Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Barbican - A Sentimental Journey

As I notice the grey hairs popping up all over my head, I become increasingly aware of the passage of time.  I age but I am left wondering whether buildings age in the same way?  I guess they fall apart, organic growth gradually working on the cracks and deficiencies in concrete constructs, changing their form.  But significantly, concepts whether we like them or not, do not age in the same way.

The Barbican Centre was designed in the Brutalist style by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.  The Southbank Centre is also an example of the same style.  Think lots of concrete, stark angles, walkways that eventually get you where you need to get.  Now at one stage, the Brutalist style would have driven me up the wall but as I become more conversant in various art styles, I have gradually adapted to and have a grudging respect for the very heavy and essentially 'cold' aesthetics of Brutalism.  In fact, I now see it as emblematic of the spaces that it occupies.  Could you imagine the Barbican area or the area around the Southbank in any other way now?  It has helped to define the spaces.

Anyhow, back to the point, this blog entry is an exploration of the Barbican from a personal angle.  Somehow, it has become the most important area of my life in the last few years.  If the Barbican Centre and the Barbican area can be defined as intrically tied up with the architecture of the building and area, so too have I become involved in an almost symbiotic relationship with the Barbican Centre.  It's almost a home away from home.

My first experience of the Barbican Centre was in 1997 when I graduated from the University of Greenwich.  The graduation ceremony was held in the main Barbican Hall.  My memories of the day are essentially sad.  It marked a break from a really stressful yet profoundly life changing period in my life.  Cobblers to childhood solely defining who you become as an adult, education and knowledge are not tied to any one age.  We are always learning, not always the right things but experience is vital to personal growth.  The graduation ceremony was an anti-climax after all of the all nighters, both working and socialising with friends (sometimes, both at the same time).  I looked like a bizarre Matador wearing the mortar board and robe.  Ceremonial garb is always more relevant at the time than looked at retrospectively.  As the University of Greenwich were probably adopting a minimalist style to the ceremony, not dissimilar to the Barbican Centre and its functional Brutalist architecture, the Graduates and their guests were each allowed one drink post ceremony then that was it.  Three years for what?  A single glass of something.  Then off we all went in our separate directions with only a small number of contact details of the people that we had met.  Also I am sure that I got lost finding my way back to the Tube station. 

From that point onwards, I think I pretty much forgot the Barbican until 2010.  2010 was the year I joined the social networking site, Citysocialising, which is now known as Citysocializing (don't ask, I will only confuse you).  Now as people who know me will tell you, everything changed when I joined this website.  I attended a couple of events where I really felt uncomfortable.  Then I attended my friend Rachel's event, which was the Open House Day in 2010 (we attended various Government buildings) and finally decided to host my own event.  I don't know how or why but I stumbled on the fact that the Barbican was going to be showing the Pasolini film, Teorema.  Now, anyone who knows the film will wonder why I chose this film to host?  It stars Terence Stamp as a strange character who comes into a dysfunctional family, changes their lives then leaves.  Each of the characters then suffers the repercussions of his departure.  Think of the film as Mary Poppins in reverse!  I met a couple of people who were intrepid enough to sign up and a friend came along.  I was surprisingly a better host than I imagined I could be.  After the film, we went to the Barbican Lounge, which is a Tapas style restaurant.  The service was slow, the company was good and audible arguments seemed to be coming from the kitchen (I hasten to add that the Barbican Lounge is much much better now).  Apparently, we were told it was a new Chef and the Barbican Lounge gave us money off the bill for the inconvenience (two of the group waited over an hour for the first of the dishes to appear). 

The Barbican cinema (now cinemas) has become one of my favourite venues for CS events.  I have warm memories of Black Swan, seeing the film then following it up with a hastily purchased bottle of wine (the Barbican Centre bar closes quite early owing presumably to the fact that it is in the middle of a residential area).  Rachel's very funny comment about Paddy Ashdown and his resemblance to Indiana Jones, which has corrupted my image of the politician for all time. 

So that this doesn't go on all day, the Barbican Centre is like my favourite pick and mix.  It has everything.  It enjoys seasons where it links the films and theatre productions to the exhibitions in the Art Gallery.  Currently, I am enjoying the Dancing around Duchamp season, which has involved The Bride and the Bachelors '  exhibition in the Art Gallery (which on Thursdays and at the weekend involves live dance), a series of related theatrical events and films too.  As such, I have had the pleasure of attending an Absolute Dada event that resulted in my friend, Susan being invited on stage with another lady to entertain the audience for five minutes at the beginning of the performance followed by equally memorable sections including a professional musician playing one of John Cage's performances on a red toy piano and a guy playing meaningless folk songs in front of a back projection of a male penis erecting. 

If anything this blog entry is as much a celebration of the great friends I have met and enticed to come along to see various productions at the Barbican.  Susan, Rachel, Ros, Pernille, Zahira and everyone else I salute you all for your attendance.  The Barbican is the arts centre for people who like to be challenged, entertained and stimulated.  The Barbican is better than sex and chocolate.  Discuss... 

Barry Watt - 21st April 2013         

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