Strange art and fake Roman Baths

London Travel Blog

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Somerset house

Today, I finished work in time to go for a wander.  Regular readers may know that “going for a wander” is probably one of my favourite hobbies, right up there with indie gigs, cooking, and looking a bit lost.  So that was good.

 

I didn’t feel up to a long wander, because I am still trying to shake some weird illness that is making me extremely tired pretty much all the time.  So I went down onto the Strand to look for the sign I’d seen for the Roman Baths there.  The Roman Baths are, in fact, almost certainly Tudor.  You walk down an alley and through another alley and up a third alley, and see a large, dirty window.  You then press a button and a light goes on, showing a brick lined hole in the floor.

lightwells in Somerset house
  In all honesty, I would skip this one even though it is free and takes about 30 seconds to see.  Still, it was worth following the sign just to avoid spending the next week wondering if I should have followed it. 

 

The next step on my wander was Somerset House, which is a large building just down on the Thames, that used to house the Admiralty and now has offices, function spaces, a couple of art galleries and a nice courtyard.  Entrance to some of the galleries and the courtyard is free, although the best known of the galleries charges admission.  I didn’t go there because I followed the sign for something called River Soundings, an installation by Bill Fontana, who is an artist that I had never heard of.

 

The installation was set up in the lightwells and the deadhouse of Somerset houses.

mermen
  The lightwells are deep, moat like spaces round the building that allowed light into basement offices and kitchens before reliable artificial light, and the deadhouse is a vaulted cellar with some gravestones, that is apparently the site of a secret Catholic chapel that the Catholic Queens used when Catholicism was still illegal for the spouses of Kings.  It is a shame that it is now a badly whitewashed cellar – it must have been quite something in its original form.

 

The installation is of sound and visual recordings, taken from the Thames river.  Some of them were recorded using underwater microphones, and some of them are taken from the docks right down on the estuary beyond.  Initially, it is quite atmospheric, but eventually you get very, very fed up of the constant tolling of some bell.  It went on and on, and I know there is nowhere on the Thames where the bells are that constant.

former chapel
  By the time I left I was glad I had seen the lightwells, but considerably more impressed with the architecture of the house than I was with the sloshy noises and weird lighting of the actual art.  I think I might have been more impressed if I wasn’t so tired. 

 

I decided against going to the main gallery, which had a special exhibition on Michelangelo’s painting “The Dream,” although not the actual painting.  I’m not that big a fan of Michelangelo and I’ll go back to the gallery when that exhibition is over.  I wandered around the courtyard watching the fountains, which are lovely, and being generally impressed with the building. 

 

Then it was time to meet Iain and go into Chinatown.  I love Chinatown, even though it is often busy and jostling, but I haven’t taken any pictures.  We had dinner and then went back to the hotel.

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Somerset house
Somerset house
lightwells in Somerset house
lightwells in Somerset house
mermen
mermen
former chapel
former chapel
elephant in covent garden
elephant in covent garden
weird art thing
weird art thing
London
photo by: ulysses