Only the finest Mosaics

This weekend’s pathetic delay was caused by ridiculously slow printing of my East End Live ticket. Twenty minutes for a single page. Tsk.

My first destination was the Bank of England, for a special tour. There was quite a queue, which allowed me to read a bit of The Week the same day I received it. Possibly a new record of reverse-backlog activity. There were two men by the entrance wearing mauve uniforms and large hats, like the concierges outside upmarket hotels. The system was that they’d let in a group of people who would be assigned to one of the guides, who would then conduct the tour. Our guide was very good, my only concern being that I couldn’t decide whether he was a Londoner or an Australian. Chiming with John Lanchester’s idea in Mr. Phillips about the necessity of extravagant buildings for banks to conceal the casino-like nature of their operations, there was much description of mosaics that took years to construct, 24-carat gold leaf decorations, specially weaved carpets that match the design of the ceiling etc.

The Bank has a large collection of cartoons, including the Gilray that coined the term “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, and we were informed that there are cats in many of the Bank’s paintings because they used to be kept as mouse hunters. Our guide showed us the “secret ballot machine” the board used for all their decisions, back in more secretive times. The office of the Governor himself had a completely clean desk, which is one of his policies, apparently. There is a cantilever staircase that was at one time the largest such structure in the world. Throughout this tour I was in a slightly tense state, because I couldn’t find my normal glasses, and so I was either suffering rather blurred views or briefly wearing my sunglasses, exposing myself to accusations of arrogance and stupidity.

I heard a couple arguing over whether it was Pitt the Younger or the Elder, in one of the stories the guide told. To settle it, they asked him and he decided that it was the Younger. There’s something interesting about the way a tour group such as this mills around and fills each new space, waiting for the oration to begin and trying to make space for everyone, while also trying to secure the best viewing spot, even without knowing which are the things to be observed. After the tour, we arrived in the museum.  Here, you can lift up a gold bar, within its various security restraints, observed by several employees. I can report that a gold bar is indeed Very Heavy.

Next on my list was the Carroll/Fletcher gallery, for the last day of the Thomson and Craighead show “Never Odd Or Even“. I’d first heard of them about eight years ago and had in fact booked a place on the artists’ tour for July 10th, but a last-minute work trip meant I couldn’t attend, so it was the usual Last Day Shuffle. On the wall as you enter the gallery were printouts of tweets sent from that area (Fitzrovia), using the agit-prop visual style of the late nineties, during the time of the exhibition. It is interesting to see people’s obsessions change over time, though I’m not sure it provides more insight than a similar display of SMS messages would have five years ago. In the same room is a karaoke setup, with the words taken from 419-type spam mails. It was quite a funny effect to see the usual “I have something to discuss with you concerning an investment” blandishments along with the cheesy backing track and generic holiday background images. (On my way out I asked one of the gallery staff whether anyone had tried to sing along, and she said a few had – “some better than others”.)

The adjoining room held a three-screen video of people holding their breath underwater. If you stood near the doorway, you could also look over at the old-style flip-letter railway sign that was showing Google search terms such as:

Whitney Houston mp3

Maple lodge hockey festival whitby

Terri and bernie christian nmr data of taraxerone

At first I’d mistaken the loud sound of the new messages resolving themselves on the sign as some form of printing or construction. It was fun to play the Space Invaders game that had been adapted to have Michel Foucault’s “What is an author” text as the invasion force. It was tempting – but unwise – to read the text instead of trying to shoot it.  Another of those strange gallery analogue tellies held the subsequent piece;  perhaps the better to fit on a plinth?

The two main pieces in the downstairs gallery were Belief and The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order. The latter comprised a re-editing of the 1960 film based on the individual words in the dialogue, so all the “you”s, then all the “young”s etc. It had a very strange rhythm because the word sequences were sped up while in between them would be the wordless scenes that seemed to stretch out much further in their staccato context. Belief had a series of “spiritual” video clips combined with a geographic projection of the locations of the recordings on the floor. My two favourites here were the young boy who claimed he was Adolf Hitler, though some people know him as

Mykey, which is another story

and the emissary from an apocalyptic cult, with super-staring eyes, bringing the message that

Planet earth is about to be refurbished and recycled


Your only chance to survive or evacuate is to leave with us

It being the last day of this show, it’s not surprising that only one of the three headphones for Belief was working, and I felt a little bad as other people came in…

This is quite distended already so I’ll write about the evening’s film and music in another post.


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