Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.

#yellowbluepink

[Full disclosure – expect a post with pictures that basically show, well, nothing! Apart from colour and the odd blurred object!]

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A few weekends ago I visited the Wellcome Collection’s #yellowbluepink installation, a temporary contemporary visual arts exhibit by Ann Veronica Janssens. The concept is simple: a gallery full of opaque coloured mist removes the most normalised method of perception (i.e. sight). In doing so the individual cannot perceive distance, depth or surfaces and is effectively isolated, relying mostly on their other senses to navigate around the gallery. It is partly an experiment with consciousness, too; I had to wait for approximately fifteen minutes and there are iPads with some interesting exercises to do with how perceptions can be distorted based on your dominant expectations.

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I found that much of the anticipation about this installation comes from the actual waiting itself! Secondly, the way in which staff facilitate entry into the gallery builds expectation, you’re put in an “isolation chamber” in between two doors to stop the coloured mist from escaping and you have to walk through some 70s style plastic door hangings to enter the gallery.

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I found the experience really enjoyable and fun, although I spent much less time in the gallery than I thought I would. Realistically my partner and I spent most of the time disappearing into the mist and reappearing from another direction, and getting worried that we were approaching walls. In all seriousness though there is a lot that is very interesting and creative about this art. Some questions I left with were to do with the actual colours themselves – unsurprisingly the gallery is mostly filled with yellow, blue and pink mists, but they are extremely well defined with very little mixing. Visibility between colours is also non-existent owing to the opaqueness of the mist, so in certain spaces of the room you’re unaware that there is any other colour but the one you’re experiencing.

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It’s strange also that voices are audible just as normal. Although the mist feels “heavy” around you, it doesn’t do anything to muffle or blur voices. This had the curious effect of making me whisper, partly because of the self-consciousness of not knowing who might be around you hearing how ridiculous you sound wondering if a wall is looming, and partly not wanting to disturb other peoples’ experience. The only niggle I have is that the room is, well, a room, with windows and strip lights and plug sockets et al. Up close you can still see all of these things and they shatter the illusion somewhat.

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I would recommend stopping by this installation if you can, although my advice to you would be to go early. As with all free things in London, there are a lot of other people competing for the space. We arrived first thing on Sunday when the Wellcome Collection opened at 11am and had a very short wait which was fine. Be warned, they don’t have Disney style queues ready for no reason; during our 10-15 minute wait the wait joining the queue escalated to an hour and a half. They limit the number of people in the room for good reason though, so be prepared to be patient if you can’t get there early. I’m not sure I’d make the pilgrimage to Euston on a weekend morning for this as a standalone event though, so join it up with a look around the Wellcome Collection’s other galleries and their great shop, and have a weekend walk around Bloomsbury. It’s open until the 3rd January 2016 and you can find out more about the installation here.

An Evening at Wimbledon

Wimbledon is underway. I hail from south-west London about 15 minutes away from Wimbledon, so I’ve always been relatively close to the action for such a major sporting event. I do appreciate sport, and living with a boy has made me enjoy different types of sport much more than I would of my own accord. There’s something about tennis though which I feel has broad appeal; it is a civilised game with headline names and celebrated venues. Wimbledon is particularly full of tradition across the spectrum of wealth, whether it’s Lanson champagne and Debenture annual tickets, or the queue at 5am and a bag full of sausage rolls. Unsurprisingly I fall into the latter category.

I’ve been to Wimbledon every year since 2010. The usual routine is a 4.45am taxi to the Queue, haul ourselves to the end, marvel that people camping are already packing up their tents, and buy the Guardian and use the associated blanket to spread out on the grass and possibly catch 40 winks. This assumes that the weather is splendid, and to be fair, every year apart from one has been sunny, clear, and a little cold. Getting your queue card and seeing that you’ve made the first 5000 is relieving and allows for a more relaxed queuing experience.

However, this year I’ve chosen to dedicate my annual leave to various international jaunts so instead I’m using my evenings to catch some of the action.

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather is blissful at the moment. I picked up a bag of goodies from Whole Foods in Fulham (sorry bank account), including some fresh lemonade, baguette, cheeses, plump cherries and ice cold watermelon slices. Worth it!

It’s £18 for a ground pass after 5pm for the first few days. If you’re going under a ground pass ticket, the first couple of days are the best to go because this entry gives you access to courts 3-18, and as a knockout tournament, this is when the majority of matches on these courts are played. The price of a ground pass decreases as the Championships progress to reflect that you’re less likely to see as much the longer the tournament continues. We gained entry at about 6pm and proceeded straight to the famous Order of Play board to strategise. The majority of matches were underway, and the big names had played earlier in the afternoon. We caught Richard Gasquet on Court 18 in a close match against the Australian Luke Saville, a highly charged match between Maria Erakovic and Yulia Putintseva on Court 19, and Marsel Ilhan versus the towering Jerzy Janowicz on Court 5. I have to say, when you have access to the Hill (the Mound now?), a picnic and good company, the fact that you’re not watching the headliners doesn’t matter. Every court has world class tennis and an excitement around it. Every court we approached was full to the brim.

Oh watermelon. How I adore thee. Ice cold, crunchy, juicy and pink. I’m convinced everyone was looking at me enviously. It may have just been the slurping.

If you’re planning on joining the Queue of an evening during this year’s Wimbledon Championships, I would advise getting there no later than 5pm, and earlier if you can on a day where big names like Mr Murray are playing. Bring a picnic full of your favourite food and drink to save pennies on the familiar food-van type meals on offer inside the grounds, and make sure you’re stocked up with cash. Although you’ll spend much of the day sweltering, don’t forget a jumper as it can get cool in the shade. Don’t waste any time in the shop – get to those courts. I think even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s difficult not to get carried way with the jovial atmosphere. I’ll be visiting again this week and then keeping up with it on the television box and at the various live sites around central London. I’m aware that Murray is looking on good form, but personally I’d love it if Federer had it in him for a win!