New Ribbon
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For spring/summer 2015, PPQ presented clothes to wear to 'the coolest party of the fashion season', finished with high gloss hair taken to a creative extreme READ MORE...
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Knitwear designers studying in Italy are invited to enter the Knitting for Juliet competition launched by Fashion Ground Academy of Italian Design READ MORE...
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It was not possible to walk past Nicholas Rose's luminous, contoured lamp shades at 100% Design the other week, I felt like a moth drawn to a flame. READ MORE...
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think we could all use a dose of soft, pretty and innocent right now. Paul Costelloe brought his unabashed femininity to the runway READ MORE...
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Carmen Dell’Orefice...if this is what being in your 80s looks like then I'm looking forward to it! The legendary model, who once declared to Vanity Fair, “If I die, it will be with my high heels on”, is set READ MORE...
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The film series, #UnlockArt, produced by Tate and supported by Le Meridien, concluded with the release of the last of eight films, What's So Funny?, decided by an online poll READ MORE...
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The Design and Craft Fair, MADE LONDON, returns to One Marylebone 24-26 October to present the very best in contemporary craft and design. Showcasing over 120 READ MORE...
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September 09, 2014

#UnlockArt Film Series Ends on a Humorous Note


The film series, #UnlockArt, produced by Tate and supported by Le Meridien, concluded with the release of the last of eight films, What's So Funny?, decided by an online poll.  It was a lighthearted end (though humour was present in each narrative) to a series that achieved exactly what it set out to do. Sharp-witted writers, charismatic presenters we all know, first class production and astute directors addressed topics such as How to Buy Art, Where are the Women? and Pop Art, making high art easy to understand and enjoyable. 

Clearly, I'm a huge fan of the series, I really can't say enough about it. I spent four years in university studying art and art history, and I thought performance art was, well, kind of rubbish to be honest. Misguided weirdos wanting attention and calling it art. That's how I saw it because I didn't understand it. Usually I take the attitude that something shouldn't be dismissed unless you do your part in trying to wrap your head around it, but in this case I felt my assertion was valid. It so happened that the debut film in the series addressed this very subject, and in a matter of five minutes I finally understood what I hadn't been able to get my head around for years. Performance art still isn't my thing, but I get it now, I've made friends with it, and I can appreciate its cultural influence and the place it holds in art history. What a great way to begin. 

And here is the room where the #UnlockArt series officially wrapped up, in Le Meridien's opulent, violet-tinged, Adams Room where all eight films ran on a loop on the wall, providing the backdrop to a fantastic, #UnlockArt-themed dinner, created by Chef de Cuisne Michael Dutnall:


Franz served up his delicious cocktails, some of the molecular variety: 




LM-8Le Meridien's Chef de Cuisine Michael Dutnall 

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Our sorbet palate cleansers (in this case it could be palette as well?) were served in mini shopping bags marked SOLD to tie in with the film How to Buy Art. 

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Dessert was served in a themed box, mine being...can you guess? Pop Art, of course.

KAPOW! to my glucose levels indeed, look what was inside:  


I was too full to even think about dessert (I left out a couple courses in the photos because sweets and tiny food present a lot nicer than meat), but there was no way I was leaving it behind, so this box of goodies came back to my room and I got into it when I woke up. 

Want to know more about Humour in Art? Let's take the last of the tours that art historian and author Linda Bolton (how we will miss her!) designed to explore works associated with the film topic. Here's a selection from the works we saw at Tate Modern earlier that day, which illustrate how humour comes in many different forms, in Linda's words:

Niki de Saint Phalle – Shooting picture, 1961

She did what? Shoot stuff? That was her thing. Niki de St Phalle said she was angry. In her zip fronted white leather cat suit and hard attitude, she told everyone in her sexy French accent that she was angry with everyone and everything. She wanted to shoot everything and everyone. Niki made shooting paintings: she put liquid paint in a bag, sealed the bag, pinned it to the canvas and covered it in plaster. Plaster dried, she shot the plaster, punctured the bag below and the colour bled down the picture. 


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Thomas Hirschhorn – Candelabra with heads, 2006

Hirschhorn is known for his sculptures and installations made from everyday materials such as cardboard, plastic and paper, bound together with brown packing tape. This work was originally part of an exhibition called Concretions, a term from geology and medicine that suggests the gradual growth of a solid mass. Hirschhorn related the theme to a broader social and spiritual petrification. Here the faces of mannequins seem to be emerging from – or submerged into – larger biomorphic forms.

Thomas Hirschhorn – Candelabra with heads 2006

(I have to admit that every time I see this work I feel crampy. I don't need to explain why, do I?)

Stanley Spencer – The Centurion’s Servant, 1914

As we looked at this painting, Linda told us the humorous story (to us, but surely not him) of how Spencer fell in love with a lady called Patricia Preece, married her, yet took his ex-wife Hilda Carline on honeymoon with him. Preece began to manage Spencer’s finances and slowly duped him of his money, even though she refused to consummate their marriage. Stan really didn't play that one right. Find out more here.


David Shrigley – I’m Dead

David Shrigley's art is almost always humorous. His Leisure Centre is a funny play on words and concept, as is his I'm Dead placard-holding taxidermy dog.

David Shrigley – I’m Dead

Bruce Nauman – Run from fear fun from rear, 1941

Bruce Nauman makes a fun word play in his neon work. It's a bright, post-pop shout-out for irreverent fun.


Roy Lichtenstein – Mustard on White, 1963

Roy Lichtenstein makes an art joke in his Mustard on White. The great pop artist makes fun of the American abstract expressionists here. The pairing of colours sounds like the title of an abstract work and at the same time jokingly refers to a condiment on white bread.


And before we go, here's something I found kind of funny from one of Franz's magic molecular demonstrations at the Terrace Grill and Bar - when he lifted the cloche after scent-infusing the cocktails, his head seemed to disappear into a delicious-smelling iquid nitrogen cloud:

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TheSwelleLife-Le-Meridien-Franz-fog (1 of 1)Photos © Dave Watts unless otherwise credited

A huge thank you to Le Meridien for providing what is hands down the most fun and exciting learning experience I have ever had. Sure beats university! (At least the one I went to.) If you want to see posts on the preceding films scroll down here, and to view the entire series of films you can visit the Unlock Art site

Part of Le Méridien’s ethos is to support emerging artists. It furthers this commitment through its Unlock Art™ Programme, which offers Le Méridien guests complimentary access to forward thinking cultural institutions around the world. These partnerships allow guests to explore a local, inspiring cultural experience, simply by presenting the Unlock Art™ room key. Le Méridien’s Unlock Art™ partner in the UK is TATE Modern and TATE Britain

Tate is a family of four galleries: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.  Tate is responsible for the National Collection of British art from 1500 and international modern and contemporary art from 1900. Tate's Collection of over 66,000 works of art embraces all media from painting, drawing, sculpture and prints, to photography, video and film, installation and performance.  The Collection is displayed at Tate's four galleries and through loans to temporary national and international exhibitions and long loans. 

May 05, 2014

Great Double Acts: Two Talents, Singular Vision

KillsAlison Mosshart and Jamie Hince of the rock duo The Kills present the #UnlockArt film Great Double Acts, about our greatest art duos. Click the photo to watch the film on the Unlock Art site.

We love to worship a single entity, but the truth is that a lot of the creative brilliance in this world is the result of more than one person's work. Sometimes it's a behind-the-scenes collaboration where muses might play a crucial role, and sometimes it's a bold, stand together, declaration of the power of two, like Gilbert and George, who still reside in London and are said to be as close as ever. We're talking about art's greatest duos, the theme of the Unlock Art film Great Double Acts. As with the previous films, it's a highly entertaining and informative piece that will get you up to speed in a major art topic in just five minutes. (If only all learning could be so enjoyable!)

Now I had to miss the events around this film launch as I couldn't make my monthly escape down to London with Le Meridien Piccadilly and Tate, but I'm still going to take you along on the tour and we can pretend we were there together. Art historian and author Linda Bolton lead the tour through the London streets. It begins with some wonderful insights into the life of Gilbert and George and the rich history of their Spitalfields neighbourhood, where they still live and work, in her words.

Gilbert-and-george-Fornier-streetGilbert and George on Fournier Street. This street with the French name features many original Huguenot houses dating back to the early 18th century. Linda pointed out how some of the houses have elaborately decorated doorways and shuttered windows. The silk workers who worked here had a very difficult life – in the early 1700s, imports of calico and cheap silks by the East India company made a number of Spitalfields silk workers unemployed, resulting in the poverty in the area. Today these listed houses have been bought back to life, mostly with private owners ensuring the bricks are cleaned and the painted shutters are intact.

Gilbert-George_Drunk-with-godDrunk with God, Gilbert and George. 1983.

"The well-known artistic duo met many years ago at St Martins and apparently it was ‘love at first sight’ - many suggest that their partnership is so strong because George was initially the only person who could understand Gilbert’s rather poorly spoken English. They are creatures of habit and visit the same restaurant every day at the same time in East London. According to rumours, they only keep champagne in the fridge (just in case they have guests coming over). Every piece of artwork they create, they call a ‘sculpture’ regardless of whether it's a portrait, etc. According to speculation, before his partnership with George, Gilbert was married with a child. Interestingly this rumour has never been confirmed or rejected – it is fascinating how the duo remain in the public eye, yet still hold so many secrets. Gilbert Proesch was born in South Tyrol, Northern Italy and George was born in Plymouth. The duo adopted the slogan ‘Art for All’, aiming to be relevant beyond the narrow confines of the art world. The pair are residents of the well-known Fournier Street in Spitalfields – their entire body of work has been created in and focused on London’s East End which they see as microcosm of the rest of the world. According to George ‘nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End’."

Linda is great at giving context to a subject, so the tour included some interesting facts and features about the neighbourhood:


Street art and graffiti. "Shoreditch is home to a colourful selection of art, cafes, bars, galleries, markets etc. which add to the varied and interesting culture of the area. There is an ever changing vibe of creativity and energy, which was initially made famous by the hipsters who lived in the area during the 70s and 80s – in a time when many people lived in one house."


Dennis Severs House. "Located in Folgate street, this house is described as a ‘still-life drama’ created by the previous owner as a historical imagination of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers. It is a grade II listed Georgian terraced house in Spitalfields. From 1979 to 1999 it was lived in by Dennis Severs, who gradually recreated the rooms as a time capsule in the style of former centuries – it is a must visit in the area!"

Mark-Gertler-housePhoto source

Mark Gertler. This is the Spitalfields house where Mark Gertler lived from 1891-1939, from birth. Mark was a British-born painter of figure subjects, portraits and still-life.  The youngest child of Polish Jewish immigrants, Mark was known for his unrequited love for fellow painter Dora Carrington, whom he pursued relentlessly for many years. Carrington and Gertler had a very complex relationship – when Carrington revealed she was getting married to another man, he tried to purchase a revolver and threatened to commit suicide. 


The Old Truman Brewery. "Truman Hanbury and Buxton & Co were once one of the largest employers of the area. Founded in 1679, the brewery was located in this area because breweries were not permitted within the city walls due to smell. The brewery closed in 1988 and the area is now used by various art, fashion and catering events which all help to shape the culture of the area – it is a real haven for art exhibitions."


Whitechapel gallery. "Located on the north side of Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel Gallery was founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London. The gallery has a wonderful record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area’s deprived populations. The gallery features the work of contemporary artists as well as retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community. The gallery was designed by architect Charles Harrison Townsend – this is one of his most striking original public buildings in London."  

March 11, 2014

Unlock Art: A Short History of Art Undressed

NakedorNudeClick to view on the Unlock Art website

"The nude is a painting of a man or woman who looks at ease and confident. If they look vulnerable or embarrassed then they're naked. Not nude anymore." -  So said the 18th century critics to keep artists from being accused of 'ungodly behaviour'. This is from A Short History of Art Undressed, the fifth film in the Tate Unlock Art series, supported by Le Meridien. As with all art prior to the 20th century, it was no coincidence that its subjects fell into a narrow range of categories, and even more restricted was how they were allowed to be presented. This film looks at nudes throughout history and their reasons for being. The rules have changed now, but is the change enough? I talk about this a bit further down in our meeting in London last month with author Frances Borzello

Before we get into the heavy, I can't not show a little bit of the treats from our wonderful day. I'm always excited to see what our 'greeting' cocktail at Le Meridien Piccadilly will be and how it will tie in with the theme of the film. This time Franz created for us the 'Undress Lady’, a fresh and fruity virgin cocktail made with peach juice puree, lime juice and apple juice, garnished with the physalis fruit as decoration, the leaves opened up to reveal the 'naked' fruit: 


We later came back to a really lovely afternoon tea at Le Meridien Piccadilly, and since we're already talking about the goodies I'll get to that right now, and it includes our talk with Frances which leads into our tour of nudes at Tate Modern.

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We indulged in all kinds of sweet and savoury delectables and I went back and forth between them before I decided I should stop before I burst. And on our way out we were given a box of three eclairs made for the film - the eclair is the new macaron! - with silhouettes of nudes in chocolate dust on each. I don't have a photo because I was on my way to the train station but I can tell you they were very rich and delicious. 

As mentioned, we had a special guest, Frances Borzello, who is the author of the book The Naked Nude (Thames & Hudson, 2012). We were each given a hardback copy to take home which also came in handy for the intriguing discussion we had over our tea with Frances. Frances told us that the book is dedicated to her grandchildren - who aren't allowed to look at it! Frances is such a lovely person, very warm and approachable, and later when she was asking each of us about our blogs it came out that she was once a fashion editor for the Chicago Sun-Times! (I'd mentioned to someone that day that Le Meridien has connected us with so many talented, intelligent and truly delightful people connected to the Unlock Art project either directly or indirectly - author and art historian Linda Bolton, art critic and writer Jessica Lack, director and producer Susan Doyan, artist Olivia Plender, and now Frances - and that I'd just realised that they've all been women.  Well I recognised that each was a woman of course! But I mean I eventually clued in that the collective has been all women, razor sharp and contributing good, meaningful things to the world.)

Anyway! Frances spoke about what prompted the book, which began when she was asked to respond to Kenneth Clark’s The Nude of 1956 in which he said the nude was a category - like portrait or landscape - cleaned up for art. Not so much anymore, as some of the more recent works cited in The Naked Nude prove, with no modesty to be found. I'm not showing any here, but you can google Jenny Saville for examples of nudity at its most raw and emotional (she paints with a Bacon-like brush). Frances raised a fascinating point, that being the fact that we don't have a way of looking at such rawness, these direct and provocative expressions of nudes. You realise immediately that she's right and it's an observation that slips by the rest of us because we take our recoiling for granted; it's natural so therefore it's the right response. But is it? There's no code like there was in the past when nudes were used to illustrate religious or mythical stories, and women were idealised as nudes, presented as passive or motherly and never looking directly at you so it was ok. There was a framework entered into and so the viewer was safe, but this began to be challenged, from Manet's Olympia to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and today we've got strangers' private parts coming at our faces - sometimes not even the ones we expect - and what do we do?! This opens a fascinating discussion; if we can resist the urge to say 'ew'  and look away, interesting things can happen. As Frances points out, the artists are asking questions. They don't have the answers, they just want you to consider what's in front of you. She thinks that's a good thing. I think being able to do this has a lot to do with acceptance of ourselves and others, naked. For now, it seems most of us just don't want to know. 

Theswellelife_frances (1 of 1)Frances Borzello hosting our afternoon tea at Le Meridien Piccadilly

Earlier, when we arrived at Tate Modern we found ourselves on the southwest side and noticed this unusually structured building going up right behind the museum:  

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It turns out it's going to be an extension of Tate Modern, and this is what it's going to look like:

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The day before we visited Tate Modern, it served as a London Fashion Week venue for the Topshop Unique show - a first for both. The video of the collection was running on a screen in one of the common areas, but my focus was on the people in the shot:

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And now we start the tour that Linda Bolton created for us - you know her from the previous Unlock Art posts - that takes us through the ways in which nudes were used to tell stories and express ideas and emotions:


The KissRodin. 1901-1904

"The Greeks sculpted them. So did the Romans. In renaissance Italy the idealised nude was the top subject but made respectable by choosing the subjects from the bible or classical mythology. We’ve got an over life-size idealised nude in Rodin’s Kiss made at the beginning of the 20th century." 

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The Three Dancers, Picasso. 1925

(continuing on from above) "But around that point vanguard artists were painting the nude in a different way. The jagged forms of Three Dancers convey an explosion of energy. The image is filled with Picasso’s personal recollections of a triangular affair, which resulted in the heart-broken suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Love, sex and death are linked in an ecstatic dance. Her face relates to a mask from Torres Strait, New Guinea, owned by the artist and points to Picasso’s association of ‘primitive’ forms with expressiveness and sexuality. Picasso didn’t ever go completely abstract. Even though this painting is slightly abstract, you can still make out exactly what it is. The painting depicts three girls dancing in what is apparently a hotel room – you can see blue skies and a balcony in the background giving the impression of joy, celebration. The wallpaper symbols reflect Russian text, which translates into a joyful word. The painting also gives the impression of bullet wounds in places, with jagged edges and shapes that are far from beautiful. Perhaps these negative connotations further portray the triangular affair and the heart broken suicide of Picasso’s friend by gun shot." 

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Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, Picasso. 1932 

"This work belongs to the remarkable sequence of portraits that Picasso made of Marie-Therese Walter at his country property at Boisgeloup. Marie-Therese is presented as a series of sensuous curves. Even the scrolling arms of the chair have been heightened and exaggerated to echo the rounded forms of her body. The face is a double or metamorphic image, the right side can also be seen as the face of a lover in profile kissing her on the lips. Her hands almost look like dove wings – giving an impression of beauty."

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Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, Picasso. 1932

"Another painting of Marie-Therese Walter in another flattering stance – she is presented in this painting as a series of pink curves once more."

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Nude Woman with NecklacePicasso. 1968

"This painting is somewhat different to Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Therese Walter. The subject is Jacqueline Roque, his second wife of which he is thought to have worshipped and resented for her youth and beauty. The painting presents crude connotations such as bodily fluids and flatulence and she is presented almost as the sum of her sexual parts. The green colour could also be seen as beast like – however it could even be suggested that Picasso was simply finding a contrasting colour to the red cushions. Picasso was in his 80s when he painted this picture." I will say that this painting is even more provocative - and not just a little bit gross - in person! 

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Self Portrait, Christian Schad. 1927

"The nude can become disturbing, take a look at Christan Schad’s take on it. This self-portrait with the female nude is a good example of the new realism. Based in 1920s Berlin Schad looks back to traditional German art – check out his Renaissance-style sheer shirt, but it’s also a distinctly modern work. The nude in the background has a scary and alienated look. Her face is scarred with a brand, inflicted on Neapolitan women by their loves to make them theirs and unattractive to others. It is a startling emblem of the potential violence underlying male possession of the female body. We can also see an industrial scene in the background and a strange singular flower. The juxtaposition of objects present a negative outlook, although the nude itself is attractive and almost idealistic. Perhaps this painting presents a classical nude in the modern day." 

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Agosta, the Pigeon chested man and Rasha, the Black Dove, Christian Schad. 1929

"This painting shows a deformed white man and a black woman – both ominous figures of this time in Berlin with the rise of the Nazis. These figures present non-idealistic nudes – the complete opposite to the idealistic Greek nudes we have seen. Both of the figures unerringly return our gaze – the figures were accustomed to scrutiny, earning their living as sideshow acts in Berlin funfairs. Unusually, this unsettling portrayal of the objectification of the body, voyeurism and social alienation is focused on the male as well as the female nude." 

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Family Jules NNN (No Naked Niggahs), Barkley Hendricks, 1974

"This picture shows a relaxed nude where the pose and title are confronting the way representations of African American nudes have been received, feared and censored and directly tackles the widely accepted notion of the hyper-sexualised black body. His response seems to say ‘if this is what you expect, then this is what I am going to give you’. However, the spectacles and pipe give the man an intellectual presence, taking away from the initial thoughts of the picture and confusing it somewhat." 

After we discussed this work, we were told that the room it hangs in is offered for event bookings, such as dinners. And that more than a few times requests have been received to cover the painting or even remove it altogether. We all had the same reaction, that if you are going to book a room at Tate Modern, you get it as is - the art lives here after all! (Just to clarify, this request is always denied.) 

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The Uncertainty of the Poet, Giorgio de Chirico. 1913

"de Chirico’s quiet square evokes the classical world through a dream-like vision. A sculpture of Aphrodite’s torso is placed provocatively alongside a bunch of bananas. In the background a passing train suggests the sense of the contemporary and the immediate. de Chirico’s early works were hugely admired by the Surrealists, who saw them in a dream-like parallel existence." 

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Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dali. 1937 (yes, there are nudes in there, a group of skinny ones in the middleground)

"The surrealists looked at the nude and played with the classical nude of Antiquity viewed through the lens of Freud’s investigations into the human psyche" - in other words, this is when nudes got risqué, and gave more than a little away about what was going in Dali's mind as well! 

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As I've mentioned previously, the group just loves Linda, and her style has certainly not gone unnoticed so I couldn't resist snapping a photo of her very 'Linda' coat!

A huge thank you to Frances Borzello, Linda Bolton and as always, Le Meridien, for another eye-opening day of insights into art. 

‘Unlock Art’ is an exciting series of short films offering an imaginative, witty, and enriching introduction to the world of art.  Created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien, Unlock Artfeatures eight short films that put art under the spotlight, with topics ranging from the history of the nude to humour, Performance to Pop Art, presenting all the need-to-know facts. Bold in approach and rich in content, the film series was conceived to make the arts more accessible to a wider audience. Marc Sands, Director of Media and Audiences Tate, said “Our goal is to promote public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art. This series of films launched will offer an entertaining, thought p rovoking yet witty approach to art. With an exciting roster of presenters, and the imaginative and creative content of the films, we want to connect people who might not have considered some of the subjects before with contemporary art.”

Part of Le Méridien’s ethos is to support emerging artists. It furthers this commitment through its Unlock Art™ Programme, which offers Le Méridien guests complimentary access to forward thinking cultural institutions around the world. These partnerships allow guests to explore a local, inspiring cultural experience, simply by presenting the Unlock Art™ room key. Le Méridien’s Unlock Art™ partner in the UK is TATE Modern and TATE Britain.

Photos © The Swelle Life

February 17, 2014

'Where are the Women?' #UnlockArt Film Explains


"Where are the women in art?" is a question that largely goes unasked; we're so used to the idea of women being overshadowed by men in the art world that most of us assume that's just the way it is, that there really are, and were, so few great women artists. Well, that's not the case at all, actually!

In the fourth Unlock Art film released last month, Jemima Kirke - an artist and actor you may know from the HBO TV series Girls - reveals herself from beneath a gorilla mask and utters these words "...there have always been women who were artists. But it was men who wrote the history books, and somehow, they just forgot to mention that." (Pause to let steam blow out of my ears.) In under six minutes, Jessica Lack, the writer of the film (and most of the Unlock Art series) manages to do more to give artists who are women the recognition they deserve, both collectively and some individually, and clear up this tragic omission, then anything most of us will have ever encountered. Because it's simply not a priority; it's not on the agenda. It's seen as a 'fringe' topic. As an art student, I was taught about the major women artists, not necessarily always with the 'women artist' label, but of course Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe were hailed as important artists....hmm....Cindy Sherman figured in there....Dorothea Tanning the Surrealist painter got a brief mention... actually there were lots of women Surrealists but you have to read many books about the movement to find out who they were, and even so they're usually positioned as 'girlfriend of'. Add maybe a handful more names and you got the sense it was a comprehensive list. I mean, you'd have thought women must not have been interested in, or have been capable of, painting in an abstract expressionist style! But they were. Lee Krasner - who? Elaine de Kooning - yes her last name is familiar but what did she do...  And they weren't the only ones. And if you focussed on women artists as the subject of a paper or project you were branded a feminist - not that there's anything wrong with that! But hey, maybe you just thought it was brilliant art. 

Watch the film to find out which 17th century painting hanging in the Louvre was wrongly attributed to a man. (Oh there's so much jaw-dropping stuff in there I want to give it all away - you really must see it.) 

After the film we had a fascinating discussion with Jessica and Berlin-based British artist Olivia Plender also joined (more on her below). I think it was Jessica who pointed out, 'Women appreciate the art, men collect it.' (I asked if the gender breakdown of practising artists is known and was told that 75% of British art school graduates are women. So it must be that these few male artists are just so amazing, then? Not so fast. It's largely men who have the money to buy the art, men who own the galleries and choose their potential stars - essentially continuing to write the history books with a gender-skewed view of great art.  With this on my mind since our talk, I couldn't help but notice that of the bidders in an auction of dollhouses designed by well-known architects who were named, all were men. But about 30% of the artists that the architects collaborated with were women, which is as much as double the usual representation of galleries and museums, even the major ones! However, it should be noted that later in the day, Linda Bolton would inform us of how the volume of women’s artwork in the Tate galleries has increased to 1/5th of the collection these days - that's 20%. It's an improvement. 

Speaking of Tate and women in art, when we were at Tate Modern back in September for the debut of the Unlock Art film series, an exhibition of an artist named Mira Schendel (1919-1988) was running. She is one of Latin America’s most important and prolific post-war artists but not commonly known elsewhere. It was the first international full-scale survey of her work -  250 paintings, drawings and sculptures exploring "universal ideas of faith, self-understanding and existence" (and it all just looked so cool). I can honestly say I've never enjoyed viewing a collection as much as I have hers. The variety of media was rich - I loved her use of transparency - and jaw-dropping large-scale installations had me asking - who was this woman and why did I not know her? And how many other great women artists are out there? 

During our rousing discussion about the film we had to be reminded lunch was waiting for us upstairs in the Terrace Grill and Bar restaurant, and the theme was, of course, thoughtfully tied in with the film thanks to head chef Michael Dutnall:

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And those 'women in kitchens' would be:

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We had to match the chef with the course and I think everyone got all three correct - each has such a distinct signature style that it wasn't hard to identify who created the dish. My favourite of the three was Anjum Anand's vivid dessert of poached plums with sweet saffron Sabayon, toasted almonds, pistachio and lemon:

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And then there were the drinks. Let me backtrack to the first of what was served before the film, a delicious, non-alcoholic concoction called The Masterpiece created as a tribute to Olivia Plender's comic book:

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And the cocktail we were served on our way into lunch was called ‘Lady Blender’ in honour of Rachel Barrie, a master mixologist. It's a twist on her favourite cocktail, Blood & Sand with Auchentoshan 3 wood whisky, Antica Formula, cherry herring, hibiscus and blackcurrant tea, and dry curacao to enhance the citrusy flavours. Franz says it’s a great aperitif, well balanced, with a great finish and I would concur!

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Next we were off to Tate Britain for another insightful, bespoke tour by author and art historian Linda Bolton (who I can safely say has the hearts of everyone in the group):

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Here we are (well not me, I'm behind the camera) in front of Anya Gallaccio's preserve ‘beauty’ (1991-2003), made with 2000 gerberas, glass, metal and rubber. As Linda tells us, Gallaccio is known for her work with organic materials such as ice, flowers, fruits and sugar. Her installations change over time. In this work, gerberas are sandwiched between huge panes of glass and left to wither and rot. Gallaccio has described gerberas as a ‘disposable commodity’ mass produced all year round. When the flowers were installed at Tate Britain they were colourful and bright, almost vulgar they were so beautiful. The flowers have now slowly died, illustrating what happens over the passage of time. Linda suggested that the piece is meant to depict a sense of life – from being vibrant and very much alive, to death. The decomposing flowers have also started to bleed in a sense, down the wall, giving an impression of blood - you can see this effect on the skirting board. It's quite a powerful piece. 


This painting from 1857 was especially moving. It's called Nameless and Friendless, and was painted by Emily Mary Osborn. Linda explained how this is a great case for the women artist in example and output. It shows a vulnerable woman trying to support herself by selling her paintings. Behind her, two gents look up from looking at pictures of scantily-clad ballet dancers to check her out. It’s a beautifully subtle illustration of the plight of an unmarried woman. The woman is with a boy, perhaps her son or younger brother. They appear to be middle class, yet fallen on hard times. She just looks so vulnerable and is clearly at the mercy of the shop owner whose demeaner indicates he's likely to be stingy in his appraisal. 

TheSwelleLife_Sylvia Pankhurst (1 of 1)Sylvia Pankhurst in her studio, c. 1904-05

I promised more on Olivia Plender. She curated the important exhibition Sylvia Pankhurst: The Suffragette as a Militant Artist (2013) showing at Tate Britain. Linda describes it as 'Art meets agitation': Sylvia Pankhurst was an artist and campaigner for women’s rights at the beginning of the 20th century. Art that she and other suffragettes made was designed to push the women’s cause. It’s something that gains momentum over the 20th century – this intermixing of art and politics. Olivia explained how this curated work came out of a project at the London Metropolitan University library; she wondered why this work wasn’t represented in galleries. The movement used violence against private property to publicise their cause – rather than violence to people. To them, art was a great symbol of private property, so this was one of the key tactics they used. Mary Rogers for example, famously axed a painting in the National Gallery. Linda also showed us a WSPU tea set which was created by Olivia and used at suffragette tea parties, often to celebrate the release of a prisoner of a cause. This illustrates how the movement stayed together, almost as a family, to protest. The group was mainly made up of upper middle class women and it’s often easily forgotten that these women would have been marginalised from normal society for fighting for the cause and their rights – other women who did not believe in the cause would have most likely disowned them as acquaintances.

TheSwelleLife_WSPU_teaset (1 of 1)Pieces from the WSPU tea set

And this is what Tate Britain tells us about the militant artist:

Sylvia Pankhurst 1882- 1960 made a profound impact on the fight for women’s rights as both an artist and campaigner. Trained at the Manchester Minicipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art, she was a key figure in the work of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) set up with her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel in 1903, using her artistic skills to further the cause. Pankhurst’s lifelong interest was the rights for working women, in 1907 she spent several months touring industrial communities, documenting the working and living conditions of women workers. Her combination of artworks with written accounts provided a vivid picture of the lives of women workers and made a powerful argument for the improvement in working conditions and pay equality with men. Pankhurst designed badges, banners and fliers for with WSPU her symbolic ‘angel of freedom’ was essential to the visual image of the campaign alongside the WSPU colours of purple white and green. As the suffrage campaign intensified, she struggled to balance her artistic and political work, and in 1912 she gave up art to devote herself to the East London federation of suffragettes, the organisation she founded to ensure working class women were represented in the suffrage campaign. Pankhurst was one of many women artists involved in creating designs for the suffrage campaign and active in militant protest. Suffragette attacks on artwork are examined in the exhibition ‘art under attack’ at Tate Britain.

The Sylvia Pankhurst work is displayed next to work by Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt and Mary Kelly who conducted a detailed study of women who worked in a metal box factory in Bermondsey. The artists collected a vast amount of data through interviews, archival research and observation:

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And I could go on with more incredible art from the day but I'll leave it here. Thank you to Le Meridien for another fascinating day of discovering; this was my favourite so far. I think all of us were saying we now see things differently, for the better. And in a few hours I'll be screening the next film in the series, Naked or Nude? A Short History of Art Undressed.

Unlock Art’is an exciting series of short films offering an imaginative, witty, and enriching introduction to the world of art.  Created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien, Unlock Art features eight short films that put art under the spotlight, with topics ranging from the history of the nude to humour, Performance to Pop Art, presenting all the need-to-know facts. Bold in approach and rich in content, the film series was conceived to make the arts more accessible to a wider audience. 

January 21, 2014

"Pop Goes the World" Unlocks Pop Art

PopClick the image to watch the film at the #UnlockArt site

Who doesn't like pop art? You don't have to get it, it's just fun and bright and colourful - or it can be. But if you want to understand what's really behind Warhol's famous soup cans and Lichtenstein's cartoon vignette parodies, the latest film in the #Unlock art series will help you along. Pop Art fan Alan Cumming (what a perfect match!) takes us on a wild ride through the major figures and works and explains what it all means in this vivid and entertaining film. 

Listen near the end of the film for one of Andy Warhol's best quotes. It's priceless.


Andy Warhol and Lou Reed

PopGoestheWorld_LichstensteinRoy Lichtenstein at work

PopGoestheWorld_DavidHockneyDavid Hockney (I. LOVE. HIM.) and one of the typical California scenes of the 1960s that inspired some of his greatest works. I love the line delivered by Alan Cumming in the pool "It's much sunnier in LA than it is in Bradford." (Hockney is from Bradford which is not known for bright and cheery landscapes.) 

Thanks to another fantastic tour courtesy of art historian Linda Bolton, I finally got to see Hockney's A Bigger Splash at Tate Britain. I had no idea it was so big, and I love that its sunny cheer is so imposing on the wall. I don't usually like the idea of poster prints of masterworks but this one is framed in my kitchen because its presence just makes me so happy - it reminds me of the midcentury ranch houses I loved so much in a part of the city I lived near growing up in Canada - and I learned that the little errant splotches that extend outside of the image are not the result of a bad print run, they're there because they're present in the original painting because, according to Linda, Hockney didn't want us to forget it's a painting. (Was he worried we might try to dive into the pool?) Another thing I learned - I had no idea this is would be considered Pop Art. Makes sense now that I think about it, but I guess in my mind it existed on its own plane because of what it meant to me personally. Its impact has not diminished after all of these years. 

This is what Linda told us about David Hockney and the painting:

  • America was the land of the modern, a country which celebrated the new. British pop artist David Hockney headed there. He painted the American dream; the Hollywood homes with palm-fringed gardens and pools below clear blue skies.
  • His ‘A Bigger Splash’ shows with clarity an empty pool into which someone has dived. The painting is as big and uncomplicated as Pop Art. The painting has a very specific look – with everything very in its place and square with aspects such as the director’s chair suggesting power and wealth. The palm trees, pool and colour gives the impression of sun and warmth, yet the content and overall feel of the painting can be interpreted as sad and empty.
  • Different techniques are used in the painting – for example the pool, sky, building and palm trees are simple and minimal – almost painted with structure (you can see the effects of masking tape edges used to create this look). The ‘splash’ gives the impression of a person (with subtle skin colour tones) and here he has used a different techniques to portray the splash effect.
  • The painting could almost be a print – however subtle hints at the creation process are included, such as paint drop marks and imperfections." 

DavidHockney_ABiggerSplashDavid Hockney. A Bigger Splash, 1967

We also got to see Hockney's Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy which was so compelling; it seemed to reveal the tumultuous state of Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark's relationship at the time, through the way they held their bodies and of course their facial expressions, which Hockney translated with near heartbreaking effect. (Their cat Percy didn't seem too bothered.) The greens in the large painting were beautiful, as was the contrast of Celia's aubergine dress:

DavidHockney_MrandMrsClarkandPercyDavid Hockney. Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy, 1971

And here's what Linda told us about this painting:

  • London's Notting Hill is the location of the home of the very stylish couple Mr & Mrs Ossie Clark, painted with their cat Percy by Hockney in 1971. Ossie Clark was a dress designer in London's Swinging '60s.
  • 'King of the Kings Road' was his nickname, and he was the creator of a highly flamboyant fashion range. His wife Celia Birtwell was a fabric designer, and she created the prints for Ossie's dresses. Hockney had become friends with Ossie and Celia at art school in Manchester in the late 1950s. Hockney and Ossie had travelled to New York in the early '60s, enthusiastic for all they saw there. Hockney worked from photographs. His painting of his friends is large and simplified. Unusually for a painting of a married couple, he has created an open space between them.
  • The painting could suggest a divide between the couple, with the window and shutters beyond separating the pair, whom it could be argued look rather disgruntled and uninterested. The painting went straight to the Tate in 1971 and Mrs Clark left Mr Clark three years later, which led to Ossie’s downward spiral which he didn’t really recover from. It was implied that she was not content with the rock-star, superficial lifestyle led by her husband. As with ‘A Bigger Splash’ there are drips and suggestions of the creative work which went into the piece.

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As part of our Pop Art day we got to try our hand at a creation of our own, in this gorgeous room hidden away downstairs at Le Meridien Piccadilly. We were guided by Paint Jam London, an innovative art company based on London who run inspiring art workshops and events, show art works, feature artists and sell art and prints. It's a lot of fun and you may be surprised what hidden creativity they can unleash within you!

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There is nothing more daunting than a blank canvas! Luckily we were first guided through exercises to get us into the creative process, using various media such as pastels, paints, charcoal and palette knives (I opted to use one instead of a brush for texture).

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Everyone got into the spirit of the day, and knowing myself very well, I did not attempt to think of an original idea in the time we had, so I used the Lichtenstein example in front of me (why I drew in charcoal when I knew I'd be painting it I have no idea - charcoal is incredibly smudgy) and tailored the word bubble to reflect the film series (using Photoshop at home!):

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Afterward we were treated to another scrumptious feast at the hotel's Terrace Grill & Bar Restaurant, beginning with a warm glass of mulled wine - made with gin which made it very Le Meridien Piccadilly - and was so delicious I know I will never be able to enjoy mulled wine again, unless they've served it to me. The mulled wine featured again in the starter, curing the salmon which was served with cinnamon cream cheese and spiced oranges, followed by corn-fed chicken breast, potato rosti, fricasee of brussel sprouts, chestnuts and lardons. Yes, it was just as good as it sounds. 

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The room was gorgeously festive:

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We popped open special Christmas crackers which had yummy truffles inside with a lovely message:

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Our dessert was first revealed with a cheeky prank, chef Michael Dutnall presenting a charred Christmas pudding apologetically. We knew something must be up because for one, he wouldn't burn the dessert in the first place; and second, he would certainly not show it to us! We waited excitedly and then he turned around and lifted this big, red foil box to reveal:

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A wonderland of pastries, gingerbread and other sweets surrounding a special croquembouche which looked like a Christmas tree. This was what I had on my plate, and we got to take some treats home which were very well received!

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Thank you to Le Meridien for another wonderful adventure!

Unlock Art is an exciting series of short films offering an imaginative, witty, and enriching introduction to the world of art.  Created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien, Unlock Art features eight short films that put art under the spotlight, with topics ranging from the history of the nude to humour, Performance to Pop Art, presenting all the need-to-know facts. Bold in approach and rich in content, the film series was conceived to make the arts more accessible to a wider audience.

December 31, 2013

Afternoon Tea, Art (and the Coolest Toilets Ever) at Sketch

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After screening the second #UnlockArt film in the Le Meridien and Tate produced series last month, we were treated to a fantastic afternoon tea at Sketch in Mayfair. It's a gallery/cafe/restaurant spread over two floors of a converted 18th century building, and it's just a magical place, one of the reasons London is such an incredible city to visit. 

We were taken to the Glade which is where Afternoon Tea is served, a gorgeous, jewel-toned room that had me looking at the walls, ceiling and everything else for several minutes - total distraction!

Glade_SketchPhoto from

The most charming pastry case sits near the entrance of the Glade room:

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We went all-out and had champagne as well as tea which came in white porcelain teapots with bust sculptures as lid handles. 

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The finger sandwiches were lovely, some came topped with caviar and quail egg. My favourites were the mini croque monsieurs.

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I was full by the time I realised I hadn't yet had the parfait sitting next to my plate, but you know my rule, pretty food can't go to waste so I ate it right up, and I was glad I did as it was one of the most delicious things on the table:

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The decor throughout the spaces, from the walls to the ceilings to special installations, was intriguing:

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Now, normally I don't include the fact that I 'went to the bathroom' in a post, but I'm mentioning it this time because it was the coolest thing ever. I was directed to walk up these stairs...

Sketch_bathroomPhoto from I think that's a DJ booth inside there. 

...not realising when I got to the top that I was actually in the bathroom until there was no where else to go, and then I clued in that the glossy white, egg-shaped pods all around me were the toilets:

Sketch_podsPhoto from - Sketch made it on their '7 Public Bathrooms Nicer than our House' list

When I went in, my pod - which glowed pink - was talking to me in a male voice and I have no idea what it was saying. (And I only had one glass of champagne so that wasn't it.) Outside, the mirrors were definitely made to mess with your vanity - they were convex so your face looked warped. I got the message - it was 'Stop staring at yourself and get back to admiring this awesome toilet!' I had to find photos of it online because I don't normally take my camera into the bathroom, people tend not to like that. 


Lastly, an exterior shot as the car pulled away far too early to take me to Kings Cross station to head back up to Newcastle - I'd love to see what they do for breakfast:

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Thanks to Le Meridien for another wonderful day!

Photos © The Swelle Life unless otherwise credited

December 11, 2013

What is Art and How is it Valued? Latest #UnlockArt Film Gives Insight

UnlockArt_Film2Click the image to watch the film at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site

Understanding today's art market is kind of a universal challenge; the question 'what is art' is one that many are afraid to ask for fear that we should just know. Well, fear not, it's a valid query and has been since the early 20th century! It can be even trickier to get our head around how art is valued. In November I was back in London to screen the second of eight films in the Unlock Art series, Browsing the International Art Market, produced by Le Meridien and Tate. (The film that opened the series was Bringing Perfromance Art to Life, presented by Frank Skinner.) The screening, at Tate Modern, was followed by a special tour to explore the theme of the film, led by Professor Linda Bolton, a writer and art historian who has published 12 books on artists and art movements. (I have to mention that Linda is an exceptionally charismatic speaker, and whose brain I wish I could download into my own.) The tour focussed on exploring the sales and value of works and artists with particularly fascinating backgrounds; for example, Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals came to live permanently at Tate Modern when he pulled them from the Four Seasons commission, not wanting them to essentially serve as wallpaper for fancy dinners. Linda wrote a guide as an accompaniment, calling it a 'throwaway', but I kept mine because her choice of facts and ideas to highlight had a unique slant. . 

These are the key points we learned during the tour:

  • In many cases, a privately owned piece of artwork will be lent to a gallery on the basis that it will benefit the owner – firstly it is a form of insurance, secondly people can see and enjoy it, thirdly, they receive a copy for their own home and lastly and most importantly – the status of the located gallery adds value to the painting for future buyers.
  • Some keen art collectors trust their art buyers so much, they don’t even view the art before purchase.
  • ‘Art’ is formed of trends, fashions and ‘sexiness’
  • What is art? People have to have an emotional connection to art – for example, if you stub your toe and exclaim in pain, that isn’t art. If you pretend to stub your toe however, that is art because there is emotional thought involved. Artists like Van Gough wanted to be clear about how his paintings were meant to make you feel. But over the years, artists encourage the viewer to make their own opinion, have their own emotions for the piece and be ‘transformed’ by the artists into a certain thinking
  • Joseph Beuys – his abstract art is designed to make you think and try and understand its meaning. Joseph believed we are all artists.
  • Man Ray Gift – we viewed the Dada/ Surrealist sculpture of this famous iron; by adding a row of nails, Man Ray transformed a household flat-iron into a new and potentially threatening object.

JosephBeuys_ManRayLightning with Stag in its Glare, Joseph Beuy, date not known (left); Gift, Man Ray,1921

I've been struggling with what makes something art since I was an art student, witnessing incidents where my peers made up joke rationales of their work only to pass them off as legitimate statements during the critique. One time this happened during a juried show, and the guy won. (Needless to say, there were some awkward moments following the announcement!) Now years later, the idea I took away from the film and the tour is that there is no 'absolute' when it comes to what makes something art, and like Linda told me prior to our talk in so many words, it's best just to open your mind and think of the questions later. I saw what she meant; once you accept that there is no clear answer - I liken it it to Tarantino's mysterious, glowing, briefcase in Pulp Fiction - it's a bit of a relief; it's endlessly frustrating to seek a definitive answer when one doesn't exist! Well it doesn't today, anyway. Linda pointed out that if the question 'What is art' were asked in the late 19th century, the answer would be very straightforward; at that time, art was clearly defined. All one had to do was look at the common threads that made the masterworks great. But in the 20th and 21st century it's very muddled. Blame it on, or thank, Dada, the ' anti-art' art movement. It all began when Marchel Duchamp placed a urinal in a gallery for exhibition, transforming this ordinary, utilitarian thing into something that begged for contemplation simply because it was there. (Is it just me who wonders if it had been previously used or not?) Without Dada, we wouldn't have this:


What exactly is that, you ask? Here's a close-up:

Rubbish_2"Sometimes the pieces on show can be a little bit surprising. Now that anything can be art, anything can be bought and sold as art." - from Browsing the International Art Market

The name of this work translates to The Last Dirt, and is described as "a memorial to the concept of the traditional artist studio" and it was for sale for 17,000 euros at Basel Art Fair a few years ago. For me, the bottom line is that if a work can have meaning for the individual viewer, it's worth something. We don't all have to agree that whatever sells for millions at auction is justified, or feel bad about ourselves for just not 'getting' the point of a piece. But I do think that it's wrong to simply write off something before taking the time to try to understand it, the same going for anything in this world, really. When we explore art, we learn something about ourselves, and that's a worthwhile endeavor. 

November 18, 2013

Caged Creativity: Dinner as Performance Art

A wonderful film made of our evening captures the magic created by a Taste of Space 

Remember the dinner shrouded in mystery I alluded to previously as part of the Unlock Art series with Le Meridien and Tate? This is it. (It culminated in a completely unpredictable finale which will be revealed at the end.) Promised an 'immersive dinner', created by A Taste of Space, (formerly A Taste Full Space), the evening began with a knock at our door at 6pm in our rooms at Le Meridien Piccadilly. We were each delivered a turquoise wooden puzzle (seen below) which came with a note indicating that the codes we would need to Unlock our dinner experience were inside the puzzle. And that if we struggled to open it (that was me) we could get some help from Franz who was creating molecular cocktails for us in the Terrace Grill & Bar - now that's incentive to admit defeat! 


After we were warmed up with our codes in hand, we were driven to a secret warehouse in Hackney where we walked through a candle-lit entrance:


The doors opened to an expansive, dark space filled with elegantly set tables lit with candelabras in cage enclosures, the scene eerily highlighted with spotlights. The effect was so dramatic and mysterious I swear I thought we were enveloped in fog, but as the photos show we were not! 


We wandered in like wide-eyed children trying to make sense of this magical scene, and unlike children, we were served delicious cocktails:


We were told by our host, Laurie Trainor Buckingham who is the creative behind A Taste of Space, to expect an evening where anything could happen. We were all very excited!


The first row of cages contained three tables which were set for the first course, but first we had to open the locks with our codes. 


We were served organic Scottish salmon cured with beetroot, horseradish and Laphroaig whisky, with a smoked cod roe cracker and stained glass beetroot carpaccio with apple and dill, and hot borscht on the side. Wine was Chablis, Domaine Gilbert Picq et Fils 2009/2010 and complemented the gorgeous starter perfectly. 



While we were eating we noticed that in the next cage was a young woman who was watching us, then she appeared to be trying to slide under the barrier into our cage! We kept eating while watching out of the corner of our eye, expecting her to pop up beside our table at any moment. 

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We played musical cages and moved to the next set for the second course. It began with potatoes baked in a salted parcel and came with a mallet for breaking them out of - or Unlocking? - their hard shell. They were absolutely delicious, and I decided to try a bit of the shell as well - it was super salty - right as someone came by and told us not to eat that part. (I'm still here so it's ok.) Then a platter of the most tender lamb I've ever eaten, along with Jerusalem artichockes, was placed on our table. We'd heard the lamb was roasted for seven hours. 


"Um, they're looking at us - what do we do?" Give them the platter of lamb, of course. I slid it under the barrier (thinking they were hungry) but they didn't devour it, they played with it! It's ok, we had finished, it wasn't wasted. 


While we ate, the dancers - from a performance group called The People Pile - began to do their own thing, moving in all kinds of ways which began to engage and entertain us. This was just the beginning of that!



What, you've never partied with a banana peel and candelabra? We found ourselves in one of the empty cages - how did they get us in there, they didn't speak! - circled around one of the candelabras. One of the performers who was standing amongst us produced a banana peel and whipped it down onto the floor. We had a laugh at the randomness and then she pointed at the group one by one and each person responded by doing something with the banana peel. It felt a bit Dada which is a great exercise in letting go of expectations to go with the flow and let things unfold as they will - as adults, how often do we get to do that? 




Dessert, presented in the third and final set of cages, was molten chocolate cake inside a cage of sugar, served with sea salted ice cream and a coffee-based cocktail that was equally decadent. If that wasn't enough to leave one satisfied, a gorgeous cheese course followed and balanced the sweetness of the dessert. 


Now for that unpredictable final act. After one of the best dinners I've had, and definitely the most unique dinner experience I've ever had, we found ourselves in the very last cage - again, how did they manage to round us up like that? Then the most amazing thing happened. The performers came up to us one by one and hugged us. This wasn't just any hug, it was a very loved-up embrace that really caught me off guard at how powerful it was; this was some serious, good energy they had harnessed. I know what you're thinking: 'Alcohol helps!' Yes, but in this case the experience was what was most intoxicating, and we got caught up in this great thing that unfolded around us. So after I had two of the most heart-felt cuddles ever - from mute strangers no less! - I stood back and took a shot of the scene. 

I think this photo proves it wasn't just me who felt the power of The People Pile:

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Pretty amazing, eh? 

A huge thanks to Le Meridien and Tate for giving us this truly spectacular evening. And to A Taste of Space and The People Pile for creating it.  

Photos by Dave Watts, except photos #2, #9 and last photo, by The Swelle Life

October 25, 2013

Artisanal Treats at Le Méridien Piccadilly

DSC_4276Franz works his molecular magic in the Terrace Grill & Bar at Le Méridien Piccadilly. He created many scrumptous drinks for us including his twist on the classic cocktail, the Manhattan. 

One of my favourite things from my visits to Le Méridien Piccadilly is the food and drink. Every opportunity to make a moment special is explored and executed in a way that makes me squeal with glee (literally, I have to muffle it if that moment happens outside of my room). During Le Méridien's recent event in which they hosted the debut film of the Unlock Art series, made in collaboration with Tate, we were spoilt with so many sweet and savoury treats and I was determined to taste them all, whether I had room or not. As others politely declined as the trays came around the umpteenth time, I soldiered on to show my appreciation for the seemingly endless generosity of refreshments. There is no such thing as 'too much' when it comes to special things, and so mine was a display of pure gluttony. It's a rare opportunity to be able to gorge on molecular cocktails, miniscule croque madames and *gasp* candied bacon lollies, and I took full advantage! It was all presented to us by a team of smartly dressed servers in black, bespectacled with cool lensless glasses. (I loved them and went home with a pair - thank you, Laura!)



Sweet, salty and savoury at its indulgent best were the bacon lollipops, candied in a crunchy, sugary shell and served in a pot of baby peppers. 


If food can be adorable, the mini croque madames certainly were. Is that a fried quail egg on top? (I had four. I regret nothing!) 

Previous images © Dave Watts

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The presentation of chocolate-dipped strawberries hanging from colourful tags off umbrellas was pure joy! 


Specially made fortune cookies were my 'greet treat' that welcomed me when I arrived in my room. (See them open here.)

There was an incredibly unusual and wonderful dinner event later that evening which was so special it deserves a post of its own so we'll save that. When I returned to my room I found a little package tied in cord resting on the door handle. It was a map:


And then I saw this set up on the table:

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Hot chocolate! Piping hot, too, and exactly as I like it, semi-sweet. But what was in the treasure chest? I referred to the map and it gave me hints as to where the key was. I found it hanging from the doorknob on the wardrobe and I opened the chest to find a cinnamon stick, nutmeg, chocolate and a grater to top my hot chocolate with fresh spices. I was already so full from the fantastic dinner but you know my philosophy - when at Le Méridien! I settled happily into my big comfy bed with my cups of hot chocolate. (I would love to say I drifted off on cocoa clouds but the truth is I blogged until 2:30am!) 


Afternoon G & T was also a treat I found in my room that day, it's a Le Méridien specialty and the last time I was there we were given a masterclass that introduced us to infusions and how to make their unique and lovely twist on the classic cocktail. You can see that here, and if you want to experience one yourself I highly recommend a visit if you're in London!

October 16, 2013

The #UnlockArt Film Series Experience Begins...

TheSwelleLife_3D (1 of 1)Upon arrival I was given 3D glasses so I could find my room which had my name encoded on the door - a new way of seeing things? This set the tone for what was to follow....

Here I am again at one of my most favourite places, Le Méridien Piccadilly in London, this time for their UNLOCK ART film series experience. It's only mid-afternoon as I'm writing this and already we've had a day packed with all kinds of wonderful delights ('we' is me and six other lucky bloggers), and we've been told there's a surprise to come before our "immersive" five course dinner experience with A Taste Full Space this evening. We've received instructions to be in our rooms at 6pm for the first surprise and I can't wait to find out what they have cooked up - if I know Le Méridien, it will be out of this world. 

Click the image to watch the film at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site

This morning at the hotel we were treated to the Unlock Art debut screening of Bringing Performance Art to Life, the first of a series of eight exclusive films created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien. It was brilliantly presented by Frank Skinner who delivered the most clever of scripts, written by Jessica Lack (with a bit of improv we've been told). The objective of the films is to make art inclusive and accessible to everyone, taking it from 'high brow to street level', to Unlock Art for those who may not otherwise have paid attention for whatever reason, be it they don't understand the art, or think it's not meant for them. Delivered with the perfect dose of respectful humour, this historical survey of this provocative genre was entertaining, engaging and educational, and I wasn't bothered about whether I understood at that moment exactly what performance art is - yes even as an art student I struggled to get my head around it - I just wanted to keep watching. For me, it opened the mind and bridged the gap between 'us' and 'them', and hopefully it will do the same for many others as well. This afternoon we had the opportunity to chat with Susan Doyan who directed and produced the series, and she was lovely. What a talent. This easily digestible tour of the arts, from Surrealism to Pop Art, will continue to roll out monthly at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site. In addition, The Guardian will also be posting the videos. 

Update: The BBC has also featured the story and video which you can see here

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And what better to follow than actual performance art? Pil & Galia Kollectiv's 'A Guide to Office Clerical Time Standards' is an instructional piece based on a corporate manual from 1960. The pamphlet is focused on the time necessary for the accomplishment of minute labour procedures in the office, from the depressing and releasing of typewriter keys to the opening and closing of file cabinet drawers. In the performance, seven costumed performers represent the different levels of management and employment while performing the actions described in the guide, accompanied by a live musical score. It was a very rhythmic performance that captured and held the attention of the audience throughout its repetitive acts. 

Now let's talk about the food. Jumping back to my arrival, I found a treat in my room after I entered be-spectacled in 3D. A trio of fortune cookies were waiting to be opened, and in them were these messages:


I ate them up and was so excited to see what art was going to be unlocked for us. 

After the performance, a unique array of tiny cocktails and food, both savoury and sweet, were served. Never passing up an opportunity to make a moment special, they presented chocolate covered strawberries hanging from umbrellas which was just so neat!

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After the lovely talk with Susan Doyan I came up to my room and found this:

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Being a three-time (and counting I hope!) veteran of these Le Méridien experiences I knew what was in that teapot: an infused gin, one of the hotel's specialties, and tonic to mix for a totally unique G&T. (See more here.) I was so full after my Caligula-like ravaging of the mini foods (and drinks) but there was no way I was letting that pot sit idle and I poured a delicious cup (and kept going until it was all gone). And I ate more than that one bite missing from the macaron. As you can see, I really had no choice. 

Next up: Our immersive dinner. Hint: Hackney, locked cages, dancing zombie girls...


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