Art, comics, poetry, food and music at Southbank Centre

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On Sunday I went to the Southbank Centre for a number of reasons:

The Poetry Comics exhibition at the Saison Poetry Library (Royal Festival Hall) – the largest poetry library in the UK.-

Amazing as the library itself is, this exhibition co-curated by Chris McCabe and Chrissy Williams made it even more so. Featuring works by William Blake, Derik Badman, Bill Berkson / Joe Brainard, Kenneth Patchen, Oliver East, Kenneth Loch, Bianca Stone, Paul K. Tunis / Matthea Harvey,Stephen Collins, David Troupes, Tom Humberstone, Anne Carson; and publications like CComics, Ink Brick, plus various rare books  and reading copies, this was a very densely condensed exhibition, and quite an amazing one.

I was recommended to take a look at William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which of course I’m already doing! 😉 Any cultural suggestion is always very welcome.

You have until July 12th to enjoy this rare jewel, so if you are not already here, come to London!

The Pulse and Bloom installation (level 4, Royal Festival Hall).-

Unfortunately, those of you who have not had a chance to see this one, are out of luck, since it was going on only until May 25.

Pulse and Bloom is an award winning collaboration between artist Shilo Shiv Suleman, architect Saba Ghole, neuroscientist Rohan Dixit, metal sculptor Heather Stewart and electronics expert Luke Iseman.

They created an amazing interactive art installation consisting of giant fabricated lotuses (which instantly reminded me of Singapore’s Supertrees in Gardens By The Bay). Each lotus is equipped with two pulse sensors. When pressed by one or two participants, the sensors translate their heartbeats into pulsing LED lights, which illuminate the stem and petals in a rhythmic pattern. As the stem pulses with both heartbeats, we see how heart rates of different people in intimate spaces start to beat in sync. It’s amazing how powerful it is to see your own heartbeat almost instantly synching with someone else’s.

The party with British Asian female DJs.-

Outside, in the Festival Terrace, there were a few DJs performing. I listened to DJ Nish and DJ Missy D.

The Alchemy Indian Food Festival.-

While Indian food has never been my favourite, there was so much to choose from that it was not difficult to find something delicious: Kothu Kothu, Dosa Deli, Horn OK Please, Baba G’s, Papi’s Pickles and The Peckish Peacock, plus food from 20 more stalls.

Of course, this being London, although it was a bit chilly outside,  the place was packed with tank top wearing young people and families, enjoying the rare sunshine ray making its was down between the constant dark clouds.

London Global Art Fair 2015

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Yesterday I was invited to the London Global Art Fair 2015, which takes place May 21-23 at Olympia, Kensington, London.

With 150 galleries from 40 countries exhibiting works by over 500 artists, aged 25 (Nicole Wong and Vivien Zhang) to 93 (SH Raza) from 63 countries across the globe, in walling that would wrap over 13 times around the Royal Albert Hall, London Global Art Fair is as much a market as it is a celebration of creativity, art and culture.

But beyond the art work, which was quite well selected by Tim Marlow, Sunhee Kim, Christopher Philips and Dorothee Brill, I was interested in networking, attending talks, and discovering new artist for the international show I am curating for 2016 in New York, London and Spain (and currently discussing the possibility of extending it to other countries).

I attended three talks:

At 12:30: “10 Things You Didn’t Know About… The Art Market Today”, by The Financial Times art columnist and author of “Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century” Georgina Adam.
It was a very illustrative and lively talk, which raised a few good points. Here are some notes I took:

  1. There isn’t ONE art market. Post-war & contemporary make up around 50% of the market, and it grew 19% in one year, but there are others (which are all down except the best of the best pieces) like antiques, all masters, silver, Japanese, etc.
  2. Big ticket sales are a tiny percentage of the whole market: sales of over 1 million euros represent only 0.43% of the total, and those above 10 million make up only 0.03%. There are only 800 artist in the whole world who sell a work for over 1 million.
  3. The auction process has NOT become more transparent and open. It’s still full of insider codes, signs, and strategies.
  4. “Not for sale” is not always true. It usually means “Not for sale to you, unless you are…”
  5. Growth markets are not major players, except China. The USA is still the largest market (39%) followed by the UK and China (22% each). Growth markets combined, without China, only make 5% of the market. One caveat: Quatar is so secretive in its acquisitions, that there is no reliable data. And one curiosity: online sales represent 6% of the total.
  6. China buys “cultural relics”, while new Silicon Valley “billionaires” buy contemporary works.
  7. The myth of a big collector who orders a piece stolen for his/her collection is just a myth. Stolen art works are almost always used in drug deals as collateral.
  8. The art market is not unregulated, as many people think. That, of course, does not mean it is correctly regulated, or that there is not money laundering taking place.
  9. On the other hand, the art market IS quite secretive and opaque.
  10. Biennials ARE commercial.

At 14:00: “At Some Point, Freedom of Expression Defines Art” panel chaired by Kathleen Soriano, with Bonnie Greer, Helene Lundbye Petersen, and Mimsy.

Kathleen quoted Michael Attenborough, saying that even since leaving his post as artistic director of the Almeida Theatre two years ago, “something is beginning to creep in [at arts organisations] that I can best describe as self-censorship”. “There is an apprehension growing up around access to subsidy,” he said. “People are admitting privately that they are concerned they are self-censoring what they are doing. This is catastrophic.”

Bonnie explicitly said, and repeated “cultural institutions are a mafia”, and offered a shocking fact: ALL of the one person (solo) exhibitions at large cultural institutions in the USA last year came out of (are represented by) only 5 dealers.

Helene talked about her idealistic view of the world.

But the most interesting comments, IMHO, came from Mimsy. The artist, who has decided to go by a pseudonym for fear that her awesome work “Terrorist attack on the Sylvanian Family toys” may make her a target of extremist and fundamentalists, mentioned that “quite often the victim puts him/herself into a morally unaccountable position, and we all allow it”. On the other hand she did criticize the power of the group to suppress the individual.

At 19:00: “Vanity Fair Artist Panel Discussion: The Changing Nature of the Artist’s Role in the Global Art Wold”, sponsored by Vanity Fair, chaired by Art15 director Kate Bryan, and including the artists Charming Baker (UK), Faiza Butt (Pakistan), Joshua Yeldham (Australia), Ndidi Emefiele (Nigeria), Samia Halaby (Palestine), and Adel Al Quraishi (Saudi Arabia).

As was to be expected, it was a lot more about the artists (although they did make an effort to control their egos) than the “nature” of the “role” or the “global art world”. Nevertheless, I did take a couple notes I do want to share:

Faiza said that art is so personal that artists do not want to talk about their work because “it’ like confessing a crime: too personal”. To which Samia replied that art is NOT personal, it’s social, cultural, since artists use the materials of their time, are inspired by other artists, etc.

And one curious trivia Kate (I believe) mentioned: Michelangelo stopped his work at the Sistine Chapel because he was not being paid. Eventually payments resumed and he finished his work. Historic documents show his bank account had today’s equivalent of 50 million dollars.

After the talk I went over to Magma and bought a few books. But like I said, I was there to meet art, artists, curators, marchants, and gallerists, and I did. I was, as always, captivated by the work of Golnaz Fathi, and specially Hiroshi Senju (who could walk by “Waterfall (Day)”, 2014, acrylic and fluorescent pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 51.3 x 152.6 inches/130 x 388 cm and not stop in awe?) at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, where I talked with its director Susan McCaffrey; I also met other gallerists like Alyssa Menegat from Jenkins Johnson, Zhanxin Yang from Gallery Yang, or Arvydas Žalpys from meno parkas gallery, and enjoyed varied work around the fair, like the one from Kate MccGwire, Shih Yung-Chun, Laisvydė Šalčiūtė, Katerina Belkina, and many others. Also, Victoria, The Cob Gallery, invited me to brunch today at Blacks Club to celebrate the exhibition by British artist Alexander James ”Vanitas”. Too bad I had an important business meeting and I could not attend.

The two most interesting artists I spoke with were comic illustrator Paulina Vassileva and Patricija Gilytė. I will definitely be keeping in touch with them.

Before I left I was invited to a reception by a well know middle eastern gallerist, so I had one of the 10,412 glasses of champagne that are drunk during the fair.

Culture around the corner: the Tate Modern

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Living in London means being surrounded by culture. For example, in less than 5 minutes’ walk from our apartment, and without even crossing the London Bridge, we have the Tate Modern (Britain’s national gallery of international modern art), Shakespeare’s Globe TheaterSouthbank Centre (Europe’s largest centre for the arts: theatres, concert halls and a cutting edge art gallery presenting over 1200 events each year), and BFI Southbank (the leading repertory cinema in the UK, specialising in classic, independent and non-English language films, operated by the British Film Institute).

So last weekend we started out exploration of the amazing cultural opportunities we have around the corner by going to the Tate Modern. We focused on the Level 2 “Making Traces” zone, centred around the perfectly displayed and breathtaking Mark Rothko’s “Seagram murals”, and surrounded by amazing works by Gerhard Richter, Magda Cordell, Lee Bul, George Condo, Rebecca Horn, Sam Francis, or Brett Weston, among others.

Before we left for the day (we will return many many times), we peaked at the “Poetry and Dream” zone, in the same Level 2, which surely require many hours of devoted attention, and we saw some works by Giorgio de Chirico, Picasso, Dali, Miro, Man Ray, Bill Viola… so much to enjoy, so little time!

Working at Google Campus London

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I have been working at the Google-TechHub Campus in Shoreditch (the “Silicon Roundabout”) London for a few weeks. It is really cool. In no particular order, here are some things I love about this place:

  • A cafeteria (open to anyone) with terrace, foosball table, bitcoin machine, device bar (to test your developments in many different devices) and even a spacesuit!
  • A small but well stocked library of tech books
  • Very nice team, from security to reception, to admin, to social media… all of them
  • Two levels of office space, one of them (supposedly) “quiet zone”
  • Unlimited supplies of toast and tea, great wifi, and good scanners/printers
  • A ton of areas to sit down and have a meeting, not just the “meeting rooms”
  • Most importantly: the events. For example today I met with a Google engineer working in the YouTube group, who gave me invaluable advice and suggestions, and Tuesday I am going to pitch directly to Google!!

But, of course, there are some unavoidable annoyances, like:

  • It’s half an hour walking from my apartment near London Bridge, which would be great if it wasn’t because it often rains in London
  • Some people think “phone booths” are a place to camp out, eat, watch movies, or listen to music, so when I have a call or videoconference, I have to go to my “secret quiet places” (not sharing here, so they continue to be secret)
  • Europeans are less open to “impromptu networking” than Americans. I miss the New York attitude of “hey, what’s up? what are you working on?” or even better “I heard you’re in HealthTech, there is someone you should meet, I gave him your contact” 😉
  • Overload of “app developers” and “entrepreneurs”. At least the ratio of “hipster” to “coder” to “entrepreneur” (excuse the gross categorizations and generalizations) seems to be OK

All in all, a wonderful experience.

First days living in London

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We have been in London for a few days already.

Moving to a new country is not such an impossible task as some people imagine, but it is definitely quite a challenge.

The first thing you have to do is to forget comparisons. No place is perfect, and no place is completely awful. But one can’t help but to be stuck by “peculiarities” of the place. Here are some random ones we have been laughing or crying about:

  • Convertible cars’ tops down on a 50ºF day. After all a “wonderful day” here is one without wind or rain (never mind that the sky is completely covered with clouds)
  • “Clothes pins” are called “pegs”, and they look at you as if you were mad for calling them “pins”
  • 10 days to get broadband activated at home… even if the previous tenant used the same ISP!
  • “Dryer” is not the same as in the USA. Here they mean “spinning so the water is drained from your clothes”, but not “warm and completely dry”
  • Afterwork beer instead of wine
  • The amazing views from our apartment, and on the way to work
  • The “catch-22” of trying to open a bank account, for which you need a proof of address, for which you need… a bank account!
  • How much the foodie scene has improved (specially living next to the 1,000 year-old foodie-paradise Boroughs Market!)
  • How outrageously expensive everything is (even after living 4 years in New York)
  • How absolutely necessary internet is, and not just for work, but for things such as talking to your kids, or to find out what time does the market close
  • How many cultural and artistic events are going on all the time, and not just “to be seen” or “market oriented”. We’re going to love it here!

I’m sure we will be adding many more to the list 😉

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 8

Saturday, May 2, was our last day at sea. We got up late, but still on time to have breakfast at the Britannia restaurant. At 10 am we attended a very interesting lecture by Aldon Ferguson on Covert Operations in the Cold War. After yet another time change, we had lunch followed by an unexpected nap.

We graciously avoided the Guest Talent Show, and went to the Library instead, to catch up on some work and return the books we had checked out.

Before heading to dinner, we packed and, as it is customary in cruises, we left the luggage outside the door to be picked up by the porters. Then we were invited by Cunard Lines to deluxe canapés and a bottle of Pol Acker brut Blanc de Blancs, with which we toasted farewell to this wonderful cruise.

Of course we went to dinner not hungry at all, as usual. But as usual dinner was so delicious that it did not matter whether we were hungry or not.

By the time we woke up the next morning we were already docked in Southampton, and our driver was waiting to take us and our luggage to our new apartment, next to the London Bridge.

Here we are, London!

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 7

On Friday, May 1, our bodies finally caught up with all the pre-cruise accumulated stress, by sleeping until 1pm, taking into account the time change. So we headed straight to lunch (“would you like some coffee with your steak and kidney pie, dear?”), followed by a very nice walk around the deck.

After the afternoon tea we worked with our laptops in the Library. My wife decided to go back to the room early, so she could get ready for the formal dinner and Masquerade Ball, while sipping rosé champagne. I stayed and worked a bit more, until it was time to go back to the room, to change into my dark suit and tie, and the hand made Venetian masks we bought this summer in Italy, specially for this occasion.

Dinner was delicious, but the Masquerade Ball was even more. It was a delight to see so many people in the spirit of the event, with their fabulous masks (for the most part). It was also interesting to see the concept of “mask” some people have. From “robbers and cops” or “phantom of the opera” fantasies for most of the gents, to lots of feathers and glitter for most of the ladies, not that many people chose our interpretation of it: Venetian Masquerade Ball.

All in all a fabulous night, while a sad reminder that the cruise was nearing its end.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 6

On Thursday, April 30, we made a resolution to get up early (7am is early even if you are not on a Transatlantic crossing!) so we could have breakfast at 8am and join the fencing class at 9am. There is something wonderfully stylish and timeless about fencing in the ballroom of Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

After the fencing class we went back to the stateroom to shower, and then straight to a Galley Tour, where we inspected the cooking areas. Here are some very interesting statistics we learned:

The catering team is composed of:
• 9 officers
• 10 storekeepers
• 60 bar staff
• 139 chefs
• 70 gallery cleaners
• 188 restaurant staff
• 23 wine staff

On a 14 voyage 90,000 meals are served, and a million pieces of china and glassware are cleaned.
What’s consumed on those meals?
• 70 tons of fruit and vegetables
• 18 tons of meat
• 12 tons of poultry
• 20 tons of fish and seafood
• 30 tons of cheese and dairy
• 3 tons of sugar
• 67,850 pints of milk
• 4,666 dozen eggs
• 8 tons of flour
• 3 tons of rice
• 1,680 pizzas
• 11,200 scones
• 70,000 cups of tea
• 4,000 pints of beer
• 8,750 bottles of beer/cider
• 1,400 bottles of wine
• 530 bottles of champagne

After the interesting galley tour, at 11am, we attended an interview with Commodore Rynd (Commodore of the whole Cunard fleet), with many very interesting questions from the passengers regarding his life, career, ships, and the cruising industry.

The interview was promptly followed by a lecture on airplane hijackings, and the personal experience and role Simon Dinsdale had in the Afghan hijack at Stansted airport in February 2000, with some incredible anecdotes like a passenger being mistakenly identified as a hijacker and how the mistake was discovered 5 days later, or how not only the hijackers never went to jail, but one of them is a security guard at Heathrow airport today!

After the interesting lecture we had a delicious lunch, followed by the movie “The Theory of Everything” in the Royal Court Theater, and the afternoon tea.

Instead of a nap, we decided to walk around the deck, since the temperature was so nice. We walked for over 10 km., and took several pictures of the deck and outdoors swimming pool (where there was actually a man swimming).

At 7pm, before dinner, to wrap up quite an active day, we enjoyed a magic show by Brett Sherwood.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 5

On Wednesday, April 29, as the Commodore announced we were right “in the middle of our crossing,” we woke up really late. You realize how late when the steward greets you “good afternoon,” and you go straight to lunch (right after my wife’s immigration procedure). It was surprising, at least to me, that although we were half an hour late for that scheduled process, 80 people were still to show up, most of the from the USA.

The rocking (“swaying”, I am told) of the ship was less noticeable today, but it continues to makes us feel like we are waltzing all day, and makes us sleep like babies.

After another delicious lunch, we spent several hours at the library, where I revisited some works by Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Marx.

It was our intention to take a long walk around the deck, but it was closed due to strong winds. We then decided to watch “Much Ado About Nothing,” but surprisingly enough the TV program did not take into account the constant time changes (5 times during this crossing the clocks are set one hour ahead, to make up for the time difference between New York and Southampton), so we missed that too. At least we now had some improvement to suggest in our satisfaction questionnaire!

Since the entertainment or educational program for the day did not seem as appealing as other days, we decided to work with our laptops until dinner time.

The 175th anniversary of Cunard Lines was celebrated with the second of three formal nights, although no specific dress restrictions were imposed upon us (unlike the other two with “White and Black” and “Masquerade” themes) other than “formal” dress code. Fortunately, we are traveling with all our possessions, which for me means not one but two tuxedos, and a wide range of dark suits and ties.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 4

On Tuesday, April 28, we finally woke up early enough to enjoy a full service breakfast at the Britannia restaurant and attend the morning lecture “Meteors, Meteorites and Comets”, by Howard L.G. Parkin. While the Royal Court Theater was fairly full, by the time his lecture was over, it completely filled out for the next lecture: “Survival in Solitude”, where Terry Waite told us how, while working as negotiator for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was taken hostage in Beirut and survived for 5 years, 4 of which he spent in solitary confinement, enduring torture and a mock execution.

After the lectures I went through an easy immigration procedure (basically checking the passport), while my wife was scheduled for the following day; then we headed to lunch.

The ship rocked quite a lot, because an emergency repair forced the propulsion system to be stopped. The considerable fog, so much so that it made the horizon completely disappear, added to an innocuously ominous atmosphere. The ocean, mesmerizing as it is, becomes ineludible when there is fog in the horizon.

We finally spent a lazy afternoon in the stateroom, something we were both looking forward to. I enjoyed reading some poetry, and we watched Pride and Prejudice before heading to dinner.

The evening was filled with entertainment, first by US comedian Rondell Sheridan and his routine about old people on a cruise, and then a Dixieland Jazz concert at the Golden Lion Pub.