Literature and the Barbican

Why is the Barbican so amazing?

Because it is the LARGEST multi-arts and conference venue in Europe.

The huge, towering concrete jungle that looks rigid, militant and BRUTALIST in its architecture is actually home to a cultural flowering of art, music, theatre, dance and film!


Built in London, upon an area desecrated by the Second World War, during the 60s and 70s it began as a residential estate. But it is now so much more than that…

It houses the Barbican Arts Centre, vast libraries, the Museum of London, The City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where one of us got her ‘Grade 8 Performing Arts’, and ‘Shakespeare Award’. Ahem).


In 2001 the Minister for the Arts awarded the Barbican Grade II listed status.

One can see why.

It is colossal in scale – you can easily get lost inside it. Plus it occupies such a cohesive and all-consuming place in the London skyline. The whole complex is so distinct and seamless that it easily sits apart from all the law firms and towering glass banks full of city boys surrounding it (eww).


It is also pretty cool that some of the buildings are named after notable British historical literary figures (we are literature geeks after all…) Examples include:

Defoe House – after Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders)

Johnson House – after Ben Johnson (the playwright behind satirical plays Volpone and Bartholomew Fayre)

Bunyan House – after John Bunyan (writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress)

More House – after Thomas More (Tudor period author of the Latin-Utopia)


AND OBVIOUSLY SHAKESPEARE TOWER…the bard who needs no introduction!


Rating: ****

Anne x


Scream if you wanna shine brighter – House of Pain, Zenith House

House of pain

If you find yourself ambling around SE1 at any point before the 20th October, and discover that you have a spare minute, make sure that you pop into the House of Pain along Borough High Street. I accidentally stumbled upon this secret gem recently when pacing quickly down the street, a typical busy London commuter – and then…something interesting caught my eye.

Bright flashing lights, broken shards of glass, and high pitched screams came emanating forth from a derelict building – Zenith House. This is something to make any work-obsessed commuter stop in their tracks.

There is no huge advertising explaining what is going on, but being nosy and attracted to shiny objects, I crossed the road (dodging rush-hour traffic) to find out that unbeknownst to me MERGE festival is currently underway.

MERGE festival is a yearly celebration of the rich history and contemporary culture of Bankside. Taking place from 19th September – 20th October 2013 there is a flourishing of art, music and performance taking place around the area.

For further information, see here:

House of Pain is an art and light installation set in place by Marcus Lyall and Mark Logue. Currently residing in a derelict building it is open 5pm – 10pm Wednesday to Sunday.

The abandoned Zenith House is due for transformation into a hotel by Kings College London soon – and people are not happy. Opponents to the new scheme include English Heritage, The Victorian Society, The Georgian Group, The Ancient Monuments Society and Spitalfields Trust. The preservation of this building has caused a furore that Lyall and Logue have tapped into – a frustration with the modern, working age.

house of pain 2

Passers-by are invited to enter a darkened room on the ground floor and scream for as long and as loud as they like – as a way of exorcising their anger, fear or stress. The whiter the light the more high-pitched the noise, and my vocals chords certainly felt strained after a few minutes inside. Deeper, more manly groans caused an eruption of purple and pink lights to wash over the building.


Of course there is a lot more taking place throughout the month of MERGE festival…

Be sure to check out Candy Chang’s Before I Die.

There are two walls – one next to the House of Pain and another in Flat Iron Square. Here members of the public are asked to write their deepest desires on a large blackboard. These boards are covered in chalk scrawlings outlining what people aspire to do before their last breath.

before i dieIt is part of a much bigger project – there are, at present, 150 chalkboards for Before I die up around the world – and in 15 different languages.

It is a creative, worldwide project that can be found in such far-flung destinations as Thailand, Argentina and Israel (plus many more). It is a chance to gaze upon our fellow human beings’ creative outpourings, and Chang has managed to turn public places into art-filled, community-spirited wonders.

Our rating: ***

Anne x

Photos: MERGE (Tommophoto)

David Yarrow’s Recent Encounters at Eleven Gallery

David Yarrow’s photographs are striking images revealing creatures in their native habitats, in which power resonates from their eyes. Yarrow ventured to extreme environments to capture the wonderful juxtapositions that exist throughout the natural world. A photographer for nearly 30 years, his new book Encounters explores, in monochrome, an assortment of wildlife and its cohabitants, including elephants, polar bears, macaques and tribal warriors.

d. Yarrow-WhiteoutWandering through this black and white space you are drawn to the contrast Yarrow has created. There are images of polar bears trudging in the distance through a bleached out snowy background (Whiteout); the effect is so stark they could have been sketched into existence

David-Yarrow-Grumpy-Monkey-3_646x430This juxtaposes with some of Yarrow’s other works, which are so visually close to creatures you can see every pore. Grumpy Monkey, of the same endearing (but humorous) quality, is a lot more focused: droplets of water hang from his fur and his eyes look at you askance.

d. Yarrow-ElementalThe most textured of all the photographs must be Elemental. Almost uncomfortable in its proximity, the elephant’s weathered trunk looks as though you could reach out and touch it.

David__Yarrow_Omo_Warrior_582There is a general feeling of safety versus discomfort in the exhibition. One is relaxed, gazing at delightful images of apes mirroring grumpy human expressions – and yet turn across the room, and other photographs expose the harsh reality of life in the wild. Omo Warrior is shocking in its brutality: a tribesman submerged in water casually clutches a gun, and stares at you, unabashed. His eyes tell of a world Western society could not begin to understand. Covered in tribal paint, you can see even the tiny hairs on his chest.

d.Yarrow-The-Revealing-RaceThis is the closest most will come to warrior life in the wilds of East Africa. Here, Yarrow’s desire to involve his audience is most apparent.

This is not all Yarrow has achieved; his meticulous planning has meant he has been able to create affecting images that are almost unreal.

d Yarrow-WildThe beautiful Wild looks like it belongs in fantasy literature, with an elegant horse frolicking beneath the crashing waves of a waterfall. One expects to see a Tolkienian character astride its back. This awe-inspiring photo is sublime in its scope – and how different from the minutiae of the rough and piercing-eyed warrior! Recent Encounters is wonderful in its diverse depiction, showing that nature can be both harsh and beautiful in its sublimity.

Our verdict: *****

Anne x

Favourite Works of Art (part 1)

I’ve wanted to write a blog post about my favourite art for a while. I finally sat down today and made a little list, which you will see below:

picture 1

Self Portrait by Picasso (1901)

picture 2

Girl in a Chemise by Picasso (1905)

picture 3

Starry Night Over the Rhone by Van Gogh (1888)

picture 4

Peach Tree in Blossom by Van Gogh (1888)

picture 5

Branches with Almond Blossom by Van Gogh (1890)

picture 6

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (1907)

picture 7

The Lady of Shallot by J.W. Waterhouse (1888)

What I didn’t realise, or at least had forgotten from the hazy days of A-level art, is that my favourite paintings all seem to be of the 1880 – 1907 period, which is (no, you’ve probably not guessed it, unless you did English with me at Leeds – like Anne), coincidentally, the fin de siècle, i.e. my favourite literary period. I’m pretty spooked by this. Maybe I have forgotten a lot of my art knowledge (which I like to think is at least reasonable – my parents are both artists, I loved art at school, and I did History of Art in my first year of university), but I think this is massively odd – I wasn’t as into literature when I was at school as I am now, and when I went to university, I didn’t have as much time for art – so I honestly haven’t connected the two in much of a way until now.

As I’ve already gone into, the fin de siècle is the bit at the end of the eighteenth century when people got frightened about the passing of time and basically freaked out about things like illness, religion, disease, crime, decadence, and the general downwards spiral of society. Literature took a creepy, dark turn, resulting in some of the best gothic books ever written (think Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy). In terms of my favourite paintings, I can see the same themes! There are depressed, blue tones in Picasso and Van Gogh, there are tragic women in Waterhouse and Picasso, and there are tons of gold and opulence in Klimt. My favourite things in art, be it literature or painting, are all present – women with a story to tell, the eery gothic, and the extravagance of gold and jewels.


Rosie x