Culture on Track (Seeing is Believing) – London September 2016

Written by Veronica C Wilkinson.

London as a cultural Mecca did not disappoint this pilgrim on a recent visit to its ever changing skyline and neuron stimulating events. The newly inaugurated London Design Biennale showcased offerings from 37 countries at Somerset House and the London Festival presented works at other venues around the city featuring work that was uniquely globally specific and often innovative. The Biennale was themed ‘Utopia by Design’ where a type of material impressionism in terms of style was embodied by Australia’s Brodie Neill with his work entitled ‘Plastic effects’ reflecting the current global threat of non-biodegradable waste in our oceans. In the courtyard Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s sensitive kinetic installation described as an abstract meteorological machine inspired by weather-measuring instruments created links through time and between disciplines that emphasized the role of alternative energy for a more sustainable future.


At the Chelsea College of Art opposite the Tate Millbank Gallery I witnessed the final touches to the tulip wood installation ‘Smile’ constructed by Arup and designed by Alison Brooks Architects as one of the London Festival events. A young Sri Lankan engineer, Ishan Abeysekera shared information and enthusiasm about the fascinating project that will remain on site until the 12th October.


The sheer volume of the crowds in this cosmopolitan city is a challenge that at times becomes a little daunting for the pedestrian navigating past selfie sticks and enthusiastic group excursions but despite the occasional crush it does not match the human sandwiching of people using public transport during rush hour in Tokyo.

An exhibition relying on skillful media manipulation by Edmund Clark at the Imperial War Museum about ‘hidden experiences of state control’ during the global war on terror demonstrated the public’s general insensitivity to brutality and sound as groups of young men giggled and joked their way through the rooms containing graphic images and ghastly recordings about the inhuman punishment meted out to prisoners at places at places like Guantanamo Bay. An unrelated tiny Tibetan peace garden memorial outside the museum provided a small measure of comfort for this visitor in terms of its quiet and unmanipulated dimensions and design.

London’s Guildhall provided treats on its open day when an installation by Rebecca Louise Law suspended from the ceiling reception area provided visual inspiration. A new City Garden map has also recently been designed as an introduction to features of the city well worth visiting. City surveyor Peter Bennett addressed visitors with an erudite and informative insight into the history and current developments affecting the efficient working of London. The annual Open House event welcoming members of the public to explore elements of architecture, culture and history remains a valuable source of information and inspiration thanks to the enthusiasm, generosity and knowledge of its volunteers – many of whom are fulltime employees of the city.

Monet’s irritation with structural colour was brought into focus when I visited Liz West’s exhibition at the Natural History Museum where the wonders of iridescence and angles of light were highlighted through visual displays.

Saatchi Gallery hosted the ‘Start’ art fair from the 15-18 September – a veritable eyeful of new and emerging talent in cubicles and booths occupying three floor levels of space. Here 70 galleries represented their selected talent in what often proved to be culturally relevant practical examples of social insight and documentary value.

London Museum provided a satisfying glimpse into a bygone era with accounts of historical fact and displays that made a free guided tour valuable for an understanding of the city’s history. An artisanal infrastructure within the city with guilds that monitor productivity and quality continues to this day in many senses.

Switch House at the Tate Modern opposite Saint Paul’s Cathedral does not disappoint with its examples of finely crafted multi-cultural combinations in diverse mediums. The exploratory nature of a lot of this artwork is inspirational. As for the 360 degree view of the skyline from the viewing platform on the 10th floor – on a clear day it is rather impressive. Visiting a place like this is always like popping in to see old friends…

The British Museum featured Maggi Hambling’s ‘Touch’ exhibition, contemporary work in different mediums displaying a range of technical competence. I found the tender emotional maturity exhibited by her choice of subjects very satisfying.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrating beetles and inspiration from nature takes on more than one form with the first example being the somewhat futuristic ‘Elytra’ glass and carbon fibre construction (filament pavilion) in the courtyard while inside the museum an exhibition ‘Revolution’ (Records and Rebels 1966-1970) celebrates flower power, Afro hairstyles and nostalgia in leaps through a stylistic era that evokes memories of grooved music tracks on vinyl among others.

But from bell bottoms to Bow Bells cultural exploration takes me to the annual harvest festival of the Cockney ‘Pearly’ Kings and Queens at the Guildhall Yard who continue a 19th century tradition with Maypole and Morris dancing, miniature carts drawn by Newfoundland dogs and enthusiasm and pride reflected by the splendid outfits worn by participants.

Perhaps the pride taken in material accomplishment has given visitors to London an example of a cosmopolitan and inclusive heritage worth emulating for spiritual growth in time to come.