Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label BARBICAN. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BARBICAN. Show all posts

Friday, June 9, 2017


Well, new to me anyway, and seen while out walking, though I suppose, by definition, a Thomasson is never brand new, since it’s always a relic or an abandoned and repurposed architectural feature that can subsequently be perceived, however ironically, as a piece of art.  That’s my own definition by the way: there may well be better ones out there.

Let’s start with a couple of empty pedestals or plinths – the one above is in the shadow of the Barbican Center in London, which is to say it’s also very close to the old city wall.  I’m intrigued by the dense black coating up at the top of the molding.  Is that industrial pollution?  Did the whole thing used to be that color?  It doesn’t look like anybody cleaned it – they’d surely have done a better job - so has the grime just fallen away?  These are not entirely rhetorical questions.  And presumably it once had a statue on top of it, I wonder of who or what.

The one above, less ornate, chunkier, cleaner, is to be found just outside the Inner Ring in Vienna, a city where the most incredible bits of statuary are everywhere, but this pedestal would be completely overwhelmed by any of the “typical” Viennese statues you see.  And looking at that rather smooth top, I tend to think it maybe never had anything on it at all, and it’s probably just waiting for some artist to use it and give it life.

An artist like Eduardo Paolozzi perhaps, dead now, so not him specifically, though he’d definitely have done a good job. But I was thinking of him because not so long ago I went to an exhibition of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and I looked out of one of the windows adjacent to the staircase and saw this:

I guess if you saw it elsewhere you might think of it as just another bricked up window, but the combination of Paolozzi, the Thomason mindset, and the presence of art at the Whitechapel makes you, or at any rate me, see things a bit differently.

Meanwhile in my own neighborhood in Hollywood I saw this:

Kind of looks like a niche, the kind of thing you might put a statue of the Virgin Mary in.  (As Dorothy Parker may or may not have said: “Upon my honor/ I saw a Madonna/
/Standing in a niche …” The rest is just abuse and you can look it up for yourself if you need to).  But a closer inspection of the niche reveals some electrical wires up at the top, and a broader view shows a shiny new electricity meter off to the left, so I’m guessing the niche was formerly the home of an old meter.

But I do think I'd put some kind of statuary in there if it were mine.

And finally in my own own street, this thing;

Eyes without a face I suppose, although there is kind of a face, or am I just indulging in pareidolia?  In any case I can’t imagine what this was ever part of but I’m very glad it’s still there.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


In another country, England, London, the Barbican, a simpler approach applies.  And only to one pedestrian:

Saturday, April 15, 2017


The first time I went to London I was 16 years old.  It was a long weekend, going down from Yorkshire with my parents and some family friends.  We were rubes.  We didn’t know what anything was and we didn’t even particularly know what we wanted to see.  We knew the names of some familiar places: Greenwich, Birdcage Walk, the Tower of London and we went to all of them.   We walked ourselves into the ground.  And somehow - I think we must have taken a boat ride along the Thames - we ended walking around the Southbank, including the Hayward Gallery, which I now realize had only been completed the previous year.  Below are some rather badly processed black and white pics I took on that visit.

I liked the Hayward, I think, because it seemed new and modern and different, though I certainly had no idea the architectural style was called Brutalism, whether old or new. 

My dad, on the other hand, was horrified.  He was a joiner, and by then a foreman for the council on various building sites around Sheffield.  He looked at the  finish of the Hayward, with the impressions of wood grain in the concrete, and what he saw was “shuttering,” familiar enough from his own work – wooden planks used to make a form that was filled with concrete, when you were making a foundation or a trench.  It was the kind of work you gave to joiners who turned up at the site and weren’t skilled enough to do anything else. 

The idea that you’d leave this visible on the outside of a finished building was just incomprehensible to him.  Of course he was also well aware of Sheffield’s Park Hill flats, another bit of Brutalism, and he found them pretty horrifying too.  He died long before they became fashionable and desirable, and he’d have found that incomprehensible too.

As you see from my photographs, there was an exhibition of Pop Art on at the Hayward when we were there – but I couldn’t tempt any of the others inside.

One way or another I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years walking in and around the Hayward, going to exhibitions, working there briefly as a security guard.  And during a particularly grim period when I taught creative writing to fashion students (terrible in all the ways you’d imagine and in some you couldn’t even conceive of) I used to go walking there after work, in an attempt to decompress. Somewhere along the line I did realize, having read my Rayner Banham, that this was indeed an example of Brutalism, possibly even New Brutalism.

     When I first started living in London I also spent a certain amount of time in the Barbican, on the way to and from exhibitions, films, concerts, and so on.  But it was an odd thing, the Barbican felt far stranger, for more alien, than the Hayward.  It didn’t feel like the “real” London. 

I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that when you’re at the Hayward you can look out and see various familiar London sights – the river, St Paul’s, Tower Bridge.  Once you’re inside the Barbican (and finding your way in through that hideous fume-filled tunnel can be quite a challenge), it’s as though you’re in a separate, hermetic world.  You could be anywhere.

Well, we’re all fans of Brutalism these days and the Barbican is a place where a lot of people like to be.  So when I was in London last month, I went along there so see how it felt these days.  It felt fine.  And there were absolutely swarms of people wandering around taking pictures, including a whole art school class it seemed.  Of course they, by which I probably mean we, found plenty to photograph.  We all know what the beauty of Brutalism looks like.

And in many ways it’s a great place to walk, or at least drift.  Finding your way when you’re in a hurry can be a bit of a nightmare, but if nothing else, once you’ve penetrated the fortress you’re entirely protected from traffic.  This is a place for walkers not cars.

There’s something called the “High Walk” which takes you along the top level of the complex, and you walk along some fairly inscrutable corridors, and I dare say “pedways,” where you’re likely to be one of only a very few people.  It’s interesting and intriguing, and definitely photogenic, and filmic in a noirish kind of way but it’s not exactly friendly or comfortable.  We could argue about whether the experience is literally brutal, but it’s certainly bleak and maybe threatening. This looks like a location where bad things can happen.  You wouldn’t want to be walking up there alone at night, in the shadows, with all those echoing footsteps and blind corners. Or maybe you would.  In the daytime however it’s quite exhilarating.

My visit to London wasn’t meant to be a Brutalist vacation but somehow it turned into one.  I ended up spending a couple of nights staying in the St. Giles Hotel, on Tottenham Court Road.  

I’ve walked past it hundreds of times and never paid much attention to it,.  But now, looking through Brutalist eyes, it appeared to be some some kind of Brutalist masterpiece, taking up a whole block: huge, angular, solid but somehow sprightly.  The rooms are small but I think they all give views over London, views that are inevitably framed by concrete.  Who’d have it any other way?