Tuesday, October 17, 2006 

everything that London isn't

I think my favorite day so far in England has been the one I didn't spend in London. On Sunday, a group of us took a bus through some of those classic rolling green hills to Oxford to spend the day wandering around. We sat in a cemetery eating tiny desserts that had been beautifully wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a little white ribbon like a birthday present. I saw more clock towers and gargoyles than I could ever imagine existed. And by the time we left, I was wishing we had spent the two weeks there instead of London, although I guess that Oxford isn't really the biggest hotspot for new media and other forms of art.

Maybe it's just that I haven't gotten around enough in London, but other than the area around the river, it really isn't that pretty. The architecture is not terribly impressive, although I do think it's cool that there are curved buildings built on curved streets. And then of course, there are the famous places and cathedrals and stuff, but just taking a random walk through London, not much strikes me as being beautiful. Oxford is just the opposite. Everything is old and covered in moss and beautiful relief sculptures and the houses are so cute and British. It's quaint and majestic at the same time. And I know my description is not doing the place justice at all, which is why I'm posting some of my photos from the day.

We ate dinner at The Eagle and Child pub, which is where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien hung out on a weekly basis with their other scholarly friends (they were known as the Inklings) and drank beer and discussed philosophical issues. And read and discussed thier writings in progress. There is just so much smart stuff that has gone on and is still going on in that town. We walked through a couple of the 39 colleges scattered throughout the city (unfortunately it's tough to get into the one where much of Harry Potter was filmed) and were amazed by the bright green perfectly manicured lawns and huge buildings. Who wants to go back to Mudd and Olin and the LDC after that? Seriously. Then again, Oxford is also quite the tourist town. I got the feeling that everybody there was either affiliated with a school or not from there. It would make for an odd living dynamic, although I'm sure I would fit right in as both a student and a tourist.

Alas, we leave London tomorrow for Amsterdam. I'm happy to be going... off to somewhere new where we hopefully won't be quite as busy and will have more pleasant living arrangements. There's some crazy Dutch or German or something kids staying here who are loud and obnoxious and just really rude. I guess we're staying at a cute little hotel in Amsterdam that's on a park, and I'm excited for that. My next post will most likely be from there... yay!

Sunday, October 15, 2006 

what do you mean we aren't press?

This past weekend in London's Regent's Park, just a short walk away from where we're staying, one of the biggest art fairs in the world took place. The Frieze Art Fair featured works from galleries all over the world, and buyers came from all over the world to make connections and purchases. With a ticket price of 18 pounds (that's about $35) just to walk in the door to the massive tent and wander the aisles, not just anybody attended. I felt so out of place and uncomfortable, it's not even funny. High class and their art just isn't for me.

So, why did I even go? Well, our class was putting together an audio documentary on the Frieze Fair to be broadcast on Resonance FM here in London. The piece I was working on was a Vox Pop, which is basically a short 3 minute piece that contains a few questions asked by the interviewers (us!), each one followed by a series of different responses we got. Our goal was to talk with 25 people of varying backgrounds, asking each of them the following four questions: What is your name and where are you from? What is your occupation? Briefly, how would you define art? What, if anything, have you seen today at the Frieze that you categorically dislike or might not consider to be art? Our original plan was to attend the fair on press day and blitz together our 1 hour show to be broadcast the next day, but it turns out that a bunch of college students aren't considered official press. Not even sweet talking from VIP John Schott (whose documentary from 1973 was being shown at the fair) could get us in that afternoon with the celebrities and press. Bummer. So, we had to attend on opening day, with all the lowly folks, who turned out to not be lowly at all.

I consider myself to be fairly cultured. I can enjoy a good museum, typically can recognize something famous when I see it, and figured I'd fit right in at Frieze. However, I didn't really anticipate the caliber of the other attendees. After an afternoon of wandering around trying to find people to interview, I can reasonably group them into two categories that I think describe the population of attendees fairly well. First were those who wouldn't talk with us, typically because they were too busy examining the art and didn't seem to care about a radio program being put together by some scrubby-looking college students. Then, there were the people who did talk with us. Our first two questions about demographics ended up being very telling: over half of the people we spoke with were not from the UK (and therefore had traveled very far to come to the Frieze), and many of our interviewees were very involved in the art world, either as artists, gallery owners, curators, or students (mostly at graduate levels). So, as an undergrad Psychology student who had taken all of one college art (actually media studies) class before coming on this program, I was thoroughly impressed by all the smart answers we got. People explained their feelings on art and the Frieze with such precision and thought and variety, and this was all in a completely on-the-spot interview. Way intimidating. All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't have to answer those questions and have my stuff edited in with all theirs.

The piece was cut together that evening and soon after incorporated into our 1 hour class show that will be broadcast sometime in the near future. I don't know the exact details, but check the main Roadtrip blog for more info as it comes.

As far as the art goes, there was some pretty awesome stuff there. I also saw quite a bit that I, well, didn't want to see, to say the least. Walking around in the Frieze was kind of like when I first got to London and kept accidentally glancing at the ads in the phone booths and doing a double take when I realized what they were for. But seriously, who would want some of that stuff hanging there on the wall in their posh little apartments? It's embarrassing. And one of those things I just don't understand and probably never will.