Yesterday I took another unplanned day's holiday. What decadence!
After going to the Royal Mail depot at 7.15am to post my postcard for our swap (check out the website later to see everyone's first creations), I got an early train to London so that I could go to Bermondsey market. I've always wanted to go to this market which is so redolent of the underground history of London -- I'd heard that it was covered by a special law which meant that the provenance of an object sold between sunset and sunrise couldn't be questioned and so it was a perfect way of 'fencing' stolen goods (this law of 'marche ouvert' was only abolished in 1995, it turns out). To function within this law, the market traditionally opened at 4am.
I didn't get there at 4am, but at about 10am. Early enough for me. In my mind Bermondsey was a Dickensian enclave crouched down below Tower Bridge in a foul miasma off the Thames. In reality it was incredibly up and come, and when I got to the square where the market takes place, it was developed to within an inch of its life with a boutique hotel, some kind of gallery space and a posh cinema. In the midst of all this brand-new smartness (which I don't dislike, don't get me wrong), like a besieged encampment, was the market. I fear it must be in the final phase of its existence, however long it can hang on for. All the stallholders seemed quite elderly and most had their heads wrapped in thick layers of hoods and scarves against the wind, like dwellers on the Russian steppes. The goods on sale were largely silver, watches, cutlery, jewelry -- not really my thing, but I still very much enjoyed the whole experience.
All I bought were a few postcards, of which this is one:
interesting article, which seems to confirm that the place is probably on its last legs. It will be a shame if it goes because it really is a bit of London history and made me think of Fagin and Bill Sykes. The article mentions Italian traders and in fact there was just such a trader who was desperately trying to sell the stuff on his stall to the man whose stall I was at (slowly going through a box of postcards). My chap was scoffing and shouting, 'If you can't sell it, why would I be able to?' which is a fair point. Then he tried to get me to buy the whole box of postcards (about 300 or more) for 50p a shot (instead of £1 each) but I said no thanks!
Well this was only the start of my day out as next I went to the Hayward to see the Contemporary British Art show. This had me feeling completely perplexed and spaced out. I don't normally feel like this in the face of very modern art, not even at Frieze with its animatronic rubbish heaps and phoney architectural digs, but this was ... really out there. Normally I just take a very simple approach and take what pleasure I can find, without trying to analyse it all very much. But there just seemed to be so very little to get hold of at all, let alone to like or dislike. There was a metal park bench standing on its own, one end looked a little blacker than the rest. A card nearby said that 'at unspecified times the bench will burst into flames and a naked man may attend'. Alas the bench did not burst into flames and no naked man attended. There was a big square heap of soil with some yellow powder sprinkled on top and some little nodules of soap scattered about it. Why? There was a little pile of rolls of sticky tape and some cans of paint. A bulb rotating over a radio and making the radio buzz. There were some more conventional figurative paintings too, including some by George Shaw, who paints in Humbrol enamel.
After that I went out of the South Bank past the Royal Festival Hall, where there was an amazing farmers' market, infinitely superior to anything I've ever seen before, so I feasted on the free samples (naughty me) and a samosa. Then I got the bus to Tate Britain to see the Susan Hiller exhibition.
I enjoyed it all quite a lot. I don't know very much about Susan Hiller, who was an anthropologist before she was an artist, or as well as being an artist, but I got a strong feeling about her that she has never really stopped being a 'real person' and been subsumed into an artist 'persona'. She seems like someone with curiosity about the world and who playfully explores ideas and collects things just because they appeal to her.
There was another room where hundreds of tiny speakers hung down from wires in the ceiling and each speaker played a recording of someone telling how they'd seen a UFO (in lots of different languages), so you could wander through this forest of dangling wires, making them swish about and tuning into different accounts. You can see the anthropology in this, but it was also a good aesthetic experience.
Another room, my favourite, had Hiller's collection of postcards of 'Rough Seas' -- hundreds like these ones:
These are some of the plaques:
Postman's Park in Clerkenwell, I've now discovered, so this would be something to visit another day.
I had better stop going on at such length. But I had a very stimulating day. No matter that I could barely walk by the time I got home and was in bed by 9pm.