the British Film Institute and ‘Pop Life’

Having gone to the British Library Newspaper Depot, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the V&A arts archive, my last stop was to the British Film Institute (BFI) where I was to watch some television clips and documentaries about 1950s fashion. These were all featured as a part of the V&A’s Golden Age of Couture Exhibit (which is currently traveling abroad), and were great in that they provided a firsthand view of how people felt about fashion, couture, glitz, and glamour, in the postwar years. (You’d probably agree that most contemporary television shows are a good reflection of our current society, so therefore analyzing old reels provides good commentary on the thinking of that time.)

Going to the BFI led me to the Southbank area for the first time and I had a glimpse of the Thames as I was trying to find the entrance to the BFI. (I ended up walking across almost the entire bridge before realizing that the BFI was on the side that I had just left.)

The BFI Southbank, National Theatre, Globe Theatre, and London Eye are all around the same area. It was very pretty in its gloomy, wet, Charlotte Bronte type of way, but I think the walk would've been much nicer if it were sunny.

I got a bunch of clear shots of the river because it was so rainy that none of the tourists wanted to come out.

The BFI was like a ginormous, glorified version of the PFA (Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive), it had its own posh cafe with really brightly embroidered pillows and sofas (I wanted to sit on them but I got scared when the French waiter glared at me since I didn’t order anything. So I went to sit on the red bench next to the entrance), it had several theater screens, a full-fledged restaurant, conference rooms, and a Mediatheque center—which was my destination. Inside the Mediatheque center was about 10 to 15 or so of these large monitors that were attached to individual sofa-like seats. Some fit two people and had a small table while others had only one seat. The seats were super soft and comfortable, and with the lights dim it seemed like a mini movie theater. It’s an amazing place that holds all kinds of old television shows, programs, and movies for the viewer to watch for free. It’s an amazing place that holds all kinds of old television shows, programs, and movies for the viewer to watch for free. I wish there were this kind of resources near me in the US; I’ve never seen anything as nice (especially for free).

Photography wasn't allowed so I had to sneakily take this photo. Good thing the girl at the counter had her own headphones and wasn't paying attention to me at all.

A view of the BFI's entrance. There's a BFI IMAX nearby too, a big circular-looking building where I just could NOT find the entrance... maybe it's from underground?

After a couple hours of watching 50s era shows, I left and walked along the Thames for about 15 minutes towards the Tate Modern. Even with the gloomy clouds threatening me from overhead, it was a pretty nice walk along the river.

The random backsides of some buildings had the Greek muses' names painted on them. Awesome.

How adequate that they are next to each other 🙂

Finally I got to the Tate Modern, (basically London’s version of the MOMA) where they were showing a special exhibition called ‘Pop Life’ which, from the advertisements, I thought would be mostly about Japanese pop culture. Sadly I was mistaken and though there was one room featuring the work of Takashi Murakami (the man who has done projects with Louis Vuitton, Kanye West, Pharrel, etc), the rest of the exhibit was an excessively glamorization of the superficial and the sexual. A lot of emphasis was placed on Andy Warhol, whose image was plastered across nearly all the walls of the exhibit, and though the show tried to argue that the importance of Warhol was his ability to bring art to the public and combine commerce and art (as if there have never been museums, and as if no one had ever bought a painting before. somewhere. anywhere.) But Warhol’s real contribution to art was his manipulation of it into a saleable, superficial, mass-produced entity, and his ability to make himself into a commercial product (kind of similar to the way Paris Hilton became a ‘famous superstar’ after her degrading sex scandal). Several of the rooms were rated ’21+’ and consisted of pornographic images and sculptures that I cannot, in any sense or idea, consider to be a form of ‘art.’ I do believe that the nude form is beautiful and can be represented beautifully through art (Greek and Roman sculptures, figure drawing, for example), but this was in no way beautiful; the best way to describe it would be voyeuristic. To be frank, I have never been a great fan of modern art. Some people say that it’s considered art because it challenges the status quo (ie. toilets can be art), and I respect this idea. I just don’t subscribe to it, just like I don’t think pornography is art.

One of the entrances to the Tate Modern.

A blow-up version of one of Takashi Murakami's miniatures at the entrance of the exhibit.

A view of the Thames from the balcony of the Tate.

But enough of my personal diatribes against modern art. The dozens of schoolboys who were there appreciated the exhibit much more than I did (don’t worry, they didn’t get into the 21+ rooms). Visiting museums seems to be much more of a part of British educational culture. At nearly every single museum that I went to, there were literally dozens of kids with sketchbooks drawing the paintings and sculptures as part of their assignments. Why didn’t my teachers ever have me do that…

And on the walk back to the tube station, I passed by a random tunnel on the street with these brightly pulsating light bulbs pasted firmly like colorful checkers on a wall, and couldn’t resist taking a photograph despite the busy stream of people around me.

The walls underneath an overpass, on the side of the street. Bright, colorful, strangely arresting (not good for car drivers. Good thing I was the only was distracted by it).

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~ by robinlam on January 18, 2010.

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