London Calling (with a detour to Oxford)

After the conference at Royal Holloway had ended, I returned to my B&B, grabbed my luggage and—already missing the cooked breakfast I had the last three days—took the train for Oxford.

I wanted to meet up with Hog, an old friend who had lived for a year in our Berlin apartment (remember Heidenfeld?) some five years ago. Taking a short tour through the historic city, we ended up at the Modern Art Oxford.

Haegue Yang, Teacher of Dance, Modern Art Oxford

Here the solo show “Teacher of Dance” by Haegue Yang (see a review at ArtSelector), Berlin/Seoul-based conceptual artist (and target of my research a while ago, but still going on…), had opened just a few days earlier. I had noticed the poster right at the train station and naturally was excited.

In less than 30 minutes we rushed through the rather large exhibition space that was filled with a few familiar works (like the individually wrapped drying racks, light bulb installations, or  the video essay “Doubles and Halves – Events with Nameless Neighbors”, shown at Venice two years ago), but also several things I had not yet seen, such as the “Can Cosies”, canned food hidden in knitted wraps, the “Roll Cosies” (same with toilet paper), or cardboard foldings made out of the packaging of the aforementioned light bulbs, forming lines such as “Abiding by Folds” (part of the ongoing series “Light House”).

Taking the "Square Hunter"

Most fun of all, however: three “Dress Vehicles” which consist of Venetian blinds put on a moveable aluminium skeleton. Quote from the exhibition guide: “These ‘cakes’ can be performed, please ask the Visitor Assistants for guidance. We ask for your understanding that the ‘cakes’ cannot be performed all the time.” Although we would have loved to take the “Bulky Lacoste Birdy” (the biggest vehicle) out on the street, it was just too bulky. In any case a very different way of exploring Yang’s parcours of Non-Indépliables (the wrapped dryers) and Semi-Dépliables (light sculptures “dressed” with various fabrics), thanks to the nice Assistants who let down the blinds for us.

For those who are around: There is also a parallel exhibition of Haegue Yang (featuring an “inclusion” by Felix Gonzalez-Torres—though no candy there) at the Arnolfini in Bristol, from July 16th until September 4th. It is called “The Sea Wall” (details) and seems to be, at least according to the title (the English version of Un barrage contre le Pacifique from 1950, made into films in 1958 and 2008), yet another part of Yang’s continuing exploration in the world of Marguerite Duras (I’d love to see another performance based on L’Amour, though).

After a quick dinner and a long wait for the bill at Shezan (it was worth it!), we returned to the open air café of Modern Art, where a concert was just starting: “Withered Hand” aka Dan Willson (see also his myspace), a “witty anti-folk singer” from Edinburgh who sang along to his guitar speculative meanderings about love, being loved, and everyday life in-between relationships.

The venue was quite unique: a brick tunnel that channeled the sound so it could only be heard on the small strip just in front of the “tunnel end”—and in reverse, people walking by, chatting about unrelated stuff or commenting on the performance, were just shadowy voices passing. When some seemingly drunk summer school girls called some rather spiteful names, the polite musician just remarked that he had been “exactly the same ten years ago, cross-dressed.”

Sunday was a perfect boating day—clear sky but not too many sunbeams—, so we took off from Jericho, turned around and headed out of Oxford, towards the garbage place with a waterpump and further towards the next village, passing marthonists, other boats, and backyards of luxurious mansions that lined up alongside the channel. I mostly relaxed at the bow, but on occasion I hoisted a small bridge or, with the help of a friend from Sweden who had joined us, opened and closed the locks as we passed through.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (NOT tonight!)

While Hog went to work, I strolled a bit around Oxford, trying  to get tickets for some theatre tonight. There are all kinds of open air performances in the courtyards of the various colleges during summer (mostly Shakespeare), but as it was Sunday everybody seemed to take a break…

Anyway, I went to the Ultimate Picture Palace to meet Hog who part-times there as a projectionists, we had Pizza and beer with his colleague, and then I saw the movie Incendies (Quebec 2010, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, here a link to the British distribution). And it was a good “choice”: This adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad‘s eponimous play (Scorched in English) was more contemporary than Shakespeare, possibly more tragic than Sophocles. We had a beer or two, later at the Half Moon, a pub with occasional music.

Monday morning I jumped the bus back to London, returning to the place at Russell Square where I had stayed almost a week before. I had several meetings—at SOAS just around the corner, then for coffee around the corner of Seven Dials and finally dinner at Bi bim Bap in Soho—discussing future PhD possibilities and career options in Britain or Korea, theatre, music, life in Korea and Britain and so on. In the end we walked down Oxford Street while talking about gender relations in various genres of traditional Korean music. After breaking up I just kept on walking home.

I also spotted two green Korean supermarkets in close proximity, one seemingly thriving, the other boarded up for sale: Seoul Mate (서울마트, 29 Museum Street) and Hanna Super Market (하나수퍼, 14 Store Street).

Yinka Shonibare, "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" (Trafalgar Square)

The next day I had an appointment for lunch with a friend from Berlin. I took an early breakfast (toast and instant tea, that is) and went past Trafalgar Square, taking a brief look at the Fourth Plinth (featuring a bottled HMS Victory by Yinka Shonibare, MBE these days).

Then I paid a visit to the Korean Culture Center. First, I took a look at the small exhibition “A Room. New Readings of Korean Tradition” that included various design products and sculptures (rather loosely) inspired by traditional Korean furniture, architecture etc. The funniest work was probably Mikhail Karikis‘ videotaped performance “Flying High”, a re-interpretation of the long white sleeves used in Korean seungmu (“monk’s dance”) as a symbol of aspiration in vertically structured capitalist society. I also digged into the library and the various Korean-language papers for expatriots in the UK (e.g. The Hanin Herald [한인 헤럴드] that reported on Tesco selling Korean food in celebration of the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement, see here for information in English).

Tracey Emin, Love is What You Want, Hayward Gallery

I crossed the Thames and walked towards Southbank Center. I wanted to see Tracey Emin‘s show “Love is What You Want” (sounds so true) at Hayward Gallery. But as time was running out I took the easy way, browsed the immense catalogue, bought the postcard, and read some of her columns for The Independent back from 2005–09 (e.g. from Friday, 5 Oct. 2007).

The work I liked best was probably the knitted “Mad Tracey from Margate” (1997), “a piece celebrating friendship. Made from clothing provided by friends […], her patchwork quilt is the ultimate security blanket, an embodiment of the fight against loneliness.” (Sarah Kent, via White Cube) Among the different phrases I found this one particularly precious: “Every time I pass Dunkin Donuts I think of You”.

Then I took the tube to Clapham and two hours later north towards Stansted. When I arrived at Berlin Schönefeld, around 10 pm local time, the sky had already turned blue. I didn’t take a taxi but rather walked along the corridor illuminated by a line of lights.

— 9–12 July 2011 (土~火)

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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