Sunday, 16 January 2011

Mating slugs, sunflower seeds and other modern art

The reason we live where we do is because we had to come up with a sensible compromise.

If we were to move somewhere Husband liked, we would end up in an empty place, surrounded by fields and forests, possibly near the sea but with no neighbours around. That would be too scary for Scary.  Scary needs neighbours. Even if statistically there is more crime in the cities than countryside, Scary still feels safer when she can see lights in windows, and occasionally spot humans passing by. So, our little commuter village gives our family a healthy balance. On one hand, we are in a beautiful countryside, on the other- there are local cafes and shops and people all around. Most importantly, there is an underground station and London within 30 minutes. 

So, the question is: why are we not using this proximity to London (which we are paying through the nose for) more often?

Today, I felt the need for some cultural food. Come on, I told Husband. Let’s go to a museum. Also, the child desperately wanted to see Big Ben for a while now. 

And so we went. I chose Tate Modern because I remember it having vast spaces, a huge sculpture of a spider in the main hall and lots of various bizarre things that not only we, but also our child might find amusing.

We were a bit disappointed when instead of the spider we saw an enormous floor space covered  by 100 million sunflower seeds.  Made out of porcelain, individually hand crafted ( probably by some poor Chinese folk) to make this one clever guy famous. I could not help but admire his talent. To come up with an idea of 100 million seeds would have never occurred to someone like me. I would question why any gallery in the world would consider this art. But hey, if someone else could become famous by exhibiting her unmade bed as a piece of art, so can this guy with his porcelain seeds.

To be honest, it might have worked for me if we were allowed to walk on this crunchy field. If we could touch them, and possibly nick a few.  I am still not convinced, but hey....I am prepared to imagine it would have been somewhat more impressive. However! We are in the UK, don’t forget. 

Someone decided it was not a good Health & Safety practice. What if there is too much dust and someone allergic might react to it? That would be terrible! So, to be safe, the gallery guys decided to stop us walking on the seeds. And now, it really is nothing but a big empty space with a thick layer of something that looks like concrete from a distance and like a lot of seeds at a closer look. Great.

You see, if it were a normal country, I would expect the management of the gallery to put up a little notice next to the installation. To let the visitors know that because there are 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, there might be some dust in the air as you walk on them. So, if you are a bit allergic, you might perhaps wish to stay away. It is up to you, really. Your personal choice. But no. Not in the UK.

Besides the 100 million seeds there were some other wonderful examples of modern art. Husband laughed and asked me if all those people, who were gazing at some of the weirdest pieces were getting them; or were only pretending because that was what cool arty people were meant to get? 

There was a very large installation of turds. Of course, they were not officially called turds. They had a more sophisticated name for them. Primordial creatures. But trust me. I have a large dog and a child. I know a turd when I see one.

There was a dark room where you could sit down and watch a video of mating slugs. (Actually, they were having a threesome. Never knew slugs were that naughty.) 

There was a collection of the aluminium kitchenware, connected by wire on a circuit, lighting up one at a time, while making a funny symbolize that home was not always a place of safety. Of course, pretentious descriptions were the best part of the installations. 

I could of course, go on. But also, to be fair, there were some very beautiful things. Things I still did not get but loved anyway. Like this one piece by Dorothea Tanning

And I am sure I would have enjoyed more time at the gallery, if not for the fire alarm. Such is my luck. One day I choose to be cultural and make an effort, and get kicked out after an hour! 

Luckily, London is also good not just for cultural, but also real food. The Dim Sum at Royal China. The best Dim Sum in London. Highly recommend. 

Overall, what a great day! It reminded me why I always wanted to stay close enough to this amazing city. Just a few hours in it gave me an opportunity to soak in its spirit, the timeless beauty of its architecture, the smell of the river and the busy crowds of all nationalities and styles you can possibly think of. And I thought 'Oh, I am still in love with you, London.  You are a bit crazy with your turd sculptures and dirty pigeons but my heart will always be yours.'


  1. Your incident with the fire alarm made me think of a friend who went to Paris. She was taking the Louvre tour, and all of a sudden... a siren. An emergency practice. The Louvre closed and all the visitors had to leave. The next day she departed so she couldn't get back.
    Like we say in Peru: ¡qué piña! Literally, 'pineapple'. It's slang word for someone who has bad luck.

  2. Why, would you say, are pieces like 100 million sunflower seeds, electrified kitchenware, and slug threesomes produced and sold for such exorbitant sums?

  3. @Gabriela: Very annoying, but to be honest, I was getting hungry and tired. I do too much forgetting my hmm...condition and (double hmm...) age. :))

    @Mark: I dont know...If I knew I would be setting up my pregnant photo gallery or something else bizarre and making sh*** loads of money right away!

  4. But of course you can't - not because you lack the talent to create primordial creatures or to photograph a messy bed, but because you don't have connections within the art world. This is the great irony of "advant garde" art: it is inextricably tied to privelege and the status quo.

  5. @Mark: Absolutely right. But it applies, in my opinion, not just to the art world, but many other fields. I used to be naive and think that everyone had equal chances in the west, because it is not as corrupt as back home. But hey, I am older and wiser now and I realize it is not the case!

  6. Would you say that there is more equality of opportunity in the West? Or is the same game of status and connections simply covered over by a veneer of rhetoric?

    Reading about the old Soviet Union, the impression that I get is that they were deeply innundated with glorious slogans which everyone totally ignored in their day to day affairs. We have our slogans here as well, but impressionistically they seem to have taken root in the minds of the people.

  7. I've been to London and really liked it too. Lived in the very centre (like in 5 minutes walking distance from the Tower Bridge & St. Mary Axe) for 6 months and never been to Tate Modern. Passed by it a few times though. So thanks for the virtual tour. Glad you enjoyed your cultural+real food outing thoroughly.

  8. @Mark: I sort of answered that in the previous comment, didn't I? :) OK, I guess possibly there is more equality in the West. But certain areas are more about who you know or related to, or whether you belong to a "club" in a way. At least, there is no price tag for a job like it happens back home. Bribes are not as obvious/easy in every day life. Even though, when I was bringing my dog across and he faced 6 months jail, I wished for a bribe culture big time!