First Thursdays In East London

The Management and I have just had a couple of days in London. The main reason for going was to take part in Last Thursdays organised by the Whitechapel Gallery. I’d heard about it through Twitter. A large number of art galleries in east London open their doors for the evening on the last Thursday of the month. The main feature is a free bus tour around some of these galleries, although you are free to make your own way.

It seemed great so we planned to go down on a Thursday morning and return on the Friday evening, visiting other exhibitions as well. The hotel and train tickets were booked weeks in advance at a cost approaching £200 for the two of us. However, the key component – places on the bus – are allocated a couple of days before on a ballot! The fact that we are pensioners travelling from Lancashire for the event had no influence on the electronic hat. Our names were not pulled out! I was told on the email that there would be a standby list in case people allocated places didn’t turn up.

We arrived at the Whitechapel Gallery at about four o’clock to see the Hannah Hoch exhibition. (I may get a chance to tell you about this in another post.) I asked about the standby list and was told it would be started at six thirty. The bus tour was scheduled to commence at seven. Having seen the Hoch, we returned to the reception area at six twenty five to find there were already quite a few names already on the list. I asked about the lottery for places and explained that we’d come from Bolton for the event, but didn’t seem to get much joy. I got copies of the map and the walking tour. We then had an anxious half hour wait before eventually five places were allocated to the standby list – including the Management and myself! I don’t know if it was ‘straight’ or if our age, or distance travelled, or arriving at four had any influence or if the young ladies just took pity on us.

Having invested so much money on hotel and train, and having travelled all the way from Bolton, I still find it puzzling that the key component was the luck of a lottery. Yes, we could have taken part on foot, but as the Management has problems with her feet, my ears could have been as painful as her feet at the end. On the bus, we were the oldest by a considerable margin.

So we got on the bus tour! So what did we see? First stop was Matt’s Gallery to see Benedict Drew’s Heads May Roll which “attempts to make sculptural the absurdity of a life spent staring into a screen and the social anxiety induced by ‘smart’ objects via an alternative sci-fi stage set comprising of a landscape of objects, sound and projection. Its content responds to the super saturated, psychedelic properties of LCD technology and the disorientating potential of electronic sound.” Translated, this means a video screen of weird flashing images with even weirder flashing sounds, if sound can flash, which we heard on wireless headphones. The second exhibit was a couple of stacks of speakers ‘playing’ strange electronic sounds, with coloured lights changing on metal foil. Robin Klassnik, the gallery director, explained it was ‘painting with sound’.


Benedict Drew’s Heads May Roll

While we were there a lady from a flat upstairs came to complain about the noise!

We then moved on to Beers Contemporary to see Scott Carter’s The Shape of Things. “Carter has engaged in two week specific ‘residency’ on-site at Beers Contemporary, transforming the gallery space in the days prior to the opening of the exhibition, creating an immersive installation that includes numerous sculptural and two-dimensional pieces using only the materials that are encompassed within – and sourced from – the gallery infrastructure itself.” What this means is that Carter cut big holes in the plaster board walls of the gallery and used the pieces to make sculptures. (He had used computer technology to work out the shape of the pieces first!)


Scott Carter’s The Shape of Things

The third and final stop was at Raven Row Gallery which is close to Spitalfield Market. The gallery is in an eighteenth century house so the visit was as much about looking at the building as it was about the art. Here early work by Stephen Willats from the sixties was being shown under the title Control. “He embraced the transdiscipli­n­arity of the time, juggling the roles of social scientist, engineer, designer and artist, and developed an art about social interaction, using models derived from cybernetics, the hybrid post-war science of communication.”

LT03The show was curated by Alex Sainsbury, a member of the Sainsbury supermarket family. This had prompted Robin Klassnik of Matt’s Gallery to joke earlier in the evening that if we bought an art work we’d get a second one free!

So the bus tour was an enjoyable experience, but, to be honest, unless you are local to London and are prepared to submit your name every month until you are lucky enough for it to come out then I wouldn’t bother – or you are young enough and fit enough to walk round a selection of galleries of course! I feel there is an opening for someone to offer a bookable (and chargeable) bus tour round some galleries. People may be prepared to come some distance then. I’ve heard there is a similar event in south London on the Last Fridays. I’ll check them out, but if it’s another lottery, then I’ll pass.


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I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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7 Responses to First Thursdays In East London

  1. anne farmer says:

    I quite like the venus in slabs of plaster but it’s a con, isn’t it ? I mean they’ll presumably replace the plaster board. What else could he have used? THe floorboards? The electric wiring…It sounds like you’ve been suffering for other people’s art!

    • They’ll replace the plaster board with cheap standard stuff from B&Q once they sell the holey version as a work of art at a huge sum. I was trying to work out what sort of price they would have to charge when there was only a handful of works in a London gallery (with London rents etc.) that was devoting two months to the exhibition.

  2. starrybird says:

    I think that maybe the lady ‘from upstairs’ was possibly the ‘turn’ of the evening? performance art?

  3. coastalcrone says:

    What an adventure! I am glad that you and Management made it. Thanks for the London tour! My management would not have wanted to walk either.

  4. Sounds like a good idea but unfortunately London doesn’t recognise that there is a Britain outside the M25! London really should take it’s responsibility as a capital city far more seriously. Well done on persevering though 🙂

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