Jeremy Dixon kindly alerted me to this article, which appears in today’s Daily Mail. It demonstrates the extent to which the public mood is now wholly in favour of retaining the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a foundry and hostile to Historic England encouraging its sale to a venture capitalist as a hotel. Let’s hope the planning inquiry shares this view !
The decision of Robert Jenrick to call in planning permission for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will, I assume, place Historic England in an odd and potentially indefensible position of being required to publicly account for why they have consistently supported the redevelopment and effective destruction of such a historically important and valuable site.
After a bit of judicious digging, it has become clear to me that when this was first discussed by the London Advisory Committee, one of the officers argued that since it was not originally designed as a Foundry (in 1744), it was hard for them to argue for its retention as a Foundry. Isn’t this view going to look faintly ludicrous in court ? It’s been Britain’s – and, indeed, the world’s – most important Bell Foundry for over 250 years, a piece of industrial heritage of incomparable historic importance. But Historic England whose job it is to defend the heritage have never even discussed the issue at a meeting with their Commissioners, although it is hard to find this out because they don’t publish their minutes.
I wanted to write another entry on Sydney, but it was hot – hot beyond anything I have ever experienced, hot like sitting in the performance of Alfredo Jaar’s Inferno where the follicles on the top of my head were frizzled by the electric elements overhead. If this is what global warming is going to be like, I don’t recommend it. I walked down from the Art Gallery of New South Wales – the temple in the park – to the Museum of Contemporary Art – the warehouse on the harbour. It was a big mistake. I was wiped out and spent the afternoon watching Cornelia Parker’s film of Noam Chomsky talking about vested corporate interests unable to handle anything beyond the Chief Executive’s next pay check with gloomy fascination.
Prompted by what was happening in Iran a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of visiting the mosque at Soltaniyeh in the summer of 1973. I had only the haziest recollection of what it looked like, but now my friend, Adam Bennett, with whom I was travelling, has sent me a digitised image of the Ektachrome slide he took then, now a bit faded, like my memory:-
I have only just heard that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has decided to call in the application to turn the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a hotel for review and to hold a local inquiry.
This is wonderful news for all those who have campaigned against the scheme not just at local level, as Historic England has erroneously maintained, but nationally and indeed internationally; and it is very good that Jenrick has listened and admirable (and right) that he has intervened.
Now, the hard work begins, because the case against the plans will have to be made, using the best possible lawyers. The United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust have been leading the legal side of the case and are very good at it. My next post will be about how to donate to an appeal.
I had a break before going in to Oliver Beer’s Confessional. You have to because only one person can go in at a time and, of course, everyone wants to go in. It’s worth it – in a way, it’s the archetype of the MONA art work – experimental, using sound and experience to extend the boundaries of normal perception (maybe that’s ‘art wank’). Any way, I can’t illustrate it.
The last thing I went to was Alfredo Jaar’s performance piece based very loosely on The Divine Comedy. The most extreme of the installations, again pushing the boundaries of mood and sensory experience in ways which are deliberately intriguing, disturbing and simultaneously stimulating and unpleasant: a version of art which, like so much of MONA, is as much sixteenth century as twenty first.
So, this is MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art), the museum which I’ve travelled to the other end of the world to see:-
I was told to arrive by boat, but didn’t. If so, I would have had to climb these steps:-
The museum itself is underground (deeply), reached down steps carved into the rock:-
First things first (or thirst). There’s a very fine bar:-
Of course, museums were originally purely about wonder – a mixture of art, technology and natural phenomena:-
It takes time, partly because all the information is contained on an Apple app called O and I’m hopeless at working out how to manage it. I like All the King’s Men by Fiona Hall, a kind of anthropological Rocky Horror Show:-
There’s a version of Richard Wilson’s 20:50, as beautiful and surprising as when I first saw it in the Saatchi Gallery:-
At this point, I discover the ‘art wank’ feature on the app which tells one rather more about the work than one wants or needs to know; but good that it is there.
Onwards and upwards:-
The Washer by Francis Upritchard (NZ, but lives and works in London):-
Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye:-
Then, you come across a late Minoan chest:-
I read in an interview that the chief curator was inspired by the Soane Museum and I can see that there are elements of Soane in it: the mixture of contemporary and old; the sense of discovery. But it’s one of a kind: an anti-museum, more in the world of magic than the Enlightenment.