellis Bextor singing it. I found this an engaging yet thought-provoking exhibition, shining a light into the fascinating world of linguistics. Make sure your eyesight's up to reading small text in dim light, because there's a lot of that. It's probably best to try to visit when it's not too busy else your view of the most interesting exhibits (or use of headphones, or sight of screens) may be blocked by especially tenacious visitors. And bring some spare cash, because the gift shop's unexpectedly tempting, and it would only be right to take away some English to read.
» Peter liked it, M@ liked it too

High Society
Wellcome Collection: 11 November 2010 - 27 February 2011

Well, what else would you call an exhibition about the cultural history of mind-altering drugs? The curators at the Wellcome Collection have dug into their extensive archive and pulled out a selection of narcotic curiosities - all in the interests of science, you understand, and not because any of you out there might actually partake in this kind of thing. A Starbucks cup and a crack pipe, for example, hint at the gulf between what's acceptably addictive and what's vehemently criminal. The exhibition's set in a historical and geographical context, whereby opium shifts from perfectly natural (over there) to commercially profitable (over here), and finally to legally unacceptable (all over). Times change, public morals shift. The medical angle of drug-taking is presented, including documentary evidence from self-experimentation, as well as the more social aspects of getting completely twatted with mates. Don't worry, everything's presented non-judgementally - although I did sense that a fair proportion of the weekend's audience might have been more partisan. I enjoyed the scattering of artworks throughout, including a psychedelic film powered by lowering the needle onto a vinyl record (which had some of the younger visitors totally bemused). Again, you'll want to come here on a quieter day if you're going to stare properly at the exhibits and not at lots of people standing very close to them. But well done Wellcome, another mind-expanding experience.
» Visit London liked it (obviously)

Cook's Camden
The Building Centre: 27 October - 8 December 2010

Meanwhile, down the road in Store Street, I visited one of New London Architecture's regular exhibitions of something London-building-related. This time the theme is social housing in Camden, which is appropriate given that Camden's the borough where the exhibition's taking place. More specifically the focus is on the work of council architect Sydney Cook, the man behind an outburst of social housing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unusually for those times Sydney didn't believe in high rises, so designed some impressively down-to-earth modernist housing for local folk to inhabit. I'd heard of some, even visited, for example Branch Hill on the exclusive slopes of Hampstead. But with others, like the Alexandra Estate, I was left thinking that's amazing, I think I've seen it in films, how come I've never been? More than 20 developments feature in the exhibition, including black and white photos, original plans and background information. One overall map links the whole lot geographically but, other than that, if you're interested in finding out more you're on your own. There are no leaflets or handouts to take away - the NLA don't seem to do takeaways any more. And there's merely minimal information on the website, so there's no easy way to go out and locate some of the more interesting properties afterwards. Shame, but if you're of an architectural bent then a proper physical visit to the exhibition might be for you.
» Blueprint magazine liked it

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