LONDON: MUSEUMS & FRIENDS
There were two things I absolutely loved about my trip to London. On a personal level, the reencounter with friends I have known for years and who have been very influential in my life. From an objective point of view, the museums. London is an extraordinary place when it comes to world-class art, and I believe there are few places on the planet that can rival that aspect. I have just visited four art museums + a couple of galleries, but art is everywhere in London, really. From the subway to the streets, including markets, cafes and abandoned public spaces. We can argue against the ways the British got hold of a lot of foreign art in their possession. For instance, the British Museum ought to be named after “The Museum of Culture Representation in Britain”, or “The stuff we got by means of British Imperialism”, or quite simply, “Shouldn’t we be flying to Asia, Africa, and America instead?”. But instead of focusing on the political ethics of the whole thing, the goal of this article is to tell you about moments of enlightenment I experienced in London. These are a synonym to art and friends, so I decided to combine one museum to each friend I met in the city. This is thus the first part of the series Museums & Friends.
Celino was a case of love at first sight. We met at my first professional job as an actress when I was 21. It was an operetta. If I had the chance here of inserting that emoji of a monkey covering his eyes, I would. We were just the opposite of operetta people, but we needed work. I remember the first time I saw him. He was on top of a ladder, outside the theater’s entrance, wearing what would now be considered a hipster outfit – at the time, in Portugal, we would call these types freaks (ha, the stone age). Oh, and back then, there still existed hair on his scalp – which is not an unimportant detail to mention -, and it was dark and curly (heart emojis). Hanging a poster of a play: that’s what he was busy with. He was laughing out loud and exuding this sort of über friendly and relaxed-confident vibe. For me, he automatically became the coolest kid in town. He was charismatic, reckless, a cheerful out-of-the-box-figure, and a sweetheart. When I joined the theater company we got inseparable for a while (the coolest kid liked me! = emoji of a human doing the dances). One day, I heard Celino had moved to London and he, quite literally, disappeared. This shift sounds dramatic but in fact, it was not as much because it happened two years after, at a point when we were already living far from each other. I didn’t hear anything from him for eight long years. Until we met, by chance, on a camping at the coastal area of Alentejo, in Portugal. I remember screaming, and I remember that the both of us couldn’t stop laughing out loud, and the words “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” coming out of my mouth, while my boyfriend at the time and Celino’s mother, were staring at us from opposite sides of the road, amused and incredulous. In London, we talked the night away at this cool bar in Soreditch, The Commercial Tavern (bad name, great venue).
THE TATE MODERN
Celino’s unpredictability makes me think of the Tate Modern. Tate was a case of love at first sight too, but quite a predictable one. The Tate is the national gallery of international modern and contemporary art, which is housed at a former power station in London’s Southbank, overlooking the Thames. The industrial complex closed in 1981 and it was redesigned by architects Herzog & de Meuron, especially for the gallery project. As soon as I entered the Turbine Hall, Bruce Nauman’s audio installation Raw Materials (okay, okay, okay; work!, work!, work!; I’m sorry!, I’m sorry!, I’m sorry!; thank you, thank you, thank you) resonating all around, immediately transported me to this parallel universe of abstraction, meaning, free association and phantasmagoria. This kind of work would have suited Celino and the 21-year-old me much better than the operetta. I was home.
First picture is a throwing into sharp relief kind of thing: Lady Mondrian (mevrouw = lady, in Dutch). I just had to. This is what I would call a very Dutch sort of work in its spirit of simplicity and structure. In the caption next to it you could read: “This composition is a prime example Mondrian’s astonishingly limited visual language. It consists of just horizontal and vertical lines in black, with planes of white and the three primary colurs, from which all other colours are derived by mixing. The structure, the order of the elements in a coherent whole and the pure colour were meant to suggest an ethical view of society. Each individual element and the configuration to which it contributes were intended to symbolise the relationship between the individual and the collective, or the universal.”
Second is a picture of From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried by Carrie Mae Weems, whose work “reveals how photography has played a key role throughout history in shaping and supporting racism, stereotyping, and social injustice”.
- Christian Schad’s Self-Portrait (1927); 2. Part of the Explore Artist and Society display
And here’s the first ‘material’ piece of art I saw at the Tate, which immediately made me think “Here I am, making all these pictures and videos, communicating about all I see and experience, but I wonder if the folks who follow all this know that I’m just as clueless as everybody else? That even when I produce discourse about stuff, and it sounds as though I have my shit together, I still, most of the times, just go and do whatever feels right? Do they have any idea of me being unsure if I could even get out of bed the day that I was suppose to catch a plane which would bring me to London?”. We talked this and other things over, a few days after, my friend and me, at the Commercial Tavern (bad name, great venue): personal stuff, confessions, and memories, sprinkled with a necessary dose of nonsense too. “Would you imagine back in the days of ‘Castrato’ – the infamous operetta – that we would meet in London, a decade after, after having lost complete touch with each other; me settled here, you in Amsterdam, having had bumped into each other at a random camping site when both were on holiday in Portugal?”, he asked. “This can’t be a coincidence”, he added. I’m still trying to figure everything out and I have far fewer certainties than I had back in those days when I met Celino and thought that, from then on, my life would just evolve in a reassuring and amicable curve upwards.
I am very glad I did that operetta though.