Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Inside a South London Icon

Though I've been living in the new place for about six weeks now, my intention to spend the weekend doing exciting London-y things that had not been possible before, hasn't quite come off. Open House weekend and several rep cinema screenings have both fallen by the wayside in exchange for the combined pleasures of croissants, tea and a long trawl through the Sunday papers. So I was doubly glad I made the effort this weekend to walk over to Battersea Power Station for the current Chinese art exhibition.

To be honest I wasn't that fussed by the art installations themselves, bar the strange display of slowly rotting apples which seemed in keeping with the general decay of the place. What I found genuinely thrilling was the opportunity to see up close such an iconic - and vast - building. I've always had a thing for secret spaces, hidden corners of the city and the way they work on your imagination, abandoned tube stations and the like (which is why I loved the production of Dido, Queen of Carthage at the House of St Barnabas in Soho earlier this year). After traipsing through Battersea Park and gawping at the considerable queue, the first thing that hits you is the scale, it's quite dizzyingly huge. And for someone accustomed to low-rise European cities it throws your sense of perspective completely out of whack. Unfortunately we weren't let loose to explore on our own terms, but then the building is derilict and unsafe, so that's probably wise. I couldn't quite understand why they'd employed some burly chap to shout at people who attempted to take photos of the interior though.

The building is pretty much a shell now, but you could see the differences between the part that was built earlier - heavy on art deco tiles - and the parts that were added later in the 1950s. The tour took us through damp, disused corridors, stripped and eerie. The art felt like an afterthought, though the juxtaposition of the shiny animation detailing the proposed development with the Chinese video art was rather cool. By the time we left the sun was setting and the building was silhouetted by the twilight, an oddly striking and beautiful sight.

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