A week mostly without glasses

For a long time I only wore glasses when I had to. Most of the activities listed on this site fall into that category of necessity. Last summer I lost my sunglasses while explaining online dating to someone I’d met at a School of Life event. Recently I lost my real (non-sun) glasses, most likely on the Overground. The weekend had started without portents of evil, at the Vestry House museum in Walthamstow, for the show Toys: A Serious Business. As almost the canonical child of the seventies, I lament the passing of industries, incompetent and wretched though they may have often been. Of course I had some of the Matchbox cars and soldier figures on display, or others in their likeness, though any misty view was undercut by testimony from the workers who described arduous and tedious labour. Still, I’ve always had a nagging sympathy for inanimate objects, and toys are perhaps the most poignant of all. It was fitting that kids were playing on the games at the far end when I arrived, leading some visitors to leave caustic comments in the book, exclamation marks and all. One child matched these complaints with the exuberant:

I really want to play

There is something pure about these local museums, who often only have one room, so there’s none of the interfering logistics that assail you at your more metropolitan spaces. In a lobby there were some etchings by a local artist and next to that a display about the Bremer car, one of the first built in Britain. As I was leaving, a very polite man asked the front desk/shop staff whether he could take some photos.  (Vestry House Flickr set)

At this point I still had my glasses.

Mindful of an appointment to see Lift to the Scaffold with my companion that evening at the BFI, I went next to the Gallery@Oxo, for X-Pose: Material and Surface. Here were x-ray photos of objects – toy robots, shoes with feet in them – taken with x-rays, after which artificial colours were applied. At their best, the innards were surprising. I did hear someone asking about pictures for his friend’s office, perhaps a reflection of the semi-corporate sheen of some of the images. With the intention mainly of filling time, I walked along the river to the Bankside Gallery, for the Society of Wood Engravers’ annual exhibition. For no clear reason I’ve found recently that I like engravings a lot, so this was quite a treat, cramped though it was. Rebecca Coleman, whom I’d seen at Vestry House, was here too, with what looked like the same image but a different title. There were lots of owls – is that a well-known engraving trope? The Judgement of Paris here was very different than the one we’d seen at Houghton House.

Glasses still in my possession.

Lift to the Scaffold was a marvel and what a pleasure to see it on the big screen of NFT1. Not quite frisky enough to be proper New Wave, too feisty to be cinéma de qualité. Seems incredible that some bosses worried that Jeanne Moreau walking the streets would be bad for her image.

The glasses are now absent.

Thanks to my companion’s zealous admin., I took a sight-test on Monday evening, passing the gauntlet of someone interviewing a man by the entrance of TCR Specsavers. The new glasses wouldn’t be ready for another week. More Mr. Magoo than ever.

On Wednesday, it was to be Scarface at the BFI, a film I’d unaccountably never seen, and one of few in the Al Pacino season about which I could say that. I bought a seat as near the front as I could, relieved at least that there wouldn’t be subtitles. An incredible tale of how auto-bluster can succeed through its own opinion of itself, until a preposterous reckoning. Still, I got away with the lack of vision correction, I think. Afterwards I heard someone say to her friend:

That’s put you off cocaine?

The next two nights I was able to navigate without the need for myopia and astigmatism relief. My strict calendar meant that I couldn’t take a lazy weekend. On Saturday I went first to Carroll/Fletcher for (yes…) the last day of Now Showing: A Group Exhibition of Artists’ Film. The version of My Dinner With André, a film I cherish, with all the dialogue removed, was hilarious and a little disturbing, punctuated as it was by breath intakes, filled pauses and space fillers, plus some final Erik Satie. In the same room were three etch-a-Goyas, while another film appeared to be referring to Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers. Also hilarious was an installation that took the sound of Annie Hall and used super-literal renderings of the references of the text from a product catalogue e.g. a picture of the Earth taken from space when Allen is extricating himself from Christopher Walken’s character. A very brief clip from Lift to the Scaffold appeared in a later piece. Next to the Wallace Collection for one part of Glasstress, which I think I heard about on Front Row or Saturday Review ages ago. It included extracts from a regular part of the Venice Biennale, all using glass. Only a few pieces, though, in an interstitial space, below the restaurant. There were some more at the Fashion Space gallery off Oxford Street (ugh), my favourite being the Boudicca piece ‘outside’, of a projection that travels through a slit then some glass and onto the wall as a distorted looping stream. (Glasstress Flickr set)

That evening, we saw Derek Jarman’s version of The Tempest at the BFI, so clever in its country house setting, and closing with a resplendent version of Stormy Weather. I was sad to be watching in blurs. The next day I saw a local show (Hibernacula) in an old office next to Leytonstone station, replete with a rack of old networking gear that still seemed to be in use. That morning I’d watched the Culture Show, with ‘Damon Albarn’ returning to Leytonstone. I can’t think of many other connections between him and Alfred Hitchcock. As we know, that station (unlike mine) benefits from two westbound departure modalities, so I didn’t have to wait long to start off towards the Whitechapel.

Still no glasses.

I do plan to see Hannah Höch, but not yet. (Can they no longer afford to make their larger shows free, I wonder?) Closing that day was Supporting Artists: Acme’s First Decade 1972-1982, in the same gallery that held the wonderful Barbara Jones show last year. Around the wall there were examples of the listings that the Acme Studios sent out each month, including events like

English art magazines – a seminar

Exactly the kind of silly detailed thing I love reading. Unfortunately, towards the far side of the room, there were some display cases (full of interesting stuff), meaning that I was too far from the listings to be able to read them. Hmmph. Punished at last in a very tangible way for my laxity. I did savour some of the newspaper headlines referring to shows at the Acme gallery:

Home is where the art is


Sodden and begorrah.

These came from the Romeike and Curtice press clippings bureau. Do such organisations still exist, or is it just a set of Google alerts now? Since I was there, I watched Heather and Ivan Morison’s Smile all the While (on until March 9th), which uses three monitors in two adjoining rooms, meaning that you have to find a spot for an optimal view of them all. There were some more bad puns:

I’m on the whiskey diet. I lost three days


I went to a seafood disco and pulled a mussel

Also on until March 9th is the Contemporary Art Society display Damn braces: Bless relaxes, which refers in various ways to the east coast of England. Here I liked the polemics of Hull Time Based Arts, especially when they made the Mayor so angry by smashing something that he had to take off his ceremonial hat, the better to be able to excoriate them.

It was interesting to see Elizabeth Price’s At the house of Mr. X, a clear precursor to her Turner Prize winning piece about the Manchester Woolworth’s fire in 1979 (which I remember from my Mancunian childhood). I’ll have the time to see it again, with glasses, which I think will be needed because I couldn’t read some of the captions. Auto-tsk.

That evening I saw Aria at the BFI, showing as part of the Jarman season because he had a segment, starring Tilda Swinton, whom we’d recently seen in the preview of Only Lovers Left Alive. Again I was sitting near the front, to attenuate my visual difficulties. Odd that I didn’t see that when it came out in 1987, because I remember it was mentioned a lot.

My time in purgatory ended the next evening, when I collected my new glasses. Don’t do that again.


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