Archive for the 'Best Of' Category

Last few weeks: Wellcome Collection’s Art and Mental Illness

Guest post from our resident art expert, M! Enjoy:

The Wellcome Collection exhibition – art and mental illness

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Nothing helps put your neurosis in perspective quite as successfully as considering those of others.  The Wellcome Collection currently offers two exhibitions to this end – Madness and Modernity, which explores the development of artistic and medical interest in psychoanalysis at the turn of the 19th Century, and Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings, a series of notebook sketches tracing the artist’s slow recovery from an almost complete mental breakdown.  These shows juxtapose the treatment of nervous disorders in terms of both time-period and perspective.  The former demonstrates the 19th century’s growing interest in introspection and the attraction of turning to sanatoria to cure nervous disorders brought on by the stresses of modern life, whilst the latter offers a most personal account of a patient being turfed between doctors and day centres in the hope of regaining her sanity.

Neither show is extensive, so a visit will not be a whole afternoon event.  In its limited space, however, Madness and Modernity manages to explore both the medical world’s almost cataloguing approach to mental illness, in which they saw afflictions of the body as indicative of the physiological condition, and the ways in which artists interpreted this new awareness of the psyche.  This is best demonstrated here by a focus on portraiture, a genre which previously relied on the artist’s adherence to aesthetic precision and the demonstration of wealth, fame or position.  Now, in this “nervous age”, artists such as Egon Schiele and Max Oppenheim were turning recognisable sitters into monstrous personifications of inner turmoil with twisted hands and staring, vacant eyes.  The only shame here is that none of the Schiele self portraits are originals, as this slightly diminishes the impact of the works.  Nonetheless, they still convey the unique contradiction of Schiele’s art; the low internal worth needed to convey the self as emaciated and contorted, and the incredible narcissism that led the artist to show the public over and over again just how low he was.

In contrast, Bobby Baker is open and articulate about the ways in which her illness manifested itself.  She has divided the exhibition into stages, so helping the viewer to understand how different treatments and events led to her recovery.  The majority of the sketches are self-portraits in different scenarios, but there is none of Schiele’s self-importance here.  Nor is there a sense of performance from this usually performance-based artist, save for a short video clip at the show’s entrance in which Baker welcomes her visitors.  This is mirrored just a short distance away in Madness and Modernity by a video of someone pacing the corridors of Vienna’s Purkersdorf Sanatorium, passing cabinets of human and animal skeletons that were as much a curiosity as the living patients behind the closed doors.  Whereas this highlights the claustrophobic nature and aesthetic control imposed upon these complexes, Bobby Baker’s welcome adds to the sense of the viewer being invited and encouraged to explore the very corners of an unhinged mind.  At times both moving and shocking, Baker provides a view into a world few of us will enter, and in doing so campaigns for a better understanding and acceptance of mental illness in public life.

For anyone with an interest in the age of Freud and in the changing nature of the medical and public view of the human condition, and especially for anyone who has ever contemplated their own sanity, these exhibitions will both eliminate the sense of being alone in neurosis and raise any number of questions.  Leave your preconceptions at the door, for some of this madness is in all of us.

Madness and Modernity runs until June 28, and Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings is on until August 2nd. It’s FREE. The Wellcome Collection can be found just across the street from Euston station off Euston Road.

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Open Garden Squares Weekend

Don’t miss open garden squares weekend – it’s on now! A ticket is 8pounds but that gets you entry to all of the gardens Saturday and Sunday. Most of the gardens open are ‘private’ gardens not normally open to the public, which of course makes them well worth checking out! With over 190 gardens open, this one takes some planning, but the best strategy is probably to pick an area or two and just garden hop for a few hours. I think my strategy will be to go out to Kensington and Notting Hill tomorrow, where there are a slew of private gardens open for display (and of course they are all quite nice, given that area!). On the website, click on ‘the gardens’ to peruse by area what’s open, with each area having a helpful little map. See the map for Kensington and the map for Notting Hill area. Be sure to start your journey at a garden with a pound sign – that means you can buy your tickets there. Most gardens appear to be places you can do this.

And the garden I’m definitely going to? Lloyd Square, (click on list of gardens – islington – lloyd square WC1) a private key entry only garden for residents around the square that I walk by every single morning on my way to work and wish I had access to every single morning. And though I the residents take great care of it to be honest I never or hardly ever see anyone in there enjoying themselves. Unlike me, who would be in there reading a paper or some such every morning. So there. No bitterness here, no…

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Story of London

Have slacked a bit on the two week challenge as A is now on holiday and C is ill, but will post a few extra today and tomorrow to get back up to 7 posts for this week!

In case you haven’t heard of it, there is a massive month-long collection of events happening all over London in June call the Story of London. Each area is holding a slew of local events, most of them free. Check out the website (http://www.london.gov.uk/storyoflondon/) and type in your postcode or area for a look – the problem is it’s almost overwhelming how much is happening.

For example, it’s film weekend at the moment and the amount of things to check out is rather making my head hurt. That could also be the flu I have at the moment, but you get the idea.

If you’re into costume dramas and people dressing up and re-enacting things, then don’t miss next weekend – living history weekend!

Or check out other weird and wonderful or cultural things – such as tomorrow night (June 14) the Wellcome Collection is leading a free walk around the West End called Pox and Pleasure about medicine, disease, and sex in Victorian London. Most boroughs are hosting walks around their borough that cover history and architecture – I’m thinking of attending Islington’s changing architecture walk in a few weeks, so see if your borough is doing it as well. Or snap up one of the free evening event gems, like this reading in Bethnal Green – London on London: London writers read their favourite London scenes.

Hamley’s for all your summer fun

Now that we are into June we can almost officially call summer.  The weather here has sure felt like it lately, with just a few exceptions here and there.   With great weather comes the great outdoors.  For Londoners (those without cars or means and ambition to travel outside of their zone) this means tromping to your local park for some sunning, picnics and playful games with friends, families and even strangers.  For all those park outdoor activities i.e. frisbee, cricket, football, american football, etc, why not head to Hamley’s–the most famous toy store in London, located in the middle of Regent’s street almost equal distant from Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street.  If you go into Hamley’s, you will quickly see it is not just for kids.  Last year, my friend and I went there and bought our first frisbee of the season.  There are plenty of toys, games and outdoor play equipment to suit any fancy and even a broad selection of board games for that ever expected rainy day.  My next purchase I think will be a cricket set or maybe a croquet set.  Summer is just beginning, so go to Hamley’s then head straight to the park for a perfect afternoon.

Westfields Shopping: High Street vs. High Roof

So if you ever get tired and weary of trudging up and down crowded High Street, especially Oxford Street which is just unbearable on the weekends, then head over to Westfields at Shepard’s Bush.  Westfields just opened last year before Christmas time and it is the best indoor mall in London.  The first time I walked into there it was like being back home (States) at our local mall since the high street model has fallen out of style other than quaint main streets in small towns.  This is the case at least for where I live in Virginia.  Westfields holds all the high street shopping under one roof so you never have to worry about the rain or finding the next tube station down the road because everything is convenient in the shopping centre.  You’ll find your main departments stores such as Debenhams, House of Frasier and your favourites off the high street including Zara, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, H&M, Gap, Aldo….the list really just goes on and on.  You don’t have to worry about the crowds too much, the walkways are the widest I have seen and they have plenty of seating where you can take a break and have a smoothie from Boost or a coffee at one of the many cafes around the shop.  You can even stop for dinner at any of the dozen of well-known restaurants located inside and outside Westfields.  Also, a movie theatre is going to open soon so you really can make it a full day.

This is where I spent this rainy Saturday today and I finally came away with the essential summer clothes I have been lacking these past few weeks of nice, warm London weather.  Had a smoothie then headed on back to Angel all under 3 hours. Whoohoo.  Where you feel you need a new outfit, or retail therapy or even just to help the economy out, Westfields should be at the top of your list!

Westfields London Shopping Centre

Mon-Wed 10am-9pm; Thurs-Fri 10am-10pm; Sat 9am-9pm; Sun 12pm-6pm

Best London blog there is: Londonist

Enjoy TimeOut but get a bit bored of their endless listings? Enjoy reading London blogs but always looking for one that covers it all? The answer: Londonist

My friend and fellow London-phile, let’s call her ‘E’, recommended me to this group blog 3 years ago just after I had left London after my study abroad program. I visited it frequently, and I must say it was actually a huge factor in getting me to come back to London. Londonist.com is simply wonderful – a constant stream of news, lists, reviews, cheap stuff, ephemeral things to do, major festivals, minor festivals, random lunch spots – it’s all there, and it’s all delightful. It’s a blog that is alive with passion for London and the amazing variety and sheer volume of stuff this city has going on all the time.

Whenever I’m looking for something to do, whether it’s that night or over the next week, or whenever I want to ‘connect’ back to the sense that this city I live in is not just the busy road outside my flat and my commute to work but a thriving, incredible place full of wonderful, interesting things, I always find myself going to Londonist and browsing their frequent postings.

So, thank you Londonist. You make this world a better place, and I would say bookmark it, RSS it, go there frequently – it’s pretty impossible not to fall in love with London all over again after reading just a few posts.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

So the weekend is quickly arriving and what is a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than having a tea and scone in the heart of Bloomsbury.  (Also be sure to check out our other post on afternoon tea including some of favourite tea spots in London.)  Bea’s of Bloomsbury is situated right off where Rosebery Avenue turns into Theobald’s Road before you reach Holborn if your traveling from Clerkenwell.  You won’t miss this cute little bakery because there is an immaculate wedding dress cake creation in the window calling you in promising delicious scones, cupcakes, cakes and other fun snacks.  They have a few outside tables which will suit any sun lover and I would suggest their tea and scone deal for just 5 pounds.  It even comes with a miniature size jar of jam which you may even be tempted to each straight out of the jar with the tiny tea spoon also provided.  These are probably some of the best scones I’ve had in London as well and for the price you are definitely getting more than value.  So go enjoy your tea and scone this Saturday!

Bea_s_of_Bloomsbury_1Bea’s of Bloomsbury

44 Theobalds Road WC1X 8NW


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