Exhibitions of the year 2011

It's always so difficult to choose my favourite exhibitions of the year, and this year particularly so as there were many that I missed that I would like to have seen. But after some deliberation,  and in keeping with tradition, here are my top five for 2011:

5. Philippe Parenno at the Serpentine

Right at the beginning of the year I saw Algerian filmmaker Philippe Parenno's memorable solo show at the Serpentine. Parenno transformed the gallery with this atmospheric, immersive and magical exhibition (complete with fake snow blowing past the gallery windows) to provoke a lovely sense of childlike wonder.

4. Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want at the Hayward

At the beginning of this year, I don't think I would ever have guessed that an exhibition from that overexposed YBA-er and friend of the Tories Tracey Emin would make it onto my 'top five' list. But the Hayward Gallery's rich, varied and well-curated retrospective of her career took me by surprise, and gave me the opportunity to rediscover her sometimes jaunty, sometimes irreverent, often uncomfortable but always engaging body of work.

3. Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage at the Hayward

Another thumbs up for the Hayward comes in the shape of this solo exhibition by Pipilotti Rist, one of my favourite artists. My expectations for this exhibition were especially high, but although it wasn't perhaps quite everything I wanted it to be, it certainly delivered all the quirky, unexpected joyfulness I've come to expect from Rist's delightful work.

2. Susan Hiller at Tate Britain

 I always enjoy Tate Britain's exhibitions, but Susan Hiller's solo show earlier this year was a real stand-out for me. I wasn't hugely familiar with Hiller's work before, but found the artworks in this show intriguing, intelligent and thought-provoking: from her anthropological collections of everything from seaside postcards to bottles of holy water; to the powerful installation Witness (pictured), full of wonder and strangeness.

1. Yohji Making Waves at the Wapping Project

 It's an installation rather than a conventional exhibition, but my top choice for 2011 has to be fashion designer and artist Yohji Yamamoto's extraordinary site-specific installation at the Wapping Project.  Making Waves saw the Boiler House space flooded with dark rippling water, which visitors could cross in a small rowing boat, allowing them to take a look at the beautiful oversized silk wedding dress suspended above it. Mesmeric, meditative and eerily beautiful, this installation was also hugely fun - an enchantingly playful response to the gallery space.

Finally (and because I like cheating) here are a couple of extras...

A special mention must also go to Dark Matters at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester for one of my favourite works of the year - 'Still Life No. 1', an enchanting new commission by the collective Brass Art, as part of Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.

 And of course I can't possibly finish off my review of the year without briefly mentioning the Booktrust Best New Illustrators 2011 exhibition, organised by yours truly, which features the work of 10 fantastic up-and-coming illustrators like Katie Cleminson whose work is below. It's been everywhere from London Book Fair to Plymouth Art Gallery & Museum, the Free Word Centre to the National Galleries of Scotland this year, but it can currently see as part of Picture This at Gallery Oldham.

It's actually quite interesting looking over all the exhibitions you've seen in a year: on reflection, I realise that without particularly meaning to do so, I've ended up seeing mainly the big 'blockbuster' shows at London's biggest and best known galleries. My resolution for 2012 is to see more exhibitions at smaller, less well-known galleries and artist-led spaces.

Do you have any arts or cultural resolutions for 2012? And what were your favourite exhibitions of 2011?

[For all image credits in full, please see the original posts]

Olympia Le Tan

I love these handmade embroidered book clutch bags created by Olympia Le Tan - these images are all from her tumblr blog.

Together with Spike Jonze, she has also created Mourir Auprès de Toi, a quirky stop-animated film about book characters that come to life after dark in the famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Company. 

You can watch the film in full here, and read more about how it came to be made, but an excerpt is below.

Merry Christmas!

[Image from Graphis Annual 56/57 (by Sandi Vincent) via tumblr]

Five More Things

Following on from my previous Five Things post, I thought I'd share another selection of things that have been pleasing me of late...


Published by Walker Books, I Want My Hat Back is my new favourite picture book: a quirky and charming tale of a bear who has lost his hat. But whilst the story is sweet, it's the stylish, witty illustrations by Jon Klassen that really make this irresistible. The bear's face (above) makes me smile every single time I see it.

The twelfth commission in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall as part of The Unilever Series comes from celebrated artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean  FILM is an 11-minute 35 mm film projection, standing 13 metres tall at one end of the darkened Turbine Hall. A montage of black and white, rainbow colours and hand-tinted film, this playful, intriguing and surreal installation is a thought-provoking tribute to the power of analogue in a digital age.


Maybe it's a hangover from Halloween, maybe it's because I've spent too much time browsing French fashion blog The Cherry Blossom Girl (pictured) but I am all about the dark nails at the moment. I had my nails painted black at the lovely vintage-style beauty salon Lost in Beauty in Primrose Hill a couple of weeks ago, and am completely converted.


I went along to the private view of Booktrust Best New Illustrator 2011 Chris Haugton's exhibition at So far the future gallery earlier this week. As well as artwork from his picture books A Bit Lost and Oh No George the show includes all kinds of lovely objects designed by Chris and then handmade by traditional Fair Trade craft-makers in Nepal - beautiful bags, plush toys, lampshades and incredible rugs. The exhibition continues until 7 December: find out more about it here.


I can't believe I managed to get through 28 years without discovering Diana Wynne Jones's brilliant books. I've been reading my way through her delightful Chrestomanci series, beginning with Charmed Life (pictured), as well as the wonderful Howl's Moving Castle and its sequels. Witch Week is my favourite so far but every one is fantastic.

So what's taken your fancy recently? Let me know in the comments if you've got favourite new finds to share...

Crazy for You

I do love a good musical, and so I was delighted to be invited to go along and see a performance of  Crazy for You, a new hit West End show inspired by the classic songs of George and Ira Gershwin, at the Novello Theatre earlier this week.

Crazy for You is the story of stagestruck banker Bobby who longs to dance on the Broadway stage, but instead his stern mother despatches him to a sleepy Western town in the Nevada desert to foreclose on a derelict theatre. On arrival he immediately falls for the owner’s daughter, the feisty Polly, and hatches a harebrained scheme to save the theatre and win Polly’s heart by impersonating famous impresario Zangler, and bringing the Zangler’s Follies chorus girls out West to put on a show.

All kinds of silly shenanigans ensure, especially when the real Zangler turns up with Bobby’s mother and overbearing fiancé in tow. But let’s be honest, it’s not really the story that matters here, but the fantastic, feel-good song and dance routines. Toe-tapping Gershwin favourites like I Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me and Nice Work if You Can Get It are used to excellent effect with delightful choreography from Stephen Mear. This is a true old-fashioned musical in glittering 1930s style, complete with high-kicking showgirls in glamorous outfits, vaudeville-style comedy routines, a tap-dancing hero and a romantic finish. The gilt interior of the Novello theatre makes an ideal setting for this gleefully escapist and nostalgic production.

Joyous and relentlessly upbeat, Crazy for You seems like the perfect antidote to ‘politics and axes taxes and people grinding axes’ of recent weeks - as the Gershwin number goes. If silly jokes and sparkles are your thing, then I can heartily recommend this as the perfect festive treat… and I know that I for one will be singing I Got Rhythm (and tapping the odd toe) for the rest of the week.

Asia Triennial Manchester 2011

I haven’t been up to Manchester for nearly a year, so I was delighted when All Points North invited me to go up to take a look at Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.

Asia Triennial, showcasing a range of exhibitions, events and commissions across multiple venues in the city, first took place in 2008. The brainchild of Shisha, an agency promoting South Asian craft and visual art in the UK, Asia Triennial aims to offer a diverse and comprehensive survey of Asian art. Following on from the 2008 offering, 2011 saw the Triennial return for its second incarnation, an ambitious festival bringing together 17 venues, 40 artists and 32 new commissions. Here’s my review of a handful of the exhibitions that are on offer – unfortunately all I was able to see in a single day…

Image credit: Brass Art, 'Still Life No.1', 2011.
(3D objects in acrylic polymer, light source, table in black box environment.Dimensions variable)

Dark Matters at the Whitworth is an intelligent and sophisticated group show, bringing together a variety of contemporary work exploring shadows, darkness, illusion and technology. There are in fact only a couple of Asian artists in the exhibition, Hiraki Sawa from Japan and Ja-Young Ku from Korea, but nonetheless it made an impressive start to my ATM 11 experience.

Appropriately enough, there’s an element of phantasmagoric playfulness to many of the works in this exhibition. Daniel Rozin’s 'Snow Mirror', for example, initially appears to be simply a projection of the grey ‘snowstorm’ we associate with a disrupted TV signal, but come closer and we soon realise that we ourselves are appearing as ghostly figures on the screen. Meanwhile, Barnaby Hoskins’ 'Black Flood' surrounds us with four walls on which simultaneous video projections play out images of inky, turbulent waters. Outside, 'Thoughts', an installation by the same artist, sees a series of three-dimensional butterfly wings scattered across the gallery walls casting delicate shadows. However it is a new commission from the collective Brass Art that for me was the standout piece in this exhibition. Recalling early 19th century technologies such as zoetropes and magic lanterns, 'Still Life No. 1' is an enchanting installation in which a glittering array of transparent figurines and delicate cellophane constructions is illuminated by a travelling light source, sending a magical carousel of shadows playing across the gallery walls.

The exhibition is accompanied by a variety of works exploring the same themes from the Whitworth’s collection, by artists ranging from Francis Bacon to Anish Kapoor. Showing alongside it is Air Pressure, a thoughtful video work by Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox, which precisely evokes the distinctive atmosphere of a farm situated on the edge of Japan’s Nara Airport runway.

 Image credit: Rashid Rana 'Desperately Seeking Paradise 2' 
Installation view at Cornerhouse Manchester 
Courtesy of Tiroche Deleon Collection & Art Vantage Ltd

Along Oxford Road, Cornerhouse plays host to a very different exhibition. Everything is Happening at Once is the UK’s first solo show by the prominent Pakistani artist Rashid Rana.

Like many of the artists in Dark Matters, Rana is concerned with exploring and interrogating the photographic image, combining sculpture, photography and video to blur the boundaries between two and three dimensional image making. However, unlike the quiet, dimly-lit Whitworth galleries, here we find ourselves in a more disquieting space, in which pixellated cubes reveal themselves as defamiliarised representations of ordinary household objects such as a fridge or a vase of flowers, whilst photomosaic images of veiled women are, on close inspection, composed from numerous tiny pornographic images. Whilst these powerful works have no doubt provoked debate, it was the more ambiguous sculptural installation, 'Desperately Seeking Paradise II' with its bold lines and angled mirrors that was, for me, the most interesting work in this ambitious exhibition.

Image credit: Ozman Bozkurt PiST//// 
Life in the UK / Balance of Probabilities installation in Castlefield Gallery Manchester 2011

Not far away, Life in the UK/Balance of Probabilities at Castlefield Gallery is another debut – this time the first UK commission by Istanbul-based Didem Özbek and Osman Bozkurt of PiST///. This exhibition sees Castlefield transformed into a temporary Visa Application Centre: entering the gallery is immediately unsettling, as we find ourselves stepping through a metal detector and accept a ticket from a machine, simulating the experience of entering a Visa Application Centre in Turkey. Inside the gallery, a variety of multiartform works explore related issues such as identity, migration, borders, power and control, employing both real stories and fiction with a pleasing touch of dark comedy.

Image credit: Adeela Suleman Drained 2011 - detail

 Whilst the Castlefield show is hard to miss, you might have to look more carefully in the dimly-lit interior of Manchester Cathedral to find the ATM 11 commission Drained from Adeela Suleman, an artist from Karachi known for her sculptures that appropriate household objects. Situated in the nave of the cathedral, this glittering, spiky spiral constructed from metal drain covers has strangely meditative properties, and is surprisingly well-suited to its gilt-edged, grand surroundings.

I finished my visit with a trip to Chinese Arts Centre, who have created Institution for the Future as their contribution to ATM 11. This exhibition showcases the work of art collectives and small, independent artist groups who are actively engaged with their local arts infrastructure, and are interested in exploring the question of what kind of art institutions we might need from the future. The collective ruangrupa’s artist-led space survival kit transforms the gallery floor and walls with a cheerful clutter of artist materials, camping equipment, useful literature and scribbled ideas, whilst a number of video installations create the sense of a throng of voices engaged in lively debate. A bold poster created for the 2008 Taipei Bienniale by Jun Yang, immediately grabs our attention, posing direct questions about the future of the institutions of art and challenging the audience themselves to help supply the answers.

Image credit: Jun Yang, Galerie Martin Janda Vienna, Vitamin Creative Space Beijing, ShugoArts Tokyo 
(Institution for the Future, Chinese Arts Centre)

There’s so much more to see in this year’s Asia Triennial Manchester, but even this small selection of exhibitions offered up an intriguing variety of work.  Critics have suggested that this year’s Triennial is too vague and incoherent, and certainly the declared themes of time and generation are sometimes hard to draw out. Dany Louise, writing for the New Statesman, describes it as ‘a curious event, loosely curated.... somehow… both too open and too specific to create genuine cultural dialogue.’ Yet for me, it was this openness, this looseness that ultimately gave ATM 11 its strength, providing it with the space and freedom to challenge the conventions and stereotypes of what today’s art from Asia might be. Coherent it may not be, but Asia Triennial Manchester is certainly a richly varied and celebratory showcase of contemporary Asian art.

This review was written for All Points North and is also published on the All Points North website here. Check out the website for more reviews and information about contemporary art events and festivals happening in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions this Autumn

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind

I’ve been a fan of Pipilotti Rist’s exuberant artwork since I first saw an exhibition of her work at FACT in Liverpool back in 2008. I think I would find it difficult not to be drawn to any artist who, as a teenager, renamed herself Pipilotti in honour of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking; but more than that, there’s something distinctive and very charming about the dizzy, colourful, visceral and provocative world that Rist’s artwork brings to life.

Given this, I was excited to see Rist’s new solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery – the playfully-named Eyeball Massage – on Friday night, a treat at the end of a long and stressful week. This show brings together over 30 works from the mid-1980s to the present day, including some which have been created specially for the Hayward.

This is an exhibition which is always unexpected. Before we even enter the gallery, we are greeted outside by drifts of smoky bubbles and strings of illuminated underpants, like unlikely bunting crossed with a washing line; inside, a video installation is secreted in a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets. Meanwhile, in the galleries themselves we are invited to lounge on semi-sinister cushions in the shape of headless bodies, and watch sensuous, dreamy projected images rippling over a labyrinth of gauzy curtains. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are repatedly confused by shifting perspectives: in Mutaflor the artist's immense mouth seems to swallow the viewer whole; but a moment later in Selfless in a Bath of Lava we peer through a tiny hole in the floor to glimpse her in miniature, naked and surrounded by molten lava, shouting messages to us.

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Photo Linda Nylind. Selfless In The Bath of Lava (1994)

Physicality is hugely important throughout this exhibition: the human body is celebrated everywhere, from Blood Room, a ‘visual poem’ in praise of menstruation to Digesting Impressions which takes us on an endoscopic journey through the oesopaghus, stomach and intestines. We as viewers have to engage physically with the works on display, from poking our heads through the viewing holes of A Peek into the West – A Look into the East (or E-W) to allowing our own lap to become the screen for a video projection in Lap Lamp.

Perhaps because my expectations were so high, Eyeball Massage didn’t quite deliver everything I wanted it to. Some of the works in the show, like Your-Space-Capsule and Ever Is Over All I had seen before, and others, like Yoghurt on Skin – Velvet on TV in which tiny LCD screens are hidden inside handbags and seashells, didn’t grab me as much as I might have expected. However, much of this show was all that I have come to expect from Rist’s work – a fizzy blend of hypnotic, uplifting, unsettling and invigorating.

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind

The New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl has described Rist as an ‘evangelist of happiness’ and interestingly, Adrian Searle (who in my review of the FACT show I cite as criticising Rist’s work as ‘mak[ing] me feel as if I'm stuck inside a vegan, possibly even fructarian, new-age indoctrination video’) has apparently been converted too, stating in his review of Eyeball Massage: ‘You have to be a miserabalist… not to take pleasure in Rist's warm baths of light and nature, her sunny fertile fields and underwater rebirthings, her gleeful swooning mischievousness.’ It’s this, ultimately, that makes this exhibition a delight – the sheer joyfulness of Rist's work.

Eyeball Massage is at the Hayward Gallery until 8 January. Take a look at an interview with Rist about the show, below:

Museum of Everything Exhibition #4 at Selfridges

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm a big fan of the Museum of Everything, which describes itself as Britain's only museum dedicated to outsider art. Two of their past exhibitions have been presented in a ramshackle building in Primrose Hill, and the unapologetically handmade aesthetic, combined with an exuberantly chaotic presentation of work have combined to create a pleasingly off-the-wall atmosphere. 

The latest offering from the Museum of Everything, Exhibition #4 is somewhat different. This time the museum has popped up in Selfridge's, one of London's largest and most famous department stores, where it has transformed the Ultralounge area into an exhibition space filled with over 400 drawings, paintings and sculptures from international studios for contemporary self-taught artists with learning and other disabilities. The Oxford Street windows of the store have also been transformed into a series of installations, showcasing the work of some of the artists in the exhibition.

I was looking forward to seeing this latest show when I went along last Sunday, but all the same I wasn't quite sure what to expect from an exhibition of marginalised artists in such an overtly commercial setting.  Arriving a little early, I found myself waiting outside the doors on bustling Oxford Street along with hordes of eager shoppers, many of whom were obviously intrigued by the eye-catching window installations. At last the doors opened, and I went down to the basement, passing on my way a whole area dedicated to Christmas decorations, shimmering with tinsel and tree decorations, and already blasting out 'All I Want for Christmas is You', which set the stage for a slightly surreal experience.

In many ways, the exhibition proved to be much of what I've come to expect from the Museum of Everything. The show is well thought through, with some challenging and intriguing work, and maintains its usual quirky homespun charm, although perhaps it loses a little something away from the kooky atmosphere of its Primrose Hill home. I especially enjoyed Erica Punzel's multicoloured abstract images, Leonard Fink's dense monochrone maps, Mary Ogunleye's garlands of rainbow-coloured particles and Kenya Haley's drawings of cupcakes and ice-creams. I was also interested to see a whole host of works exploring text in various ways, from Nicroe Kittaka's images made up of signs, letters and ideograms, to Kunzo Matsumo's lists, letters and diaries, and Harald Stoffer's amazing letter-based drawings, raising some interesting questions about the relationship between creative writing and visual art. So far, so good.

After a good rummage around the exhibition, I headed up to the Shop of Everything on the ground floor (delayed en route by an optimistic salesman intent on demonstrating handwarmers, in spite of the fact that it was probably one of the hottest days of the year), which is another new development for this show. Although there have been bags, badges and a few other  items of branded merchandise for sale at their shows in the past, this is a much more wholesale affair, packed with everything from postcards to prints to Oyster card holders to crayons to designer t-shirts and other clothing produced in collaboration with the likes of Clements Ribero. The items themselves are lovely, and I'm the first to recognise that arts organisations need to find practical ways to generate income to support what they do, yet I have to admit that this proliferation of branded goods left me feeling slightly uneasy.

I don't think there's any good reason why art shouldn't be exhibited in a shop, and I can't help admiring the sheer panache and ambition of the Museum of Everything in brokering a collaboration on this scale with Selfridges, probably the most prestigious name in retail in the UK. Yet somehow all this seems to change the Museum from something distinctive and idiosyncratic to another slick, clever branding exercise, which makes it feel suddenly much more like the other big name galleries we encounter in the art world. What made the original Museum of Everything exhibition so special was how out of the ordinary it felt: remote, secret, magical, like stepping into a colourful, uncomfortable otherworld. Encountering it on Oxford Street somehow just isn't the same.

Yet somehow I still can't quite make up my mind about Exhibition #4. In some ways, I admire how the Museum of Everything is apparently breaking all its own rules to reach new audiences and to grab the attention of all kinds of people who might never usually think about visiting an exhibition like this. But in part I also have a certain sympathy with Adrian Searle, who writing in the Guardian, suggests that the setting is 'inappropriate' and that such challenging artworks might require more than an idle visit in between trips to the Clinique counter. But on the other hand, is chaotic Oxford Street absolutely the appropriate place - in some ways the perfect setting for these bold, spiky, attention-grabbing artworks? It certainly offers a fantastic opportunity to get the voices of these often unheard artists out there into the city's public spaces. Or has the Museum of Everything simply sold out?

I don't have any answers to any of these questions, but however you choose to look at it, Exhibition #4 certainly offers its visitors plenty to think about.

Exhibition #4 is at Selfridge's until 25 October 2011. Find out more about the Museum of Everything, visit the online shop, or see their digital exhibition.

Great new picture books

Back from Scotland and back into the swing of things! Although I'm mourning my peaceful sojourn by the sea, one advantage of being back at work is that I have the chance to catch up on some lovely new children's books. Today, to celebrate Children's Book Week (which starts tomorrow!) I thought I'd share three favourite new picture books from some of the Booktrust Best New Illustrators, who I worked with earlier in the year.

The High Street by Alice Melvin

The High Street by Alice Melvin is a beautiful new picture book from Tate Publishing. Like Alice's previous book, Counting Birds, it's notable for its high production values and delightfully old-fashioned, nostalgic feel. 

The story follows Sally, a girl heading down the High Street to look for all the items on her shopping list, from a stripy jug to yellow tulips. Readers can join Sally on her shopping trip, popping into the local sweet shop, florist and pet shops, and opening the flaps to explore exquisitely-detailed spreads showing everything that's going on inside each shop.

Children will enjoy poring over all the details in the pictures, and Alice's vintage-style aesthetic will appeal to readers of all ages, but this book is also a great tribute to the pleasures of shopping on the local high street, and the charm of independent shops.

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson

I'm a huge fan of Katie Cleminson's illustration, but I think Otto the Book Bear may be my favourite of all her books to date. This is the tale of a lonely bear who needs a new home, but who eventually finds the perfect place to live and make lots of new friends - the public library.

Katie's distinctive, softly-coloured illustrations are
packed with character, but what I especially love about this book is how she has communicated the magic of books and of the library - as blogger LibraryMice has described it 'a place of joy but also a haven of peace and safety'. At a time when libraries are under threat from cuts, it's so important to remind everyone of why they are so special, and Katie does just that in this delightful book.

You can download a poster with an illustration from Otto the Book Bear to celebrate Children's Book Week here.

A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Viv Schwarz once again joins forces with one of the original Best New Illustrators Alexis Deacon for a great new picture book A Place Called Home.  

This is the epic story of a brave band of hamsters, lost and looking for a new home. Will they find it? Will they stay together? Will they know where they are going? This laugh-out-loud funny and charmingly illustrated story is a real treat - it's no wonder it has just been shortlisted for the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

An exhibition of work by all ten Best New Illustrators, including Alice, Katie and Viv, is currently on display at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Free Word Centre in London.

If you're interested in reading more about children's books and children's book illustration I can heartily recommend illustrator Sarah McIntyre's blog. I've been reading and enjoying Sarah's blog for a while, but I heard her give a great presentation about how she uses blogging and other online activity to complement and support her work as a children's author/illustrator at this week's Bookseller Children's Conference - fascinating and inspiring stuff!

A Day Out in Edinburgh

No trip to Scotland would be complete without a day trip to Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities.

Though I missed out on the festival this year, there was still plenty to do and see - and having made a  resolution to take more photos I can include here on the blog, I thought it would be fun to document our day out with the camera. As you'll see I've had mixed success, but I'm getting better!

We started out with coffee and delicious cinnamon buns at Peter's Yard, a Scandinavian-style cafe near the university area of the city, which is great for people-watching and also happens to sell the best crispbread ever.

The next stop was the recently refurbished National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. Including everything from science to nature, world cultures to Scottish history, this incredibly comphrehensive museum is a great place to explore, and really does have something for everyone - from elephants and flying fish to maps of the stars! Recently we were also lucky enough to be treated to a tasty afternoon tea up in the top floor restaurant, which has beautiful views of Edinburgh's spires and rooftops.

Whenever I come to Edinburgh, I always enjoy visiting the Fruitmarket, a small but beautifully-formed contemporary art gallery with a great exhibitions programme and a tiny cafe.

On this visit, we spent ages browsing in the lovely bookshop, which has a great selection of contemporary art and art theory books, as well as such delights as Gemma Correll greetings cards, zines by local artists, polaroid cameras, picture books and Tunnock's teacake badges, before taking a look at their current exhibition - a solo exhibition of work by Ingrid Calame, which had been part of this year's Edinburgh Art Festival.

Ingrid Calame …puEEP, 2001 via Fruitmarket
Across the road we took a peep at one of this year's Edinburgh Art Festival commissions - Martin Creed's Work No. 1059 which has transformed the Scotsman's Steps. (I didn't take any pictures of this one for some reason, but you can see some images here).

As evening approached, we thought about going to one of our favourite Edinburgh bars, Ecco Vino on Cockburn Street, but instead ended up going to see a film before ending the day with a meal at Seadogs, a new discovery.

This laid-back restaurant on Rose Street specialises in (you guessed it) fish and seafood, and also has several sister venues close by - the original Dogs restaurant serving up hearty gastropub fare, Dogs Amore (Italian food) and Underdogs (a basement bar). I ate moule frites followed by this rather epic (if badly photographed) syrup sponge pudding to share.  What better end to a delightful Edinburgh day?

The map at the top of this post is a detail from artist J. Maizlish's beautiful map, Sites of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2011, which was also one of this year's festival commissions. You can download a copy of the map here, or see the original in Edinburgh at the Ingleby Gallery

Five Things


I can't stop reading this new online magazine for teenage girls, the brainchild of teen blogger extraordinaire Tavi. The majority of the content is created by young people themselves, with additional contributions from some 'favourite grown ups' such as Miranda July, Joss Whedon and Zooey Deschanel. Yet far from having any of the slightly patronising worthiness of some youth-led  projects, this is simply a smart, well-written and well-designed website, full of intriguing content whether you're a teenage girl or not, and beautifully illustrated with photographs and illustrations by the likes of Minna Gilligan (see above). A complete breath of fresh air - I only wish it had been around when I was fourteen.


One of the best things about holidays is the time to indulge in reading, particularly when you're staying in a cosy house where there are plenty of comfy armchairs to draw up in front of the fire on a rainy afternoon.  I've been enjoying re-reading some old favourites, including Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, Cat's Eye and Alias Grace. Next on my list is Bluebeard's Egg but I've  also got a real urge to re-read The Robber Bride - I wonder if I can find a copy in the book-filled attic?


I've just discovered the appealingly playful, rainbow-bright paintings of Florian Meisenberg, a young New York-based artist. I love Meisenberg's lively sense of colour, but also the way he blends lightness and thoughtfulness in his works. I wish I'd caught his solo exhibition at Kate MacGarry Studio earlier this year. The show was entitled http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90RM07vHQiw and if you click the hyperlink you'll find a video of a flying cat, which to be honest is exactly the sort of thing I look for in contemporary art.


Monster movies aren't usually my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed this quirky and surprisingly funny Norwegian film about, um, trolls. Go see!


I've recently discovered this brilliant recipe blog, with beautifully photographed step-by-step instructions to making all manner of tasty treats. So far I've tried the cocoa brownies and the chewy oatmeal and raisin cookies (pictured above) both highly recommended, and now I'm hooked. My only problem is that as this is a US blog, most of the measurements are in cups and have to be translated into kgs/lbs, which can make some quantities a bit hit and miss - or at least it can when I'm doing the maths!

A Postcard from Scotland

I'm spending the next two weeks on holiday in Dunbar, Scotland - this is a picture I took there for this blog over three years ago! It's difficult to believe this blog has really been around for such a long time.

It's been ages since I had such a big chunk of time off work, and I'm looking forward to a chance to relax, including lots of blustery walks along the cliffs and across beaches like this one, curling up with a book and a cup of tea in front of the fire, watching seals from the window, wearing wellies, eating delicious fresh fish from the local fish shop, and most importantly, catching up on a long-standing writing project which it is high time was completed! And who knows, maybe there will even be time to fit in some overdue blogging too...?

Fabulous Fifties at the Museum of London

I’ve long been a fan of all things 1950s from rock and roll music to swingy skirts to drinks with cocktail cherries, and I’m currently glued to BBC 2’s The Hour, so naturally I was delighted to be given a couple of tickets to a late event at the Museum of London paying tribute to the 'fabulous fifties' last week.

The Museum of London is one of my favourite London museums and not only because it’s literally a stone’s throw from where I currently live. The permanent galleries tell a fascinating story of London’s history from the first people to dwell in settlements along the Thames up until the present day, and there are some great temporary exhibitions too: currently there’s an engrossing exhibition of London Street Photography from 1860 to the present day as well as a fun display of hand-drawn maps of the city in the foyer. Downstairs in the cafe, you'll also find an installation by the Light Surgeons, which is to be the first in a series of media art commissions at the museum.

I’ve been to plenty events at the museum before but this was the first event in their Late series that I’d seen, transforming the entire museum for the evening after the usual closing time. On offer was music from Laura B and the Moonlighters and The Broken Hearts DJs, vintage pin-up makeovers, talks on fifties fashion and popular culture from the museum's curators, dance classes with The London Swing Dance Society, craft workshops from  Tatty Devine, and of course, fifties-style food and drink.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the current fashion for all things vintage and nostalgic, this was a hugely popular event: the Tatty Devine workshop was so busy that sadly I didn't get chance to join in, but I was lucky enough to get my hair styled by one of the stylists from the Vanity Box, who provided a pop-up vintage salon creating 1950s hair and make-up looks. And as well as tapping my toe to a few fifties tunes, and sampling some chips in a cone, I also snapped a few shots of some of the amazing dancers twisting, strolling and hand-jiving the evening away - for once I managed to remember a camera! It was a great evening for people watching, with some amazing outfits and retro frocks on display, but what's more, it was interesting to see the museum transformed into such a buzzing and lively space for a fun evening event - this was certainly a clever strategy for drawing in new audiences, as well as to approach learning about the history of the 20th century in a different way.

This event was part of a month-long programme across the city to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain: find out about more events at Story of London.  For anyone who like me, enjoys 1950s music, you might also be interested in this fifties inspired blog written for the event by The Broken Hearts DJs featuring some of their favourite tunes from the decade.

Save our Placards!

 Back in March this year, I took part in the March for the Alternative along with about 500,000 other people. The march was a protest against the government’s spending cuts, and one of the largest demonstrations ever seen in the UK.

Being on the march was a fascinating experience: it was great to be part of such a friendly and positive crowd, meeting and talking to people about why they were there, and admiring the wealth of amazing banners and placards that people had made for the event. Never ones to resist the opportunity for a bit of drawing, cutting out and sticking, we of course made our own placards for the march too, and afterwards donated them to the Museum of London, who together with the Save our Placards team from Goldsmith’s were helping to document the occasion.
We were very excited to find out recently that one of our placards (the snappily titled March for the Squeezed Bottom, above) had been selected to take part in an exhibition, Nothing in the World But Youth, opening at the Turner Contemporary in Margate in September.You can read about the story behind our placard (and see some photos of me drawing the lettering) over at the Save our Placards blog; but more importantly, the team are still trying to trace the creators of 8 of the 12 placards selected for the exhibition. If you were on the march in March, then do take a look at the slideshow of placards, and get in touch with them if you know who made any of these beauties.

(It goes without saying that I'll of course be going to Margate to see our placard sharing exhibition space with work by Peter Blake, Sarah Lucas, Andy Warhol and many others, so watch this space come September for more...)

Spotlight: Gemma Correll

 Last week I popped along to Tatty Devine's Brick Lane store to check out Graham is a Weirdo and Other Stories, a mini exhibition by illustrator. Gemma Correll. I'm quite surprised to realise that I've never written much about Gemma's work here on the blog before, since I've been a fan of her kooky, faux-naive illustration, and especially her drawn daily diaries, and What I Wore Today project for some time.

Apart from her distinctively quirky style, and enthusiasm for cute animal characters (cats! pugs!), what I really like about Gemma's work is the way that she brings images and texts together to create work that tells stories. In fact, in many ways, her work is reminiscent of the children's book illustrators I love - there's a touch of Sara Fanelli, a hint of Oliver Jeffers and a whisper of Quentin Blake about her drawing style.

This small but perfectly formed exhibition is a fun collection of unexpected animal drawings, and comes accompanied by its own zine. (On the day I visited, Graham Norton had apparently also been along to see the show and had been rather taken with one of Gemma's 'Pugs Not Drugs' tote bags!)

If these lovely pictures weren't enough reason to think highly of Gemma and her work, she also has a pug called Mr Norman Pickles and a very enviable studio space. Find out more about her and her work on her website and blog.

Graham is a Weirdo and Other Stories is at Tatty Devine until Monday 1st August.

 [all images by Gemma Correll]