September 2, 2015

10.30 pm. An escorted visit through the Houses of Parliament had been arranged, courtesy of Mark Williams MP’s office. Once passed the understandably formidable security barriers, I was ushered into Westminster Palace (which has stood on this spot since the twelfth century) and down to the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft (where few visitors are allowed to go). Barry and son’s restoration in the nineteenth century is a wonderful extravagance; the visual equivalent of a cranked-up 100 watt amp. Completely bonkers, and not a little reminiscent of Giger’s design for the interior sets of Alien (1979) and Dune (1984):

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From there, I passed through lobbies and corridors of power (not a metaphor in this context) to the Houses of Lords and Commons (which, as I’d anticipated, were more intimate spaces than the TV broadcasts suggest). These rooms combine the iconic, emblematic, and surprisingly mundane. The whole establishment is ridden with class, privilege, antiquated ritual, and delightful silliness. All photography is strictly forbidden, so I had to take deliberate, mental snapshots — a practice that is too easily neglected.

1.30 pm. After lunch at Borough Market (which sits under the guard of Southwark Cathedral, in a scene reminiscent of a medieval fayre), I walked along the embankment to the Tate Modern to see the Agnes Martin exhibition:

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Agnes Martin, On a Clear Day (1973). With acknowledgement to the Modern Art Museum Fortworth, Texas

Extracts from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 10, 2015 – ), 29-30:

Wild blossom soda – like drinking flowers / the subtly of her tonal contrast could make my legs buckle / a manual placement of disks and dots, some somewhat unaligned … human not mechanical / Dominoes – extraordinary / startlingly simple visual propositions / nothing wasted / paintings that invite the viewers to reflect upon themselves / high-key hues that are never sweet or insipid/ hard work and painful patience made covert / masking tape used not to mask but as a guide to drawing a line / an unvarying technique and use of medium (acrylic and graphite on paper or canvas) / At the end of her career, she returned to its beginning / A grid: an otherwise mute and familiar structure that she managed to make both articulate and deeply personal / I recall old cash ledgers / one has to do so much to find so little, and to do so little to find so much / in comparison, all other paintings seem somewhat gross in their materiality.

3.30 pm. On to the National Gallery to see/hear the Soundscapes exhibition:

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Soundscapes. With acknowledgement to The National Gallery, London

I’d no expectations and deliberately not read reviews. (I came to it with an ‘innocent’ eye/ear.) The experience began with a helpful, introductory video. The curator had invited musicians (including a remix DJ) and sound artists to respond to specific paintings in the gallery’s collection. Extracts from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March, 10 2015 – ), 30-31:

the rooms are acoustically insulated one from another; there’s no leakage / the paraphernalia of sound production, discrete / there’s much to be gained from seeing paintings isolated from the herd in a completely neutral and well-illuminated environment / I’m made aware of the kineticism of sound and the stasis of the image / various relationships of the sound to the painting: equivalence, metaphor, analogy, illustration (?) / connections are, in some works, disappointingly tenuous / I’m surprised at the openness and poetics of several musicians’ responses / I find myself not looking at the paintings and, instead, listening to the sound with my eyes closed / we are used to seeing paintings against the backdrop of music in TV documentaries; I have to divest myself of this association in order to apprehend the artists’ very different intent / We always encounter paintings along with an acoustic accompaniment: the shuffle and footfall of gallery visitors, for example

On my departure, a young woman who was canvassing responses to the exhibition, collared me. This was a good opportunity to immediately collect my thoughts and critique my response.

5.00 pm. An early dinner at Harbour City restaurant in Chinatown to fortify myself for a performance of Hamlet at the Barbican Centre, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the leading role:

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I was sat in the circle at 45 degrees to the front to the auditorium — a point of view that made both the width and depth of the proscenium stage far more tangible than they are when encountered in parallel perspective. The design was impressive (Bergmanesque), if a little overwhelming at times – better suited to a grand opera than to a play, perhaps. David Tennant’s Hamlet (2008) had illuminated me. I came away from it understanding something about my own mortality, the dreadfulness of death, the permeable boundary between sanity and madness, and why the play is truly great when rightly grasped. This was not my experience tonight. I felt entertained rather than enriched. Shakespeare should have ended the play with Hamlet’s parting words ‘The rest is silence’.

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