Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Having become irretrievably lost in Heathrow only once, Evan made his way from Surry Hills, Sydney, to my front door in St Pancras Chambers, London, in one epic journey. I am sure everyone at home is pleased to know that this journey was accomplished successfully, and so here’s the photographic proof: bangers & mash for lunch at the pub downstairs.
Welcome to the Betjeman Arms, Evan

Nelson atop his Column
Evan has arrived with no plans at all, but of course I have plenty of those. But to start with all we have done is walk and ride the Tube here and there...somewhat inevitably ending up in various tourist-type destinations. If it is only one block to Trafalgar Square, why not check it out? If you are walking right past the War Cabinet Rooms, why not pop in for a visit? Oh, and there’s Big Ben and Westminster; but you can’t walk right up to No. 10 Downing Street as you could last time that Evan was in London. He was just a small boy of seven years then, so the London he sees this time will be quite different, objectively and subjectively.

The War Cabinet Rooms, by the way (a thinly-veiled Shrine to Churchill) are entirely fascinating to visit, re-creating London of the Blitz very tellingly. We’ve also managed to find a pub on Charing Cross amongst the bookshops; and the Tate Modern, to visit the ‘Sunflower Seeds’ by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

In recent art news, this installation piece at the Tate Modern which was intended to be interactive has been closed to the public on that ubiquitous modern concern ‘Health & Safety’. The installation is a space filled with 100 million hand-painted (really?) porcelain sunflower seeds. The concept is by the artist Ai Weiwei and the hand-painting is by presumably quite a few porcelain factory workers in China. After allowing the press, and the great and good at the opening , and the unwashed public for two days to walk on it, The Tate authorities became concerned that porcelain dust caused by said walking was an ‘H & S’ concern, and roped the thing off. The Guardian reported that there were mutterings at the barricade, and even some loose talk of storming it, by a disgruntled crowd:

There was much muttering but this being London on a chilly Friday lunchtime no one stormed the barricades, although there was much tutting. One elderly lady in a walking frame shamed the other bystanders by going under the tape to take a sunflower seed from under the nose of an attendant.

Civil unrest in Southbank.

I thought the installation was very evocative, with its references to Imperial Chinese porcelain, the thought of the contribution of the factory workers, and, now, its lost interactivity. It seems that the sharing of a snack of sunflower seeds between friends is also a reference to individual links in a time of Maoist totalitarianism. The barricade surely adds yet another layer to contemplate!
Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds'
in the amazing space of the Tate Modern

The former Bankside Power Station

Artist Cy Twombly: I couldn't resist that name!


  1. I heard about the Tate Modern sunflower seeds on Front Row. The presenter walked on them a few days before it was closed. It sounded like walking on gravel, or a shingle beach.

  2. PS Front Row is on Radio 4, 7:15 week nights. You might even like it (if you have time).