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Mapping the City Exhibition at Somerset House

mapping the city exhibition at somerset house

Shepard Fairey, Berlin Tower

A couple of weeks ago I headed to Somerset House on a Saturday afternoon. Somerset House is one of my favourite London spaces; I love the neo-classical building, the fountains in the courtyard and the range of exhibitions.

That said, the last time I went to Somerset House was in August 2013. I managed to squeeze in three exhibitions that day: Blumenfeld Studio: New York 1941 – 1960; Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me and Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings. I vowed to go back more often so here we finally are, just a short eighteen months later, for the Mapping the City exhibition.

Mapping the City exhibition at Somerset House

Mapping the City at Somerset House Swoon Bangkok

Swoon, Bangkok

50 emerging and established artists have created cartographic representations of cities for the Mapping the City exhibition at Somerset House. All artwork has been created by graffiti and street artists, and themes range from the biographical (Spok’s I Need an Extra 25 Years of Youth) and figural (Sixe Paredes’ Barcelona) to the conceptual (Filippo Minelli’s Nowhere Forever) and the fantastical (Will Sweeney’s Cabott Square, Canary Wharf).

“If you look at your city from a different angle, you start loving it in a new way. You realise that the city is not only about the obvious. Its about the things out of our regular focus, usually somewhere on top or in a corner, somewhere hiding in plain sight”

Honet

Mapping the City at Somerset House Jurne Covalence

Jurne, Covalence

The usual major world city suspects get their five minutes of fame, but I found myself naturally gravitating towards maps that represented London and American cities. This certainly had more to do with my long-term interest in American cities and the fact that I like London so much I write a blog about it, and isn’t a reflection on the artwork on show.

I was particularly taken by Cleon Peterson’s The Weak and the Powerful and The Return which address the American inner city. I’m often drawn to dystopian images and these subverted the American Dream in an original manner.

On the other side of the American spectrum I loved Overcast Angeles by Augustine Kofie, whose soft colour palette and ephemeral style represented the global image of Los Angeles perfectly.

Augustine Kofie Overcast Angeles

Augustine Kofie, Overcast Angeles

As for London, two representations stood out to me. Tim Head’s biographical Forty Five takes you on a car journey through the streets of London. I’m rarely in a car in the city but when I am, usually at night, there is something special about seeing the city from a different viewpoint. The eco-warrior in me would love nothing more that to see the city turn of lights at night, but I can’t deny the atmosphere they create.

The second London map I loved was Cabott Square, Canary Wharf by Will Sweeney. I’ve always disliked Canary Wharf; there’s a bitter chill, the architecture is sterile and I find the area soulless. This representation, by ink and pencil on paper, warrants close inspection. There are a number of surreal elements that have replaced the ‘quotidian grind of the area’; in it’s place there’s the Canary Wharf that Sweeney would like, a ‘sometimes beautiful, sometimes blood-curling place of possibility’.

Your last chance to catch the exhibition is Sunday, so hurry on down.

Mapping the City
Somerset House
Until 15 February 2015
Free admission
http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/mapping-the-city

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Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings photography exhibition at Somerset House

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A month ago in the heart of British summertime I went to see the free Nicholas Hawksmoor photography exhibition at Somerset House. Nicholas Hawksmoor was an English architect who is best known today as the man behind a number of London’s churches.

I rather like churches. I find many quite scary inside, especially when there are few people around and an echo is rumbling around the large open spaces, but that’s my imagination running away with me. From the outside I marvel at the architecture and if there is a bell tower I’m always enticed to step inside.

The spiritual flame burned brightly in the Church of England at the opening of the eighteenth century‘ and the commission for building fifty new churches was created. Nicholas Hawksmoor was appointed one of the surveyors and the Methodical Imaginings exhibition at Somerset House looks at the seven remaining London churches still standing today.

Hélène Binet is an architectural photographer who according to Daniel Libeskind ‘exposes architecture’s achievements, strength, pathos and fragility’ every time she takes a photograph. Once again my knowledge of photography is minimal but I must admit this statement rings true – the fragility of the churches certainly came through in the photographs.

I walked around the exhibition with a sense of amazement although I can’t articulate why. One question I asked myself was what does their London location add? Even to an uneducated eye these churches are magnificent in their own right, but what they add to the history and architecture of London increases their importance. Knowing that these churches influenced other architects and their future London masterpieces as well as realising that his work has appeared in the literature of T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens and Alan Bennett (amongst others) elevates their standing in contemporary London further.

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Only 12 of the 50 churches were ever completed, eight of which were designed by Hawksmoor. The exhibition might have come to an end but seven of the buildings are still standing today:

  • St George-in-the-East
  • St Anne’s Limehouse
  • St George’s Bloomsbury
  • Christ Church Spitalfields
  • St Luke, Old Street in Finsbury
  • St Mary Woolnoth in the City
  • St Alfege in Greenwich

I quickly created a Google Map to give you an idea of the distance between each Church. If you fancy a walk that takes you to the London Wall, lets you stop for beigels at the Brick Lane bakery and really stretches your legs this could be quite a nice one. Perhaps leave St Alfege in Greenwich for another day and take the time to hike up Greenwich Park too to get a great view over the city of London while you are in the area.

All images: Hélène Binet

Exhibitions at Somerset House

Somerset House is a beautiful building located on the Northbank of the River Thames. Until 1775 it was a Tudor Palace but today it is a neo-classical building and ‘an inspiring space for art, culture and creative exchange’.

When a building is this beautiful on the outside it is a shame at times to be confined to the inside. This is why I love how they use the outdoor space in different seasons, with open-air cinema screenings and water fountains in the summer, and London’s most romantic ice rink in the winter.

Over the next few days I’m going to blog about the inside, specifically three different exhibitions I attended recently. On the hottest day of the year and between numerous breaks for iced coffee I explored: Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings; Blumenfeld Studio: New York 1941 – 1960 and Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me.

I’ll do my best to translate my mesmerised thoughts into articulate prose over the next couple of days. Please feel free to chip in with your comments too – I’ll update the blog with your thoughts.

Ice Skating in London

I’m an awful ice skater but that doesn’t stop me from rushing out each winter to an outdoor ice rink. This year we are going to make a day of it – but where to go?!

I’m going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park another time so that venue is out. I’m thinking either Somerset House, Tower of London or Natural History Museum – what do you suggest?