Monday, 22 October 2012

Capital Concerns: Museum of London (Part Four)

To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, the exhibition ‘At Home with the Queen’ displays photos of people with their memorabilia. Some are with pictures of themselves meeting HRH on walkabout, or receiving Maundy coins in recognition of their services as a volunteer. A child plays with a Happyland Royal Wedding set; a man is surrounded by themed cushions, hats and magazines; a woman stands in front of a Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen poster; a family group wear royal facemasks; but my favourite are the hand-knitted Queen and Duke of Edinburgh dolls.

The City of London (Square Mile) is home to fewer than 10,000 residents, but 340,000 people arrive to work on weekdays. In a room dominated by the Lord Mayor’s Coach (used annually in the Lord Mayor’s Show), these people are celebrated. First the coach, which is decorated with lions and dragons, cherubs representing Africa, Asia, America and Europe, tritons and a sheep.

Next, the workers – there are cycle couriers, taxi drivers, police officers, and emergency services. The safety helmet worn by a BT bridge engineer carrying out emergency repair work after the 1993 IRA bombing is a touching exhibit. There are traders, accountants, lawyers, cleaners, teachers and pupils – there’s one primary school and three independent schools in the district. There are gardeners, construction workers, messengers, sandwich-makers, clerics, personal trainers, beauticians, and waiters – all making up the professions of this city community.

Architecture models reveal the changing face of the cityscape – St Paul’s Cathedral (1710); The Houses of Parliament (1840-1870); The London Eye (2000); The Gherkin (2004); The London Aquatic Centre (2017). It’s not all jolly – interpretive panels point out the economy suffered, the dock complex moved down-river, and riots broke out. Some artistic works focus on the dark side – History Painting (1993-4) by John Bartlett takes the poll tax riot as its subject, and Viaduct (1998) by Michael Johnson is a modern wasteland.
London Fields East - The Ghetto by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon
London Fields East – The Ghetto (1994) by Tom Hunter and James McKinnon is an eye-catching concept of deprivation. In the scale model of Ellingfort Road and London Lane in Hackney, photos and tiny furniture (bins and bicycles) form a dolls’ house squat. We can see through some windows into empty rooms; others are boarded up and pasted over with ironic advertising for products these tenants could never afford. London may be recovering financially but Capital Concerns reminds us the population is 7.5 million Londoners, and rising – a statistic that can cause serious complications.

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