98. The City as ‘marvelous’ Mosaic

Some weeks in London become a mosaic of fragmented experiences. Work and life, art and world, the city itself and what it contains, all become one continuous experience, not hierarchically organized but even immersing the self as just one more, more or less significant element. Long ago you learned to allow the city to enter you, and that this was the only way to stop it from spitting you out or trampling you down. You become one with it and now it allows you to become increasingly familiar. The city shrinks the more and the better you know it. A bicycle shrinks it yet again.

The outgoing mayor appears to have signed lucrative licenses to a thousand property speculators and building firms to make a quick profit from EVERY single empty lot in London. As is always the case with ‘free market’ thinking, the thinking is not ‘joined-up’ (as you used to say in the New Labour years), nor far-sighted. It’s quick buck, poor quality thinking.


Hence, a bus ride that, a few years ago would have taken the average London punter 20 minutes, now takes over an hour, simply because every street in London has at least one  building site on it, serviced by queuing trucks, and often with its own temporary traffic light system. Multiply this by a thousand or more and the potential for chaos is clear. But as always in the Tory’s very own version of ‘La La Land’, the reality of ordinary people’s lives always has to give way to the rapid (and invariably ugly) production of ‘trickle-down’ fairy tales wherein thousands more overpriced apartments and office blocks are supposed to contribute in some oblique, vague, long-term manner to the improvement and equality of society.

No title, 2004

Philippe Vandenberg

As you say, the world and its art all became rather blurred this week. Last Saturday you moderated a conversation about ‘Making The Nature Seen‘ a painting show at Tannery Arts featuring Tim Ralston, Benjamin Deakin, Emma Cousin, Clare Chapman and Mark Jackson. While there you popped in to the Drawing Room next door to see Philippe Vandenberg and a drawing by your friend Yu-Chen Wang.

A few days later you rushed through the Turner Prize in between two appointments, and saw the architectural intervention called ‘The Smile‘ set in the Chelsea College of Arts parade ground. You popped in to see the Punk photos by Sheila Rock at Chelsea Space while you were there too. But it was all a bit of a blitz, unkind to the art, artists and curators and thus it isn’t fair to comment on what you saw as any cursory memory would be unrepresentative, unjust and possibly unkind.

In a similar hurry, while attending to other jobs, other roles, you saw shows by Anthony Gormley and Virginia Overton at White Cube Bermondsey, by Bonnie Camplin and Matt Mullican (perhaps your favourite of the week) at Camden Arts Centre, and by Roman Ondak at South London Gallery too. Then there was James Richards , plus the wonderful little ‘Flourescent Chrysanthemum‘ show, both at the  ICA. The week ended visiting one or two friends, including Elaine Mullings and Anne Kuhn who were  exhibiting at ‘The Other Art Fair‘ in Shoreditch.


Matt Mullican

You learned long ago to follow flaneurs and Frankfurt School heroes in addressing the city itself and embracing all it offers, rather than prioritising the relatively rarified and strangely stratified art world. Robert Rauschenberg  is supposed to have insisted that any good artist can make art simply by taking a walk around their own block, and you are sure that is true.

Hence, whenever you walk through Spitalfields, Liverpool Street and Leadenhall Market area, and see the seething crowds of well-paid drinkers who seem to fill these spaces 24/7, you have to ‘marvel’ at the historical spectacle of it all.


While buzzing about the city you also dropped in on an elderly friend who occupies some rare, and much needed sheltered, social housing in the Whitechapel area. From inside the tiny flat you could see fashionably reinstated extremely old shop signs, making you feel you were living in Victorian or Edwardian times. Meanwhile the resident complained about ‘Jack The Ripper Tours’ constantly disturbing them in the evenings as loud, dramatic voices shared the secrets of nocturnal London’s evil past with tourists in the street directly outside the window.


To live in London is not only to live in a city rich with what Baudelaire called ‘marvelous subjects’ (with which the art world has to compete) but it is also to live in a huge, sprawling museum, to which you and your heart alone can be the only guide.

The exceptions are of course those rapidly thrown-up new Tory-fuelled facades which appear to have no value at all, partly because they have no history, and partly because they seem to come into the world, not through any sense of necessity but simply as a result of crude, thoughtless, careless greed.


One thought on “98. The City as ‘marvelous’ Mosaic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s