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A night at the Museum

By Liu2Web · 01/02/2009

Name of event: French Connection Friday Late - Year of the ox
Date: Friday 30 January 2009

Friday evening saw the Victor and Albert (V&A) Museum host an event as part of the ’Shanghai in London’ theme inline with the Shanghai Expo 2010 and the recent calendar animal change. Instead of contributing to booze Britain, I decided to turn up to this free event and see if it were a classy affair. Stumbling at the first hurdle, getting to the venue, I just about managed to fumble across London. I might have well been intoxicated. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout considering the cold laden weather.

The first thing I was confronted with was a queue. A rush of blood overcame me but upon inspection, it was the wine and crisp bar. However, just ahead was the first real exhibition. It encouraged interaction and was called ’Made in Shanghai - Build your Own City!’ by Anthony Gross. Essentially it was a pile of bamboo sticks and ’Tetris’ style blocks that could be put together. Equally entertaining were two people dressed up as an ox beside the exhibition. Apparently the ox was able to tell your fortune.

Towards the right of the entrance hall was DJ Keliang Jiang of London Chinese Radio and Wired Radio thumping out Chinese pop. Walking up the Victorian museum I came across ’History of Chemistry Vol. I’ by Lu Chunsheng. It was a thirty minute looped video comprising of what could only be described as a silent movie about a man constantly picking up a portaloo. Another small exhibition was a giant LED screen with bright abstract shapes and generic Asian drum beats. Going to the top floor I saw the "World Expo: from London to Shanghai". This was a precursor to the World Expo 2010 to be held in Shanghai. With the recent Beijing Olympics, it felt like another chance for China to show off some of their achievements. The exhibition tried to tie the wonders of Victorian Britain and modern China. There were two central architectural models, one was an inverted pyramid and the other a multicoloured cube labelled Shanghai and London respectively. However, the theme was strongly about Shanghai’s ambitions as a city. There were lots of nice before and after photos of the city. Ultimately, I could not help feeling let down by this exhibition as it was very small much like the other exhibitions. I was expecting something grandiose especially as this was the only exhibit to be featured until the 12th of February.

Back downstairs, I entered the ’Local Listening’ by Yan Jun. For me, this was the highlight of the exhibition. It was composed of 40 different pieces of sounds from Beijing and the idea was that you went around listening to them on the headphones. Like with all post modern art, there were a few odd sounds but it really did feel like you were in Beijing and many fond memories of that city came flooding back. I particularly enjoyed the sound clips of people singing in the streets. As a short person I would often find myself tangled in the wires but I did not mind too much.

Heading towards the café, I was expecting to hear ’Music for Museums’ but only heard the clatter of dinner plates and cash tills. Upon looking at the price of coke I remember a recent conversation I had with my local shopkeeper explaining how he lost his shares in the now nationalised Bradford and Bingley bank but still managed to sell me a can for 40p. Located near the café and situated in the Poynter Room was the ’Tetragrammaton’s Home in the Abyss: Reduced to 6’ by Tai Shani. The show ran in thirty minute cycles and there were only fifteen wireless headphones to go around. With the V&A museum flanked by Imperial College and the Science Museum, I was hoping for a more high tech solution such as the implementation of sound waves that dissipates within a narrow field. Behind the glass doors were six ginger girls representing a girl named Kitty who answers the phone and runs around in a universe reminiscent of Austin Powers whilst rock music by Guapo is played. The programme describes it as:

"The character of ’Kitty’ is staged in 6 simultaneous scenarios - encounters with the Turning Time to Almost Stone Medusa, The Double Agent Republican First Lady, The Two Hunters that Yearn to Disappear, The Disremembered Sleepwalker, Susan Atkins and Bobby Beausoleil from the Family, Nemesis in a Sac, and the Porn Actors to the Power of 3. The Cosmic Censor rings, brining with it another cycle of changes and in 6 successive casts of fortune, narrative possibility, choice and divination intertwine."


In between the exhibitions I wondered around the museum. Looking into the Asian section I saw a vast array of antiques, the plunders of a former colonial empire. However, there was a healthy mix of modern ornaments too. Also, I kept being drawn towards the Materials section such as one room containing a bunch of cast iron gates. Perhaps it was my metallurgy past that was haunting me.

Even though the individual exhibitions for the evening were rather small, I felt some sense of enjoyment about the event. The atmosphere was lively but at the same time it was possible to stroll alone in the dimly lit rooms. The French Connection Friday Late exhibition was never going to set the new Chinese calendar year on fire but it was fascinating. On that note, I hope late night exhibitions in museums will become a popular trend.

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