Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Architect Sketch

This past weekend, with Maggie away in Arizona on business, I decided to go out and explore London by myself. Normally, when I find myself alone on a weekend day, I'll do relatively little: sit around, read, surf the internet, do a few chores while avoiding the most annoying ones as long as possible by surfing the internet, etc. Apart from my strange habit of cooking something experimental and challenging (I do this by myself so that when I screw up, only I have to face the consequences), I don't do much exciting by myself. But the weather was nice and warm (by London standards), and I was feeling restless, so I hit the town.

Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion by Toby Paterson
in front of London City Hall


You know you're living it up when you're
inside the Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion

The London Festival of Architecture is going on right now with a variety of installations and events scattered across town (see, e.g., part of the Portavilion project above). I had read on the festival's website about an exhibit at the Hayward Gallery called Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture; if the title wasn't catchy enough to pull me in, there was also mention of a few interactive installations open only to people "age 16 years and over, fit and not suffering from vertigo". I do have a moderate fear of heights — just thinking about Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger makes my palms sweat, and not because of the gripping dialogue — but I love doing things that force me to confront this fear, so I had to go check this out.


The Hayward Gallery, part of the Southbank Centre, houses large-scale installations of contemporary art. The Psycho Buildings exhibition was a collection of architecturally inspired installations by invited artists that visitors can explore psychologically, perceptually, and physically; nearly all were large enough to walk into, and several were quite interactive. Photography was not allowed inside the Psycho Buildings exhibition, but you can see pictures on the museum site (while it lasts) or at the Guardian. I mostly enjoyed the exhibition, but many of the artists converged rather predictably on bleak scenes of destruction (a building caught in the midst of an explosion, films of old buildings being razed, a room with walls mostly destroyed by a crazed chainsaw killer, a Korean doll house crashing into an American doll house, etc.). Even though it was all executed expertly, I do get tired of modern artists playing variations of the same one-note song.

Just an average day in London, rowing on the roof

Luckily, the outdoor exhibitions on the roof were a breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically). There's no need to describe this first one, the picture says it all. For some reason, it was called "Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title". I would have called it "Lake on roof, people in rowboats" or "The lawyers would never have let you do this in the US". Perhaps I'm too literal to be an artist.

Entering the bubble

My personal favorite was the massive plastic bubble on the roof overlooking the river, the subject of the vertigo warning. The bubble is divided into two hemispheres by a clear plastic membrane: "The Observatory" on the bottom, and "Air-Port-City" on top. The Observatory is a pressurized chamber that fits maybe 30-40 people, whereas only 3 people at a time can go out onto the inflated membrane up in Air-Port-City and flop around awkwardly while people watch from below. Being out on the membrane was bizarre and fun, but not particularly vertigo-inducing despite the height. It took me hours to get Insane in the Membrane out of my head. The only thing that was truly scary was the fact that the membrane had ripped a few times and had been mended with duct tape at a few points. The lawyers would never have let you do this in the US.

In Air-Port-City

No, this wasn't embarassing at all, why do you ask?

The sky view from Air-Port-City

Inside The Observatory

As fun as it was crawling around in Air-Port-City, watching people from below was also great entertainment. (BTW, apparently Lando Calrissian is not the Mayor of Air-Port-City. I asked.) The experience of watching someone essentially floating 10 feet above you is quite surreal. On one hand, they seem weightless and free, but on the other hand people flop about in a slightly unsettling way, like a live fish getting shrink-wrapped. Now this is what I call art.

Please don't shrink-wrap the elderly


After my experience at Psycho Buildings, I decided to cap off my architectural tour of London by seeing a movie. A movie you say? What's so architectural about that?

Shirley MacLaine & Jack Lemmon in The Apartment

Well, I went to see The Apartment, the classic Billy Wilder film starring Jack Lemmon (being charming and mildly manic), Shirley MacLaine (being cute and mildly depressive), and Fred MacMurray (being sleazy). This is one of my very favorite movies (if for nothing else, watch it for the incredible cinematography and art direction), and it was showing at The Screen on the Green in Islington for just this week, so I had to take the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

I did several things for the very first time this weekend: I went out to brunch and ate eggs Benedict by myself (delicious, even without company), I crawled around on a giant inflated plastic membrane (in the name of art, naturally), and I went to a movie by myself (I've honestly never done this before). As it turns out, these were even better ways to avoid doing chores than surfing the internet.

2 comments:

Robin Maria Pedrero said...

What a GREAT artist date! Thanks for sharing your adventure it looked like so much fun.

cabernet said...

Com'mon of COURSE Lando's the mayor! They need to check their sources.