Elephants in the wild

Almost a year ago, a curious thing happened in London – elephants began to appear on pavements and in parks. Finding these elephants (there were 260 of them) became something of an obsession for many Londoners, myself included, and for the weeks that they lived among us, stumbling upon a new one was the highlight of a day.

Quite extraordinarily, despite my interest in them, the Flickr set I created or the many, many photos I added to Facebook, I never blogged about the Elephant Parade. They even nearly made me late for my cousin’s wedding…

As with many of my obsessions, I had rules:

  • Initially, elephants were to be found without the aid of the map – going by word of mouth was fine, but it was better to find them by chance. However, the determination to find more, in a short period of time and in a logical fashion, required a map – first used on a day when my sister came to London when we managed to locate over 30 of them in an afternoon. 
  • Two photos were needed of each elephant – side on and profile. Plus, any ‘interesting’ features it might have.
  • Ideally, there should be no people in the photo.
London was a less colourful place without the elephants and I remember them with fondness. At the end of the parade an auction was held at which you could – if you so wished – make a bid for your very own large fibreglass elephant. Sadly, I had neither the disposable income nor the space for such a purchase. 
However, just recently I’ve found myself in places where people did find the means to house an artistic elephant. The first ‘wild’ spotting was in Bryanston Square garden – a gated private garden of a type common to central London (as depicted in Notting Hill) accessible only by residents in possession of a key. It just so happens that my church is the parish church of the square and thus it has a key, so we were able to spend a very pleasant Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago engaging in some frisbee.
Entering the garden I exclaimed rather excitedly on spotting an elephant in the bushes – hearing these, someone mentioned that there was another at the other end of the garden. Out came the camera and my friend Joe and I went on a brief elephant hunt. 

In case you’re interested, the top elephant was originally located on the Embankment, near Embankment Station while the other one was part of the herd outside City Hall.

Three days later I was surprised to come across another wild elephant, this time in the jungle of South Kensington. Walking through Onslow Square, I spied one in a front garden (I was not surprised that residents of Marylebone and South Ken are people who could afford the reckless purchase of a fibre glass elephant). 
Another former member of the City Hall herd. 
I’m sure there must be others and I’ll try and keep my eyes peeled to spot them. Obviously, they’re fairly large and colourful so shouldn’t be difficult to miss – but saying that, I managed to stand in front of one at Paddington station for over 15 minutes and not notice it until my sister arrived, highly excited at having found an elephant before she’d even left the train. My observational skills are sometimes really not what they ought to be. 

Underground Art

There are many mundane aspects of the London Underground. While much of its design is both aesthetic and functional, others are just plain boring.

Take the ‘Service Information’ boards for example. Normally the one at Bermondsey simply has “Jubilee Line – Good Service” scrawled across it (or “Jubilee Line – Severe Delays” depending on the tube’s mood). Occasionally they’re covered up with other informative posters regarding strikes, apologies for poor service, engineering works or the importance of staying hydrated. This example of a spelling fail at Baker Street illustrates their un-excitingness:

Yes, I realise I’ve blogged this before, but it’s the only image I had to illustrate this! 

Yesterday, a couple of intriguing photos showed up on Facebook courtesy of a friend, which in turn hand me hunting the internet for more examples. It seems that some artistic genius at Caledonian Road station has demonstrated that there is much more that can be done with a white board and markers than simply writing informative messages… 

Photo Credit: John Grimsey
Now wouldn’t that make you smile on your way to work? As I never, ever go anywhere near this particular station (not because I’ve got anything against it you understand, I just have no reason to) it’s unlikely I’ll get to see the work in the flesh. [Though it’s very close to another abandoned station I’d like to check out, so perhaps I will pay it a visit soon…] Fortunately, I discovered a whole set of photos on Flickr chronicling the  work of the mysterious ‘Kim’.
I particularly love the ones that combine art, the season and the importance of carrying water with you in hot weather: 
In other artistic/Tube news, there’s a new exhibition at the V&A on Charles’ Holden’s designs for the network – the architect responsible for many stations on the Northern line as well as the particularly distinctive later Piccadilly line stations. 
Posters for this exhibit began appearing last week and I was continually bothered by the fact that the image depicted a station named Highgate, yet was no part of Highgate that I recognised. Having checked out the V&A website, I’m relieved to discover that it’s actually a design for what became known as Archway (a stop before actual Highgate), the solving of this conundrum should help me sleep more easily tonight! 
Anyone care to join me for some artistic, London Transport/architectural nerdiness? We could combine it with at least one abandoned station… 

Snap, crackle and pop art

Almost the best thing about hotel stays (apart from baths, spas, freebie toiletries and biscuits) are the breakfasts. In my regular life, breakfast during the week is at best a hurried bowl of Weetabix (hurried both because of time restrictions and a need to consume it before it’s over soggy). At worst, it’s a banana or cereal bar eaten on the walk to the station, or, even worse – nothing.
Hotels present a scintillating array of choices. Multiple choice cereals; toast, the full-English; a random continental assortment of croissants, cheese & ham; fresh fruit; dried fruit; and strange milk dispensing machines… Oh, the excitement!
Cereal is a favourite, though dull in comparison with the other options. To make the most of it, it’s best to combine some of the choices available – as long as they compliment each other. Rice Krispies and Coco Pops is a classic combo (a strategy learnt during the days of holiday treat variety packs, what with one pack not being enough for a meal). What I’d not fully appreciated, until it was commented upon, was just how special my combination was.
This is what my bowl looked like:
Is that normal? Could it even be art? Does it simply reflect my innate need for order and symmetry in my life? Is it what Monica would do? Honestly, I hadn’t realised what I’d done until a colleague pointed it out. 
Maybe there could be a series, I imagine Cheerios might make for interesting patterns… 

Overheard on Sunday


Onboard the 07.08 Heathrow Express

“The train’s going very quickly!”

Well duh…that’s how it goes from Paddington to Heathrow in 15mins – it’s called ‘express’ for a reason!

At the National Gallery of Scotland
[A mother to her baby son] “That’s Mary and Jesus and John the Baptist. It’s a Raphael – it’s very exciting. Now, where’s that Da Vinci…?”

Bless her! I nearly melted on the spot. (And I do love a cute baby.) Nice to see the art history lessons kicking in at an early age!

A question of photography and art

Enough of my ramblings. I want your opinions on something…

Last week, as I walked round the MOMA, I became increasingly irritated by the number of people (I would just refer to them as ‘tourists’, but they’re humans too) taking photos of the art on the walls. [There was nearly violence, but that was more due to low blood sugar levels…in the end I resorted simply to standing between the cameras and the art.]

When did this start happening? As far as I can recall, photography was banned in art galleries. When I was growing up and got dragged round galleries by my parents, the only thing that made it bearable was picking a favourite work, sitting in front of it for a long time and then hunting out a postcard reproduction in the gift shop to take home.

I may have taken photos in Tate Modern, but only in the Turbine Hall when I’ve been interacting with whatever installation’s been in place. I wouldn’t dream of going and taking photos of paintings. No matter how impressed I was last week with Warhol’s cans of soup, or Dali’s melting clock, or Van Gogh’s starry night, I was going to let my memory store the image, not my camera.

So, what do we think – is this acceptable behaviour?

Has digital photography made everything too easy? Why take the time to ponder works of art in their original form when you could quickly photograph everything and enjoy it at leisure at home? (But, if that’s the case, why bother visiting galleries at all when you could sit at your computer and google image the masterpieces?)

Are we now people who have to have proof that we’ve seen these works? Will our friends think less of us if there is no photographic evidence that we went to the Uffizi and looked at Botticelli’s Venus? (I’m sure the Uffizi would never allow photography!) Is this the same symptom that caused my ferry to Liberty Island/Ellis Island to lurch dramatically to the side every time there was a good view of the Statue of Liberty? “We must take photos! We must have proof!” It’s like some kind of zombie horde of tourists…

Has digital photography simply cheapened the art of photography? Now that we no longer have to consider the cost of each click of the shutter, do we simply photograph everything – in fear of missing something? In the past, didn’t we simply aim to capture the important, unusual, significant…? But that’s veering off the topic and is a debate in itself.

Would it annoy you?
Would you take photos in a gallery?
Or, am I just getting het-up about something utterly pointless yet again?

Ok, so I took one photo in MOMA. But I’m not a hypocrite!
This is a self-portrait Frida Kahlo gave a friend, a long with a mirror so that when placed together, the friend appeared alongside Kahlo. By photographing yourself in the mirror, you stand next to Kahlo as she intended – I liked that, it makes you part of the art, rather than an observer.
[Note the moody face – low blood sugar really kicking in by then!]