Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Battersea Power Station and Serpentine Gallery Revisited


There are business trips and vacations that we all take that we remember for the rest of our lives. My trip to London in 2006 for the Frieze Art Fair was one of those times.  And a visit to the Battersea Power Station was the icing on the cake. I love art fairs themselves, but it is many of the side events that have stuck in my head.  And I will cherish these memories forever. This art deco monolith has gained an iconic reputation over the years appearing in the Beatles movie Help!, on Pink Floyd's album cover for Animals, and in countless tourist photos shot from the trains connecting Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station.  The building is now in very bad condition and is not open to the public.  I remember that the (private tour company) bus driver that shuttled us to the Power Station was in just as much awe as those of us on the tour.


We took the tube to Knightsbridge and walked the remainder of the way into Kensington Gardens to arrive at the Serpentine Gallery in time for the breakfast and begin the schedule shown above.



That year, 2006, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion had been designed by Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond.  It was an inflated translucent structure that floated above the Serpentine's lawn.  It included a frieze designed by Thomas Demand.  We enjoyed some danish and fruit with tea and juice before we wandered into the gallery.




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The exhibition up in the Serpentine Gallery was titled Uncertain States of America.  It featured more than 40 artists working in a wide range of media.  A short statement for the exhibition informed us
"The exhibition is not entirely American—influences come from everywhere... In a period where the official political culture of the United States is viewed with great scepticism on the other side of the Atlantic, it seems important to remind ourselves of this complexity. The Uncertain States of America are not only uncertain, they are many."
as written by Daniel Birnbaum, Gunnar Kvaran and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
It is a shame that the USA gained the sympathy of the world after the 9/11 attacks, and then we and our elected officials caused the world to resend that sympathy and goodwill in the years immediately following 9/11.  It made me 'wake up' and pay attention to the global resentments aimed at the US, especially as I was viewing this show far far from home.  And now five years later, I realize that those global attitudes towards the US have not changed and may have grown worse.
At 10:25 we left the gallery and began to queue up to board the motor coaches that would transport us the short journey to the Battersea Power Station.  I sat next to a German woman who had known Hans Ulrich Obrist for many years and she shared many stories with me along the ride.






The bus driver deposited us at the entrance to the Battersea Power Station site.  The Serpentine Gallery re-purposed their 2002 Pavilion that was designed by Toyo Ito with Arup and set it up near the entrance to the BPS site.  This pavilion housed the Tea House by Yauatcha and the UniversalSHOPS.  We had a nice cuppa tea and browsed the wares for sale in the shop for a bit.  But we were anxious to see the main attraction that was quite visible through the large windows of the pavilion.

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I actually had chills walking towards the Power Station. I have them again remembering the privilege of being able to step inside!  This is the largest brick structure in Europe.  It is just unbelievably massive. 


The roof of the main part of the building had been removed in the 1990s during one of the first attempts to find a new use for the building.  There was a very nice presentation in a small side room that had a scale model and a video of a more recent plan to redevelop the entire site.  I see, however, that this plan also failed and the current owners owe billions in unrealized loans and property taxes.




At 11a we began to gather in Turbine Hall B to listen to the introductory talk on China Power Station: Part 1 by Julia Peyton-Jones, Kitty Scott, and Hans Ulrich Obrist.  I was awed by Obrist's words.  It is no wonder he was named arts most powerful figure in 2009 and second most in 2010.  Even though he is recognized as a super-curator, it is quite evident that he is an advocate for the artists.  He considers himself, in fact, less a curator and more a utility that allows artists to be themselves. He has been an inspiration to me on my journey as an "art enabler".

After the talk, we made our way up the narrow and crowded stairway to see the video exhibition.

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We entered a long dark room that had video screens lining a wall with projections in progress.  I believe another room on another floor had projections on both sides of the main walkway.  There were 22 Chinese artists in the exhibition.  There were a couple of animated and animated reality shorts that I enjoyed.  One of the artists, Ai Weiwei, debuted a video work in this exhibition which focused on a visit to his studio by the Museum of Modern Art's International Council in May of 2006.  We saw 80 dignitaries parade across Weiwei's grey brick courtyard and then enter his studio.  He had hidden cameras beneath shrubs and behind grates.  He edited the film so that we mainly saw only torsos in some shots and only video images of their shoes in other shots. We saw council members looking at artworks on a shelf that would soon would be featured on the cover of the September 2006 New York Sotheby's catalog.

This was my first introduction to Weiwei's work.  I had no idea at the time who he was and certainly had no idea who he was to become.  I love art for that. It is a media that informs us of things and ideas that we don't always immediately recognize as important, but the images, sounds and/or movements get into our heads and stay there for future reference.  Then some catalyst in our current situation ignites a spark that sets our synapses into action and memories come flooding back to mind.


The first and last image were obtained from the world wide web.  All other images and videos belong to Rusty Scruby.

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