Museum of London Docklands – Estuary
I viewed the exhibits in a bit of a strange order but would actually recommend doing it like I did. I also think it’s a show to go round on your own so you can experience it without any distractions and really get absorbed in it.
The first painting is a poignant one. Michael Andrews planned a series of paintings on the Thames but died before he could complete it and the wonderful painting on display was his last. The picture gave me pause for thought and, whether this was the curator’s intention or not, set the tone of the exhibition for me.
I turned left instead of right and came upon Stephen Turner ‘s fantastic Seafort Project. Stephen lived in the Shivering Sands Maunsell Fort for 36 days and this is a record of his time there, his thoughts and what he found. I intended to have a quick look and then move on but found myself caught up in Stephen’s story and remained, spellbound for the full 32 minutes of the slideshow. The thoughtful, well-written extracts from his diary run alongside carefully chosen and beautifully photographed images. I found myself on the fort with him as he opened doors and lifted objects, uncovering what he could about the men who had stayed there. I loved the fact that knitting and embroidery were compulsory to avoid ‘fort madness.’ What clever person thought of that? And do submariners knit? If not, they obviously should! It made me want to do a project like this myself. It is like a gift for people to enjoy and I am so pleased it is reaching a wide audience. I am also excited that I can discover more about the whole project online.
In complete contrast is the short film by the Bow Gamelan Ensemble. Using instruments which were from found industrial objects, they filmed an extraordinary musical performance over the course of a single day as the tide came in and the sun went down. It must have been tremendous fun to do and was just such a brilliant idea. I loved it.
I really liked having a brochure with details about each exhibit. It saves having to crowd around each picture to read the information which is often quite small when the paintings or photographs are generally best viewed by standing back. I don’t know if it’s just me but I have to make myself study a picture before I read about it. Otherwise I would go through some exhibitions doing little more than reading the labels. I suppose my brain is programmed to assume words are more important than images. One tiny point. It would be good if non-reflective glass were used for the paintings and photographs in this space, as reflections did make it hard to appreciate some of them fully.
I am completely in awe of William Raban. I thought ‘The Houseless Shadow‘ was one of the best parts of the Dickens and London exhibition at the Museum of London last year and was therefore thrilled to see his ‘Thames Film’ showing as part of the Estuary exhibition. Raban has given it new life by intercutting it with several different archival sources, together with the log of Thomas Pennant‘s journey from 1787. Adding in images from Pieter Brueghel the Elder‘s superb oil painting ‘Triumph of Death‘ is just brilliant. The best exhibitions are like the best guided walks. You come away wanting to find out more. With artists you have a whole body of work to discover. I have forty William Raban films to see!
The exhibition runs until 27th October 2013. Don’t wait till then.
PS I have now been back to see the rest of the exhibition. My tip after having seen it all is to watch Nikolaj Bendix Syum Larsen’s film on the 3rd floor in parts. It is long and there is nowhere that tells you just how long. The member of staff I spoke to didn’t know either. It’s got some really interesting interviews but it’s a bit unsettling watching it, not knowing how much longer there is and I left before the end. I will go back to see the bits I missed but I could sense restlessness in the room while I watched it. I presume it was decided stating the length of the film would put people off but I felt the opposite. I can’t wait to go back and see the rest of the exhibition which runs until 27th October 2013. But don’t wait till then.