My Birthday celebrations continue
Sometime in early October, an event appeared in my calendar on the 8th and 9th November: "Leave free for a surprise". The surprise was revealed when I opened my birthday card and I've spent the last couple of days - the 8th and 9th of November - enjoying it! It began with the train to London late Wednesday morning and yet another picture of the platform. I take these pictures as a kind of bookend; a marker so that when I come to review my photographs, I can see where one day ends and the next adventure begins. I don't really have a fanatical obsession with that same image.
The surprise event on the 9th had quite an early start, so my Hero had booked me into our favourite hotel and I dropped off my bag and immediately jumped on a #14 bus to the V&A. After all, an afternoon in London is not to be wasted!
I knew there were several exhibitions on right now that I'd be happy to see, so 'd not booked anything and simply decided to weigh up the lie of the land once I got there. There were immediate tickets available for the "Opera" exhibition, which was high on my list and within minutes of arriving, I was heading down the new staircase into the recently opened Sainsbury Gallery, described as "part of the V&A's Exhibition Road Quarter". A bonus to see that too.
Equipped with headphones and an ipod (the exhibition is sponsored by Bowers and Wilkins) I made my way into the gallery, finding it pretty empty considering the time of day. That was great as it meant I could stroll around and move forwards and backwards through the interestingly laid out journey. It's described as an "immersive" experience and as I walked between exhibits the sound changed seamlessly, from clips of opera, commentary and rehearsal tracks. No action was needed from me - the wireless transmission (I assume) works it all and though there was the occasional surprise mid-chorus, from "Va Pensiere" to "Tannhauser" in a single step, I liked the concept and felt it was the perfect place to explore the technology.
The design of the exhibition intrigued me too and as always, I found myself appreciating the means the designers had used to display the artefacts on show. Here, a Mozart-era gown was shown on a mannequin with a stylised interpretation of the hairstyle of the day. Perhaps it's typical that I overlooked the dress in favour of that interesting metalwork "wig"?
But though I enjoyed meandering through the boxes, listening to the music and looking at the beautiful artworks on loan from the National Gallery and elsewhere which illustrated the times and styles of the seven eras included, there was also a lot of reading involved. Colleagues who work with me on various projects will know how averse I am to "noticeboards" in exhibitions, recognising that I, myself, don't like to spend time standing and reading a lot of text on the wall, much preferring the story to be told by self-explanatory visual means wherever possible. Interesting then, to read reviews that identified the challenges associated with including abstract principles in such an exhibition.
My main criticism was the arrangement of the exhibition into seven European cities, leading rather swiftly from the Coronation of Poppea and Handel's Rinaldo to Wagner, Salome and Shostakovich with only a brief nod to Mozart and Verdi in between. I can see the need to focus on specific themes rather than try to include a bit of everything, but somehow I felt that a large chunk of grand opera was poorly represented by a low key section on Nabucco. As always, reading reviews highlights the bits I missed and I realise that I didn't get the "second strand" to it all as described in the Guardian review so I clearly need to return, if only to spend more time reading!
Another exhibit high on my list was the finalists for the Woman's Hour Craft Prize, which I'd heard about on the radio from time to time without actually following. Arriving at the Museum, I'd been aware of some kind of event surrounding this however, and it reminded me to go and take a look and the ten finalists.
Well, the hoohah was because the winner had been announced that very morning, and there was some kind of reception going on in a nearby room. I simply enjoyed seeing the work on show and admiring the fine craftwork skills in the work of the winner, Phoebe Cummings.
It's not the actual darning, however, but the sentiment and the story which is attached to it, for both pieces included were displayed with a picture of the owners and their story.
Both the wearers shown were healthcare workers; one a nurse, the other a doctor and this seemed to add emotional significance to the concept of the darning and repair.
Simple, poignant and very personal, the gallery steward said that those two sweaters had provoked the most response from visitors to the exhibition - from me, too!
I took quick look around the exhibition which was about to close - the V&A technicians were assessing their work as I was there - I was amused by the wide and varied themes of my afternoon.
Opera 'Passion, Power and Politics', darning and fine craftwork and now plywood.
There's always something which hits home here, though, for sure and I never leave feeling disappointed.
As always, exit is through one of the most interesting gift shops of its kind. When the birthday treats keep coming though, there is most certainly no shopping to be done.
Time to go and meet Edward and Amy for dinner!
...to be continued.