MUDAM

Jan 09, 2011 in Luxembourg 2011

MUDAM

I spent my Sunday afternoon at MUDAM, a new contemporary art gallery on a hill near the European Court of Justice. I walked there via a forest path which climbed steeply from the river bank up to the heights, through the restored Fort Thüngen to the gallery. The building itself is the work of IM Pei with trademark glass pyramids making an odd contrast with the old fortifications nearby.

The museum was quite small but had some quality works of art in it. My favourite was the exhibition of the works of Attila Csörgő. Wild clockwork devices which constructed and deconstructed geometric shapes by pulling strings attached to bits of wood were possibly the most impressive, not least because it was absolutely beyond my comprehension that someone could ever build something like them.

By the time I left the gallery it was dark. I set off back to town via the route I’d come, only to realise after a few hundred metres that it was, of course, completely unlit. I didn’t feel like turning back, so I pushed on using the weedy light from my mobile phone to light the way. The damp corridors of Fort Thüngen were quite spooky in the pitch darkness. I hurried on through to the forest, and then found my way down the trail back to the bottom of the Alzette valley.

Pompidou

May 31, 2010 in Paris 2010

Pompidou

We went to the Pompidou centre and saw some impressive modern art. It was another classic Paris thing to do that I hadn’t done before. We also, being scientists keen to communicate what we do, joined in at Paris’s first “Science Corner”, where people from various disciplines set up stands on the plaza in front of the centre, offering the public the chance to ask us anything they wanted to. Not speaking French obviously made it a bit difficult for those of us from the UK, but none the less we got plenty of interest. There were some press people there and articles later appeared in a few newspapers.

Chicago

Mar 18, 2009 in United States 2009

Chicago

Arriving in a North American city with a few hours to kill between flights is quite a familiar experience for me. I’ve done it in Houston, New York and Miami, and now it would be Chicago.

I got into trouble at immigration. I thought I might do – my passport has been through some rough times and is battered and fraying. But that was fine. The problem came when the immigration officer asked me what the purpose of my visit was. I wasn’t exactly sure what to say – I’d come for a conference but that was only one day, and then I would have two days free. On the green form I put ‘tourism’. “What is the purpose of your visit?” asked the officer. I began to explain my situation. I was tired and I rambled. He cut me short. “What. Is the purpose. Of your visit. Sir?”, he said, angrily. “Work”, I said, and he looked at me with disgust, crossed out what I’d written on the card, stamped my passport and waved me through.

I got a train into the centre of Chicago, and wandered around aimlessly. I’d seen ice in Lake Huron as we flew in, but Lake Michigan was ice-free and it wasn’t cold. I found my way to Millennium Park and Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’, better known as The Bean. The distorted view of the city skyline reflected my own feelings of tiredness, jetlag and disorientation. It was the middle of the day here but already nightime in the UK.

KUMU

Oct 19, 2008 in Estonia 2008

KUMU

I met up with an Estonian friend in the evening. We went to a restaurant in the old town with a mediaeval theme, and one of the things on the menu was bear. I’ve been a vegetarian since I came back from South America, but I like to make the odd exception for cultural experiences. I hadn’t had any culinary cultural experiences since I’d eaten shark’s stomach in China in April 2007, so I decided it was about time. I really enjoyed it, the only problem being that not having eaten meat for so long, I didn’t have any reference point to compare the taste to.

The next day it was warmer, cloudier and calmer than it had been. I decided to go to the KUMU art gallery, and followed signs from the city centre. It took me about an hour, and was quite a nice walk at first, with views through the woods to the Baltic, but later the route went through a muddy car park onto a back road. I worked out later that I’d walked four times as far as I needed to – there was a pedestrian short cut I could have taken that would have got me there from town in about 15 minutes.

The gallery was a good place to spend a rainy afternoon. There was a lot of art from the early 20th century that wasn’t particularly inspiring, but also a lot of more contemporary stuff. There was an interesting exhibition about art in the Soviet times, with propaganda posters and quotes from Soviet authorities decrying abstract art – “works that do not do credit to the author’s understanding of the principles of social realism” and “freakish shapes, which have no utilitarian or decorative value”.

As darkness fell I walked the short way back into town.

Hamburger Bahnhof

May 25, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Hamburger Bahnhof

Any great city has to have a great contemporary art gallery. Berlin has the awesome Hamburger Bahnhof, housed in a former railway station in the north of the city. I’d been there before in 2004, and found most things except the main exhibition of the moment to be impressive. It was the same this time, with huge amounts of space devoted to stuff by Wolfgang Tillmans, which I was mostly indifferent to. Once I found the parts that Wolfgang hadn’t filled with meaningless rubbish, there were some excellent things. One installation that I particularly liked was an almost entirely dark room, with just an incredibly faint image projected onto the far wall. You had to spent at least ten minutes in there before the point of it became clear, and I liked that. Re-emerging into the bright gallery, I needed another ten minutes to be able to see properly again afterwards.

The Falls Road

Apr 04, 2008 in Northern Ireland 2008

The Falls Road

I spent an uneventful week around the university, meeting other astronomers, giving a talk, watching friends’ talks, and checking out local drinking and eating venues. All my friends from UCL went back to London on the Thursday or Friday, but I wasn’t heading back until Sunday. I went out to explore the city properly on the Saturday, and headed out to the hub of Republicanism in Belfast, the Falls Road.

Throughout my life, news had often been dominated by the Troubles. I’d heard so much about the terrible things that had happened in Northern Ireland. In the centre of the city, there was nothing to show what struggles the city had seen, but the Falls Road was a different matter. As I walked out of the city centre, past the Divis Tower where British army snipers once watched over the surroundings, the past became more and more visible. Soon enough, I was among the murals.

Here, and on the protestant Shankill Road, there are a lot of murals. The murals began to appear when the Troubles started in the late 1960s, and thousands have been painted over the years. An old friend of mine is an authority on the murals, and has written books about them. The murals along the Falls Road reminded me of the murals I’d seen in León, in Nicaragua, which depicted the history of the struggles there. I walked from the city centre up to Falls Park, photographing murals as I went.

Margaret Island

Feb 23, 2008 in Budapest 2008

Margaret Island

I walked north, to Margaret Island. There in the winter sun I watched the heavy river traffic churning past on either side, as hundreds of joggers pounded the trails through the woods. I walked back to Pest, via a graffiti-covered underpass.

Rodina Mat

Sep 06, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

Rodina Mat

The next day was hot again. My first target was to buy a train ticket to Odesa, a task made much easier through being accompanied by April, a traveller from Australia who I’d met in the hostel. At the train ticket office, we wrote out our ticket requirements in Cyrillic and joined a queue. As we chatted, a lady in front of us asked us if we would like her to help us buy our tickets, and she turned out to be a lifesaver. Both the trains we wanted (mine to Odesa and April’s to Lviv) were full and we’d have struggled without a Ukrainian-speaker to help us book alternative trains.

Our trains sorted, we headed out to see more sights, and we took the metro to Dnipro station. The metro cost only 50 kopeks, or about five pence, for a ride, and it was almost as grand and impressive as Moscow’s. Dnipro station was near to the Pecherska Lavra, a monastery founded around some caves in 1051 and regarded as Ukraine’s most important sight. We bought candles and wandered through the caves, passing coffins containing the mummified remains of long-dead monks. Then we walked along to a more modern symbol of Ukraine nearby: Rodina Mat, a towering Socialist realist statue of a woman holding a sword. She is 60 metres tall and stands over the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Around the museum are various relics of Ukraine’s Soviet history, with statues and sculptures commemorating the Soviet Hero Cities and the USSR’s military victories.

Parc Güell

Aug 04, 2007 in Barcelona 2007

Parc Güell

I went to Barcelona to visit my friend Sam who was working there. I got into the city late on a Friday night, and Sam and a bunch of other friends were at a bar in town. As I walked onto the platform of a metro station, someone tried to pickpocket me, and the Catalan capital was living up to its reputation. Luckily the would-be thief decided not to steal my printed-out boarding pass, which was all there was in the pocket he chose. I found my friends and went out for drinks until 3am.

The next day we all met up late in the morning, and headed for Parc Güell. You can’t escape Gaudí in this city, and Parc Güell is one of his many masterpieces. The park itself is impressive, and because it’s on a hill overlooking the city, the views are also worth catching. The disadvantage was that it was a long steep walk to get there, and I wasn’t yet accustomed to the blistering heat. There was a shop on the way doing a roaring trade in bottles of water just slightly colder than the ambient temperature, and I gave him some business.

Louisiana

Jul 09, 2006 in Denmark and Sweden 2006

Louisiana

I went to Humlebæk the next day. I wanted to see more of Denmark than just Copenhagen, and at Humlebæk there is the Louisiana contemporary art gallery, so I headed up there.

It was a beautiful day. Louisiana is right by the Øresund, and it was easily clear enough to see Sweden across the water. I wandered through the gallery, breaking out a couple of times to sit in the sun by the sea. There was a lot of good art on show, and even apart from the art, the gallery itself was impressive.

In the evening I went out to try to find somewhere to watch the world cup final. Four years earlier I’d watched the final in a bar in Sanlitun in Beijing, where some expat Germans almost got into a brawl after someone tried to take the seats they’d marked out earlier in the classic German style. This evening there were no such problem. I found a cafe in Norrebrø that was showing the game. Earlier in the competition, the Italians had utterly robbed Australia by diving to get a last-minute penalty, so I was very much supporting France. With extra time running out, there was suddenly pandemonium as the cameras showed an Italian on the ground and Zidane being shown a red. From the Danish commentary it was not easy to tell what was going on, so I assumed that the Italian had dived. Disgusted, I watched them eventually take the win on penalties. Later, I had to grudgingly admit that it was probably not totally unfair to have sent Zidane off for headbutting Materazzi.