Cutting edge, brand new, large-scale: Deaf and disabled-led art has never been so good. LOCOG and Southbank Centre present 29 brand new commissions from Deaf and disabled artists to coincide with the Paralympics.
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Cutting edge, brand new, large-scale: Deaf and disabled-led art has never been so good. LOCOG and Southbank Centre present 29 brand new commissions from Deaf and disabled artists to coincide with the Paralympics.
The organic garden on the roof of Queen Elizabeth Hall boasts some of the best views in London. Here you can get a sun tan and pick up top gardening tips from the knowledgeable volunteer gardeners, who are turning their lives around by learning new skills and growing some weird and wonderful global vegetables to celebrate Festival of the World.
Stella has been volunteering at the garden since last year and says that gardening has dramatically changed her life for the better. She says: ‘I was going to a woman’s centre and one of the workers there was from Ground Ecotherapy. I discovered this garden and starting helping out – and I never left! Now I come up here four times a week.
‘It’s turned my life around’
‘This project keeps me out of trouble – I haven’t been arrested, I’ve come off drugs, I don’t touch alcohol – it’s turned my life around, really. You wake up wanting to be in this garden and when you get here you don’t want to leave.
‘It’s nice to be respected by the public for what you do. A lot of us volunteers come from backgrounds where you think you’re nothing, you don’t think anyone’s going to look up to you. Something like this shows that you can do things with your life. Now I’ve just got a £500 grant to help women at my hostel grow their own vegetables.’
Southbank Centre’s Gemma Hooper says ‘The gardeners are all volunteers. The main group of gardeners we have is from Grounded Ecotherapy and they all have experience of homelessness and alcohol or drug addiction. They are now channelling their energy into the garden, and some of them have gone on to get jobs after working here. There are currently 15 volunteers who all play a key part and we’re trying to develop the project and get more members of the public to volunteer in the garden and join in with what’s happening here.’
Basil: top tips
Stella and Paul, the head gardener, have grown 13 types of basil in the garden from seed. We asked Paul for his top tips on growing your own.
‘Basil is very delicate’, says Paul. ‘It’s a tropical plant and if you over-water it you can kill it. It doesn’t like going to bed with wet feet is what my Dad taught me. Water it in the morning so that the basil can take up the water during the day and then when it goes to sleep, the soil isn’t waterlogged.’
‘Basil doesn’t like going to bed with wet feet’
Stella describes how they ‘train’ the basil in the roof garden to get used to being outdoors, putting it out during the day and then popping it back in the greenhouse over night. ‘When it gets older, it can then live outdoors permanently,’ she says.
If you’re desperate for herb-growing tips, advice on growing veggies or just want to meet new people and spend time outdoors, then do come along to the free, drop-in gardening sessions on Tuesdays from 11am until 1pm. The sessions are mainly aimed at adults but lots of families have been joining in, too. You can just turn up – you don’t have to book and everyone’s welcome.
Southbank Centre’s Gemma Hooper says ‘In these sessions we’ve been doing lots of seed sowing and learning all the proper processes for that. We’ve also been doing dead-heading, removing old leaves and flower heads, and generally what we call ‘Chelsea-fying’ the garden. Lots of our gardeners are involved in the Chelsea flower show and we try to keep the garden up to that standard so we need lots of help to do that.’
Each week the London listings pour out another jug-full of mind-boggling hand-clapping crowd-roaring heart-blazing culturally-edifying possibilities that flow out across the Thames into every back street and crooked corner, loud and glorious delights.
And then, right in the middle of it all, right under your nose, some delights barely break above a whisper.
Step out of Waterloo, beneath the bridge, round the back, between Southbank Centre and the NFT, the rooftop garden green and tempting, high ahead of you. Turn left into the Southbank Centre and immediately to your right for the Singing Lift. Step in and press 5. Let the choir serenade you up there. Turn out, turn left. Shh.
This is the Library in London’s jacket pocket. It has been nestled here since 1988, though it began in the post-War boom of the 1950s.
As of 2012, the collection itself spans 100 years, from the estimated birth of Modern Poetry, the sharp hewn lines of poets like Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle slicing through the remains of Romanticism in the face of the 20th Century and the oncoming Great War.
You don’t have to know the names of poetic movements to come here. You don’t even need to know any poems. You just peel a book off the shelf, part a page (or unclip a CD from its jewel-case) and go.
“You mean, there’s a whole library for poetry?!” Chrissy says. She works here. Obviously she knows there is a library for poetry. She’s just telling me what people say when she tells them where she works. She sits gently nestled by piles of poetry journals that she digitises for the online collection.
“ ‘You mean, there’s a whole library for poetry?!’,
‘How big is it?!’,
‘Over 200,000 items’,
‘What? But what’s it for?’ ”.
“And what do you tell them?” I ask
“I ask them if they’ve ever been to a wedding or funeral that hasn’t had a poem. And why is it we turn to that? Why do we turn to poetry of all things at such big life moments? Better than anything else, poetry expresses the inexpressible”.
Jon, who’s been a librarian here since before the SBC redevelopment in 2005, says that for him, poetry is a great mood-changer. “say, if I want to feel upbeat, I’ll pick Ivor Cutler, or John Hegley, or even Ted Hughes”.
Kasmyn says she loves how poetry enables you to “Look in a book and remember yourself”. I think that’s a wonderfully poetic way for her to make her point. In fact, pretty much everyone who works here is both avid reader and writer.
“I don’t think people end up here casually, saying ‘oh I may as well’”, says Chrissy (also a poet), “It seems more like somewhere that people actively want to work”.
“That’s true” says Librarian (and novelist) Mia.
Whilst some of the librarians come from backgrounds with literature running in their families, just as many had nothing but a spark of curiosity that led them to it. Same as the visitors then.
Some people say “’I don’t know poetry’, ‘I’m not into poetry’, Why is there a library for poetry?’, and then scurry away” Mia notes, “but generally, when I tell people that I work here, they say “Lucky you”.
I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on / in the world between the covers of books / such sandstorms and ice blasts of word / such
staggering peace, such enormous laughter / such and so many blinding bright lights…
Thomas, Dylan (second bookcase on the right, third shelf down)
You can buy tickets for this event by visiting the event page on the website
A copy of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ smuggled into a prison is the starting point for this evening of performance and discussion.
Robben Island is the prison in which Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years, and a global symbol of the apartheid struggle. When Sonny Venkathrathnam, an inmate, smuggled in a copy of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’, it became a treasure, passed between his fellow prisoners, who memorised and wrote down extracts of the work.
Theatre director Matthew Hahn has turned this story into a play, featuring extracts of Shakespeare intercut with testimony of the prisoners.
This week Matthew Hahn was interviewed on Front Row about the Robben Island Bible , which is currently exhibited at the British Museum. Have a listen on BBC iPlayer here! (it starts 23 minutes in)
Inua Ellams, ‘London’s hottest new spoken word talent’ (The Times) and the man behind the smash-hit successes The 14th Tale and Black T-shirt Collection is back with his new show, Knight Watch.
We’re pleased to be welcoming Knight Watch to Southbank Centre as part of our Africa Utopia festival in July 2012.
Here’s an interview with Inua in the rehearsal room.
Probably like you, I meet and talk to lots of people in any one week. Some of the conversations are uplifting and the words uttered are reaffirming, staying with me for a long time, causing me to pause and consider, shaping my mind. Other conversations are fleeting with a promise to follow up soon.
One recent conversation was with Emily Phillips from Psychologies Magazine. Emily interviewed me in December for publication in January 2012 on the moments that have changed my life. Emily captured me well. I found reading her interpretation of what motivates me extremely affirming and her insights into my loves and passions were just glorious. Just like Emily I too enjoy finding out about people and documenting the discussion and at MSL we call these events Semple Secrets.
On Saturday 4 February 2012 at 2pm, MSL will host its next Semple Secrets event at Southbank Centre. I am excited about our event as I will be in conversation with two iconic fashion designers – Roland Klein and David Sassoon. They have many things in common – they share a love of designing clothes for women, they have designed for the discerning rich and famous including the late Diana Princess of Wales and they are generous with passing on their flair for creative knowledge, particularly to the next generation. Roland and David will display a few of their celebrated dresses and talk to the audience about the inspiration behind each garment as well as divulging their secrets about working with celebrities.
Come and join us on 4 February as we would love to meet you.
It is the middle of the 1930s and the artistic world is in crisis. Promising abstract artist John Piper has just released his latest piece, a collage made from coloured paper and paint. There is uproar amongst his contemporaries and the arts graduate is branded a traitor. The unthinkable has happened.
The picture is a landscape. And not just any old landscape. It’s a landscape of a British seaside.
John Piper is the hero of Alexandra Harris’ recent book, Romantic Heroes. She spoke at Southbank Centre as part of the 2011 London Literary Festival, to talk about her work which looks into the confused state of English culture during the interwar period.
At a time when the continent was in awe of people like Picasso, England was undergoing it’s own revolution. Artists such as Piper and John Nash were keen to break free from the ties of being labelled as either traditionalists or modernists. Both men set about mixing the artistic forms together, looking at the quaintness of the traditional English landscape through the eyes of a modernist. For many from all quarters of the art world, this was beyond a step too far.
Yet we learn that this distortion of identity was not being limited to art. Harris covers an incredible range of English society – from literature and photography, to gardening and even cookery – finding evidence of people from all areas of life discovering new ways to look at old England.
She introduces figures like Ralf Handcock, a prominent gardener who liked to build traditional English gardens out of the finest English materials. Except he liked to place them in rather modern places, such as upon the top of the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan, New York. During it’s creation, Handcock insisted only English materials were used, hence rocks were imported by ship from the Lake District and traditional English trees had to be hoisted by crane on to the roof.
Then there are writers of the period like Virginia Woolf and Evelyn Waugh, both of whom clearly have had a huge impact on Harris. Through books such as The Lighthouse and Brideshead Revisited the authors centred on traditional England, “full of landscape and weather”, but wrote about it in a new and different way.
Even the guidebooks of the time were keen to promote an exciting bold and playful country, providing a new outlook for well-known popular destinations.
Alexandra Harris’ talk is a fascinating insight into a hidden section of English society. She clearly has an incredible passion for the period, getting visibly excited at the mention of characters such as Bill Brandt and Edith Olivier. She has an enormous breadth of knowledge about the time period too, dipping into topics as wide as fascism in farming to books on traditional pie making.
At a time when Southbank Centre is itself looking back at the 1951 Festival of Britain, it seems particularly apt for Harris to be telling us about a similar thing happening in England’s past.
Filed under: London Literature Festival 2011 | Tagged: Alexandra Harris, Literature and Spoken Word, London Literature Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Romantic Moderns, Southbank Centre | Leave a Comment »
“It was all hell!” For author Alan Hollinghurst, writing the follow-up to his Booker-prize winning novel The Line Of Beauty was clearly not some easy stroll in the park.
The award-winning novelist’s appearance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of the 2011 London Literary Festival, follows the release of his new book A Stranger’s Child. The novel, Hollinghurst’s first for seven years, takes the reader on an enthralling journey covering nearly a century of history, following a large cast of characters as their lives intertwine, fading in and out during the proceedings of the book.
Indeed, the large period of time covered by the novel means no single character from the book’s beginning is alive by the time it ends. This means an enormous number of characters appear during the work, each of them bringing their own intriguing story as the events unfold. The Stranger’s Child manages to achieve this incredibly well and as such it is a joy to hear the writer discuss how he forms such an interesting group of people.
From the talk’s outset, it is clear Alan Hollinghurst is not particularly fond of the majority of figures in his book. “I’ve always enjoyed killing people off,” he declares, adding that it was part of the joy of “the novelist’s power”, (probably just to clarify to anyone watching that he only meant death in the most literate of sense).
For Hollinghurst, the people he enjoys writing about most are those he personally likes the least. Dudley, he says, is one character he especially enjoyed creating. Furthermore, he likes to give each person he writes significant flaws, leaving the reader uncertain about their feelings and sympathies towards every character they come across. The novelist is very careful not to give any of his characters – or even the reader – an easy ride.
This method for forming his characters is one Hollinghurst has stuck too throughout his career. When asked about who his favourite was out of all the figures he had created, the author simply states, “I don’t really like any of them much.” Creating disagreeable people is the charm of writing about them, he asserts. Had any of the figures throughout his career actually existed it appears unlikely they would be included on his Christmas card list.
It therefore comes as a surprise when Hollinghurst admits that most of the figures he creates have similar interests to him. The author stresses the importance of immersing himself in the world of the character, and allowing “everything [to] follow from that”. For The Stranger’s Child, Hollinghurst highlights the character Paul Bryant, someone he describes as “the most difficult character I have ever tried to write,” because he has completely different interests to those of the author.
For some characters in the book, Hollinghurst found inspiration from real-life figures of the twentieth century. He talks about the character Cecil, someone he based loosely on the English poet Rupert Brooke. Still, he stresses the importance of building these people from imagination rather than sticking too close to reality.
For Hollinghurst, a large number of historical novels of recent times have been spoiled through too much research, meaning the imagination of the writer is replaced by well-written information. The novelist therefore trusts his own mind when giving a voice to his characters from the different time periods. For example, for Cecil he had to create a large amount of ‘pastiche’ poetry, in a style which could have been written at the start of the twentieth century. This was something he thoroughly enjoyed doing, stating, “I can write bad poetry endlessly!”
Throughout his career, Alan Hollinghurst has created a diverse range of enthralling and intriguing characters. The Stranger’s Child is a book that substantially adds to these. It is now up to the reader to add their own imagination to the people that appear in the story.
Filed under: London Literature Festival 2011 | Tagged: Alan Hollinghurst, Literature and Spoken Word, London Literature Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, The Stranger's Child | 1 Comment »
It is the second night of the London Literary Festival and the artists Gilbert & George are on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Next door in the Purcell Room, the first ever theatrical performance of ‘Sexing The Cherry’ is going on. It does appear the festival is having one of its less literary days.
Yet this is much to the credit of the festival organisers. The event brings an incredibly diverse group of talented people into the area and it is inspirational to hear about their work. An evening with Gilbert & George in particular delivers one full of surprises, even for the most ardent of fans.
For anyone sitting in the hall with no knowledge of the work of Gilbert & George, it would appear that little out of the ordinary is occurring. Just two smartly dressed gentleman in similar brown suits discussing their life’s work. It could quite easily be a pair of sixty-year-old relatives sitting around at a family gathering talking about their years gone past (albeit a family gathering in a very large hall which requires a ticket for entry). Except you don’t generally hear sixty-year-old relatives get quite so excited when they talk about the time they were branded “beasts and sexual perverts”. George in particular seems to relish the chance to say something a little naughty.
“We never do anything that has a point” – Gilbert & George
It is fascinating to hear the pair discuss their work and lives in the East End of London, the area where they have both lived since beginning art courses at St Martins School of Art in the 1960s.
As artists, Gilbert & George are adamant about where they stand. Quite simply, away from everybody else. They are not anti-establishment. They are not rebelling against anything. They are just independent. As George puts it, “the key is to be normal and weird at the same time”. It sounds a rather tricky balance to achieve, especially in a world that is constantly changing.
Yet in a career which has spanned nearly fifty years, the pair do not believe their art has ever changed. It is only everything around them that has. Whilst they have been happy to incorporate new technology in the creation of their work, the subject matter does not alter. Gilbert & George will always be their art.
For example, when asked whether they were happy to use computers to create their work instead of the older photographic methods they started with, George simply state’s “the only thing we miss is the rubber gloves!”
It is clear how important the East End is to the pair both in life and work, and their fondness for the people in the area. At one point, George recalls a story about a newspaper seller in Liverpool Street who they walked past everyday for several decades and would always give them a friendly greeting whenever they saw him. Over the years, age took it’s toll on the newspaper seller and at one point it became clear the man was gravely ill, yet he would always still say hello. Then one day he stopped the pair and told them he wanted to recite a poem that had been passed down through his family. After that, they never saw the newspaper seller again and had to assume he had died.
Reading the poem, George talked about the extraordinary gift this dying man had given them. An example of the diverse range of people who live in the East End and the unexpected things that occur there everyday. The fact that it was a particularly cheeky and rather rude limerick probably helped make it’s mark on the artists too.
This was an evening which featured everything from Gilbert & George’s average day (each day being very regimented and beginning at 5.30am, starting with an hour spent “reading dirty stories”), to the revelation of a new body of work, and even a rendition of their first major piece ‘The Singing Sculptures’. In many ways this was more than just a talk about the artists’ career, but every much as fascinating a performance as the one going on in the room next door.
Tomorrow: Join with Southbank Centre poet in residence Simon Armitage for a special day celebrating freedom and creativity – featuring a balloon release at 3pm.
‘Peace… is a Kebero played by two
hands in the centre of whispering sands,
that speaks of Eritrean sunrise.’
Frehiwat, Refugee Youth
The Lion and Unicorn installation by the entrance to Royal Festival Hall always has people talking. Each time I have been past this week young and old are looking with interest and compassion at the poems strung together to make a fluttering wall of verse. The installation was made by artist Gitta Gschwendtner working with 50 young refugees and asylum seekers and pays homage to a flock of ceramic birds in the original Lion and Unicorn Pavilion from the 1951 Festival of Britain. The young people’s poems – written and spoken – reinterpret the original themes of strength and imagination, of peace and of freedom.
Groups that took part in the project were: the Refugee Council, Refugee Youth, the Klevis Kola Foundation, and the Refugee Home School Support Project.
As a continuation of the ideas communicated in the instillation, join in tomorrow in celebration of these and other young voices during Everyone Sang, part of London Literature Festival:
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre
Saturday 9th July
10am – 12noon
Poetry workshop, The Clore Ballroom
Free open workshop for all ages – drop in any time
Come and write your own bird poem of peace – poets Joelle Taylor, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Philip Wells and Yemisi Blake will be here to help you – and you can write in English or in your own language. Later at 3pm, your poem will take flight attached to a balloon!
1pm – 2.30pm
Young people’s poetry film and readings, The Clore Ballroom
Free, no need to book
Southbank Centre artist in residence and critically acclaimed poet Simon Armitage presents film and poetry from young people from refugee backgrounds around themes of peace and of freedom, alongside established poets Joelle Taylor, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Philip Wells and Yemisi Blake
3pm – 3.15pm
Balloon release, Festival Pier, Queens Walk
Free, no need to book
Poems written in the morning’s workshop will be released attached to a flock of balloons led by Simon Armitage and young people involved in the Lion and Unicorn project
To see a short film about the installation here.
Filed under: London Literature Festival 2011, See Further Festival | Tagged: Festival of Briatin, Freedom, Literature and Spoken Word, Poetry, Simon Armitage, Southbank Centre, yemisi blake, young curators | Leave a Comment »