UNTIL RECENTLY, LONDON Bridge railway station, overshadowed by the glass-clad Shard skyscraper, was not visually appealing. It was a place that you lingered no longer than necessary either whilst waiting for a train or having just disembarked.
Today, the station has been transformed into a place where you might want to linger and explore. It has been cleaned up and tastefully remodelled. The station and the tracks leading from it have always been above ground, supported by innumerable brickwork arches. A few years ago before the improvement works were carried out, many of these archways led to passages beneath the station, most of them dark and unwelcoming.
One of these was the Stainer Street Walkway that links St Thomas Street and Tooley Street and passes through the station’s foyer from which stairways lead up to platforms. This wide passageway lined with ochre coloured brickwork is now well-lit and apart from being a bit chilly, quite pleasant. But look up, and you will see three enormous, reflective, decorative umbrellas suspended from the ceiling. Each umbrella is decorated with geometric symbols and lettering. The lettering forms sets of words that are supposed to be meaningful for those who bother to read them.
Together, these umbrellas comprise an artwork, “.Me. Here. Now” by Mark Titchner , which were put in place in mid-2019. With the decrease in passenger numbers since the start of the covid19 pandemic, this lovely set of artefacts have been seen by far fewer people than were anticipated by the commissioners of this creation, Network Rail.
AT FIRST SIGHT, this clock, on the esplanade overlooking the seashore at Folkestone in Kent, looks unexceptional. But look again, and you will see that it is missing the figures ’11’ and ’12’. It is a decimal clock forming part of an artwork.
There are as you know 24 hours in a day and of these twelve are usually displayed on a clock face. For a few years during the French Revolution, it was decided to divide the day into ten hours instead of the usual 24. This was not all: the decimal hour was divided into 100 decimal minutes, each of which consisted of 100 decimal seconds. Midnight became 0 in decimal time, and 1 in decimal time was 2.24 am in the 24 hour system, 2 occurred at 4.48 am, 3 at 7.12 am, and so on. This attempt at revolutrionising time did not last for long in France. It was abandoned in 1805.
The French were not pioneers in using decimal time. They were preceded by the Chinese, who ceased using it in favour of the 24 hour system in 1645.
The decimal clock in Folkestone is one of ten in the town, which were created by Ruth Ewan as part of an artwork named “We could have been anything that we wanted to be”. The Tate Gallery website noted: “The commission comprised ten decimal clocks of different designs installed around the seaside town of Folkestone in Kent. All the clocks were displayed publicly, some in very prominent positions such as the town hall, and others that had to be either assiduously sought out or happened upon by chance, such as those found in a pub or a local taxi. With each clock, Ewan replaced the dials and mechanism to achieve the decimal regulation of time.”
The example, which we saw near a Victorian bandstand on the Esplanade has a decimal clock on one side and a regular one on the other side.
At first sight, I thought I saw a man standing alone and naked out in the waves at Margate on a sunny but very windy afternoon. Crazy, I thought to brave those rollers on suchb a cold day and without a wet suit. Then, I noticed that he was coloureed green and motionless despite the battering he was getting from the sea. He was not a man, but a sculpture.
This sculpture braving the sea is Another Time created in 2013 by the British sculptor Antony Gormley (born 1950).
The clever thing about this sculpture is placing it in the water. Though static, the waves dashing against it can create the illusion that the sculpted man is moving. Also, by putting it in the sea, the whole sea becomes an important part of the artwork.
Although I am not too keen on Gormley’s art works, this piece at Margate, just outside the Turner Contemporary art gallery satisfies me greatly.
Once again, London’s Kew Gardens is hosting an exhibition of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly (born 1941). The amazingly crafted glass artworks of often quite complex design have been placed both in the open-air and inside some of Kew’s lovely old glass-houses.
The curvy tubes with pointed ends shown in my photograph have been tastefully planted in a grassy field dotted with tulips. In the Temperate House, a large glass mobile has been suspended from the ceiling and smaller objects mingle with the plants. Wherever you look, you will find glass artefacts in intimate contact with the plants growing around them. In the Water-Lily House, large glass sulptures evoking the flowers of water-lillies mingle with the real plants whose fronds float on the water.
As time passes and the plants grow more, some of Chihuly’s colourful glass objects will become harder to find. The plant-like forms of many of the artworks mix with the plants to provide in some cases a stark contrast or in others they almost blend with the plants around them.
It is well worth visiting Kew whilst these sculptures are on display. However much I like the glass artworks, the stars of the show are for me the plants themselves (rather than the sculptures). This highlights how difficult it is for man to compete with nature on the aesthetic playing field.
The Chihuly works are on display at Kew Gardens until the 27th October 2019