Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bloomsbury Festival

This weekend was Festival time in Bloomsbury. I stopped by Russell Square (which I found out is the largest of London’s squares) to check out the scene. I found a quiet, vaguely academic, genteel and mildly boring community festival, slightly eccentric and with a few interesting oddities to be found. Kind of like Bloomsbury itself, I suppose.  Except that labelling either the Festival or Bloomsbury ‘boring’ is perhaps a little harsh. The music in the square, when I passed by, was being provided by an African ethnic music group sponsored by SOAS (School of African Studies) – the Africans, at least, were lively. The ‘Books and Craft’ tent housed representatives from The London Review Bookshop and a local second-hand seller named, wittily, Skoob; people with rather bad handmade jewellery and so on; and a table of representatives promoting a group which goes on archaeological digs in Egypt. Am I giving the general feel?

Out in the Square, residents sat about in a relaxed way at tables under the trees, rugged up against the nippy autumnal air. Volunteers were taking groups on walking tours around the Square and the area. One avenue of trees was filled with a low key, pretty, interactive art-work of white paper doves.  There was beer, and some low key food. I found it restful.

I picked up a program, and found that various short talks and writing workshops could be attended over the weekend, dotted throughout the museums and galleries of Bloomsbury. For example, at the Charles Dickens Museum you could hear readings from Dickens’ work by his descendant, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley. At the Art Workers Guild was a debate including artist Terry Duffy “questioning the creative relevance of Bloomsbury today”. You could have “Tea at 3” and listen to poetry and music from the local group ‘Bloomsbury Voices’. At the Swedenborg Society, Nissa Nishikawa, artist in residence, presented “Rite of Augury”, a site-specific Dance-Theatre piece centred on the ideas of Emmanuel Swedenborg, accompanied by Japanese acoustic psychedelic band, Bo Ningen. As you can see, there was something for everyone.  

The Festival Program is one to save, not only for the entertaining record it gives of these rather esoteric events, but because of the list of museums, galleries, parks, gardens, studios, etc around the area:  it lists 7 museums, 12 parks & gardens, 19 exhibitions, lots of film venues and dozens of walk itineraries.

Having given the Bloomsbury Festival a rather more cursory visit than it really deserved, I walked back home to St Pancras. Passing by Brunswick Square I was attracted by what looked like chairs – and a sofa - hanging from the trees. Closer inspection revealed that this was indeed so, and moreover there were also letters hanging in the air, and lightshades. And the voices of a rather lovely a cappella singing ensemble. Children were swinging on the chairs, while singing filled the branches. It was rather mesmeric. I can find no mention of this in the program and so still have no idea what it was all about. But I liked it.

I also learnt about Brunswick Square and its surrounds, which apparently have connections with J M Barrie and his story “Peter Pan”. Behind the Square, where I usually don’t walk but was attracted today, is the Foundling Hospital and Coram’s Fields, a couple of places for future exploration.

The introduction to the program hopes that, amongst other things, “you’ll discover people and places that you didn’t know about, and stumble across art and performance in unusual spaces...” Mission accomplished in my case, even on my brief sampling. 

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