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LONDON

June 25, 2009

I am posting this along with my big comeback post because, despite its age and out-of-date-ness (the trip was May 14-17), I’m sure there are people who will find it interesting.  So feel free to read it in no particular order with the post above.

I won’t go into the disastrous elements of my trip to London, but there were some details worth mentioning.  Most notably, the exhibit on Russian Constructivism that I went to see at the Tate Modern was amazing.  That museum is really cool and they did a great job with the exhibit.  And although I spent a lot of time last year reading Lenin and learning about that period of time in Russia, I never learned or bothered to look into the role art played in the Revolution and the role the Revolution played in the art world.  I went into the exhibit just knowing a bit about Rodchenko and thinking he was pretty cool.  But it’s true that after any revolution, one of the sectors of culture that would have to be reconsidered would be art.  The Russians tried to redefine art and take the personal aspects or identifying factors of the artist as a person out of their works.  They used rulers and compasses, trying to make lines and circles so exact that they failed to resemble works by a person.  Then eventually, they decided that they should not be making art simply for art’s sake, but for the people – art that would be useful to everyone.  So they had a huge exhibit of artists all showing 5 paintings called 5+5=25 and declared the death of painting.  Most of them never painted again.  They went into textile design, propaganda (for a largely illiterate population), and set design for theater, which was really interesting because they were able to create prototypes for workers uniforms as costumes for plays.  Unfortunately, by this time, the state had no money, so the theater was the only place in which these new uniforms and ideas were realized.  After Stalin came to power and Socialist Realism became all the rage (you know the type – happy workers carrying pails of water, Lenin standing on a stormy mountaintop pointing the masses toward the future.  Very celebratory and very uninteresting), most of the artists either left or adapted (read: sold out) and Constructivism was left to inspire artists and designers around the world for the rest of the century.

London as a city is really big and modern, and I had forgotten how those worked.  There are rules, and they are enforced (for instance, you actually can’t smoke in bars and restaurants in England).  The most striking was walking along the Thames to the Tate and seeing a sign that warned people of street gambling that happened in that area.  Berlin doesn’t have the kind of money required to go after street gambling.

It is a wonderful combination of incredibly new and very very old.  It has a hustle and bustle of any capital city, but I like the symbolic elements that have been around for what seems like forever – double-decker busses that haven’t changed their design that much since the 50s, people in funny costumes outside of famous places, etc.  I find London interesting because it has to combine history older than anything in Berlin and anything in the US (so older than anything familiar to me), with the new and the modern – and I think it pulls it off with beauty and ease.

Speaking English for a weekend was nice.  I still got that acute knot in my stomach when approaching anyone I needed to speak with, but I could comfort myself for once.  But I did return to Berlin and breathe a sigh of relief.  I am really happy to be living in a city as big as Berlin, but not as big as London.  Berlin is a little more understated.  The city is changing so fast, it doesn’t really have the symbols that London has (and if it does, they certainly aren’t as old!  The big touristy symbolic things in Berlin are the East Berlin TV Tower that stands in Alexanderplatz, the guy on the old East German walk signs, and Knut, the polar bear.  Most t-shirts and bags at touristy shops just say BERLIN on them and leave it at that).  I like living in a city that is trying to figure itself out and is not picturesque enough to survive on looks alone.  I know people will argue that London has personality too, and I’m not arguing that it doesn’t.  It will always be one of the coolest cities in the world; I just have no desire to live there.  I’m happy where I am and I know that right now is probably the time to be here.

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