Monday, 23 April 2012


Verdict: Worth a look
Where: National Theatre
When: 16 April - 4 June 2012

When you think festival, you may think of the musical or the religious variety, but this exhibition interprets the term quite loosely - even stretching to a hot dog eating contest.

There are many photographs here and they include familiar festivals such as Glastonbury, the Hajj and the Chinese floating lanterns. However the most interesting part is finding out about festivals that you didn't know existed. Who knew that Iran has a water pistol festival and that India has a camel fair.

There are some visually spectacular images present such as a man diving through a sea of tomatoes and a boy covered in powder during the Hindu festival of Holi. 

La Tomatina

Where this exhibition fails to fully measure up is that the previous inhabitants of the National Theatre's mezzanine have been amazing such as the landscape photographer of the year. Though these photographs are very interesting and some are captivating, only a few stand out as meritorious photographs in their own right without the festival context.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Dickens and London

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Museum of London
When: 9 December 2011 - 10 June 2012

It's always a calculated risk when basing an exhibition on an artist's life because even though the public may love their work, there's no guarantee that they'll want to know how they lived.

It's been 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens and so we have an exhibition dedicated to his life and his favourite muse - the city of London.

The show has two foci, how Dickens lived (hardcore fans only need apply) and how London was in his day - the more interesting part. The Museum of London has done an excellent job or portraying Victorian London through paintings, artefacts and even a map of London - see if you can find your house or workplace, or the field that it used to be. This is a helpful segue into how Dickens didn't romanticise London in his novels but still had a lot of love for it.

Dickens is famed for his nocturnal walks, claiming that he knew the streets of London better than any other Londoner. The final room plays a clever video that involves nocturnal strolls through modern London but overlaid with a reader reciting Dickensian text pertinent to the on screen images.

You'll learn a lot about Dickens at this exhibition but you need not be a groupie to enjoy what's on display. 

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Imperial War Museum
When: 7 October - 15 April 2012

Don McCullin forged a photojournalistic career by venturing to dangerous battlefields including Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

His life started with war as he experienced the Blitz first hand as a child and grew up in an area which had its share of local gang warfare - his first published photographs were of these gangs.

His career would then take him all over the world to various war zones and would involve risking his life regularly. In this deeply personal exhibition he remarks how war became a drug to him and that he would become bored and restless when at home with his family.

The photos on display can be both harrowing and chilling, especially when he used his preferred approach of black and white prints. He later moved on to colour due to pressure from his bosses but the horrors of war seem starker in the black and white format.

Shellshocked by Don McCullin

His focus then switched from the makers of war (soldiers) to the victims and his pictures of abandoned and bullied children are heartbreaking. 

He's now had his fill of war and has shifted his talents to photographs of his local countryside and the war on AIDS, but he will always be remembered for his shots of war.

This is a powerful portrait of one man's career whose photographs are truly harrowing. War is hell and this is further proof.  

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Remote Control

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Institute of Contemporary Arts
When: 3 April - 10 June 2012

Television has had a massive impact on society over the last sixty or so years. With the digital switch over at hand, it's as good a time as ever to showcase some televisual art.
Simon Denny, Those who don't change will be switched off, 2012. Digital collage from transmission switchover advertising

The Ambika P3 has David Hall's 1,001 TV sets that is an audiovisual experience not to be missed. So now the ICA is displaying television artwork from the last sixty years.

Considering how central TV has been to our lives, the power of these artworks is disappointing with only a few notable pieces. Most of the art tries to show that TV can be used as an artistic medium but ignores the fact that TV has a universal appeal that can be used by artists to speak to the masses.

Most of the works are hard to grasp and the only ones that stand out are those that suggest how television can brainwash us. A drawing of a TV with the words 'eat sugar, spend money' is spot on and can't help but make you smile.

The only other piece of interest is the analogue transmission equipment donated by channel 4 that shows you the antiquated equipment that we used to rely on before the digital age.

With the dawn of the internet age, this was a chance to highlight the lasting impact of a powerful medium but it falls well short of the mark. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

Brains: The mind as matter

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Wellcome Collection
When: 29 March - 17 June 2012

The Wellcome collection is displaying a wealth of knowledge on the history of the study of the brain and how it's progressed over the years - and why it needed to.

It goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians who placed no importance with the brain as witnessed by the mummification process when it was unceremoniously yanked out through the nasal cavity. They also explore trepanning - the process of drilling a hole in someone's head to remove 'evil spirits'.

Even as recently as 60 years ago the differences in brain structure and size where used to justify racism and gender discrimination by most European countries and especially Nazi Germany.

You will constantly learn new things as you walk around this exhibition. If you had any doubts about how smart a bottlenose dolphin is, seeing its brain and how similar it is to ours will put those doubts to bed.

Once again the Wellcome collection leads the way in showing how science can be both educational and fascinating at the same time.