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Hamptons Life

Aug 28, 2017 10:51 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Self-Expression Breaks Through In London

Aug 28, 2017 11:11 AM
Padding along the streets of Chelsea and South Kensington in London, one is struck by the attention lavished on the doorways, doorsteps, and tiny front gardens. Rows of adjoining look-alike townhouses follow strict codes governing everything from the conforming façade material, to the same trim color, to the precise paneling and number of rivets on every entry door. However, a form of self-expression—not permitted on the architectural façade—blooms on the front stoop.

For example, a subtle pair of oval-shaped lead pots planted with a frothing-over of baby’s tears cuddling a fiery red spray of tuberous begonias flank a beautifully painted white doorway. It isn’t simply the stunning planters that test your attention to detail, it is also the elegantly chased and the perfectly polished door knocker, emblazoned with a complicated coat of arms that dazzles the eye.

Among many fine residential details that the English excel in, there are attractive outdoor lanterns subtly scaled and detailed that hang above their entrances like jewels—a wonderful sign of their practical yet elegant hospitality.

As a side note, I always enjoy perusing lighting shops in foreign countries, particularly in Great Britain, Holland and France, for their particular and sometimes eccentrically unusual take on illumination. Lighting, and the way it is presented, always tells a great deal about a culture. Though the shape of the steps and the size of the landings up to the entryways are uniform, one finds that intricate mosaic work, inlaid metals and checkerboard patterns are what subtly differentiate the row homes.

Then there are certain squares, streets and historical periods, where the boundaries of preservation cannot possibly hinder the exuberance of self-expression. An over-door fanlight of classic Regency restraint has been replaced with a Rococo Revival confection of swirling wood and glass. On a certain townhouse in the mid-19 century, the presentation must have seemed hardly kingly enough, so a stalwart entrance of limestone carved gargoyles, Renaissance arches, and spiky wrought iron work adorn the façade, distinguishing this townhouse from its simpler neighbors, albeit with a certain royal swagger.

Having returned to London after a several-year hiatus, Paul and I did notice a singular self-absorbing attitude among the tourists while we were meandering the streets. This manifested itself more obviously with their attention devoted not to the historical sites themselves, but to the fluffing and preening prior to the snapping of selfies in front of the historical sites.

So if traveling to London within the next several months, we would strongly recommend a visit to the Saatchi galleries to experience the world’s first exhibition exploring the history of this phenomenon titled, “From Selfie to Self-Expression.” The catalog celebrates “the creative potential of a form of expression often derided for its inanity.” The exhibition guides you carefully from the old master of self-portraiture like Rembrandt through van Gogh, through Frida Kahlo, and drawing comparisons to the emerging role of the smartphone in our culture. As described, “the gallery showcases examples from the beautiful and sublime to the mad, bad, and downright dangerous.”

One gallery features a collage of 5,000 different video clips. The artist Christopher Baker assembled these from YouTube. In each clip, the individual speaks from their own space to an amorphous internet audience. As an assemblage surrounding you on all four walls, you are mesmerized by the indistinguishable noise from the 5,000 voices and the myriad of images flickering before you. This installation titled, “Hello World, “or “How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise,” is remarkably on target. Much of the exhibition is interactive, engaging and dynamic. Perhaps the most exciting and somewhat disturbing is Lozano Hemme’s “Zoom Pavilion” whose robotic cameras are trained on the visiting public, capturing faces and bodies in surveillance form and then amplifying these images alongside spatial calculations. Once again, here is an entire room’s installation that almost infiltrates your subconscious and conscious self with mathematical objectivity. Fascinating!

From London’s doorways as a symbol of self-expression, to the crowds taking selfies, to the Saatchi exhibition’s analysis and celebration of selfies and self-expression, London was certainly a lesson in this very basic human urge to express oneself—an ongoing human condition.

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