‘Here?!… Errr, are you sure?!’
’44 Great Russell Street! Yes! This. Is. It!’ I exclaimed, eyeing-up my destination with unadulterated glee, whilst my, ex-policeman, driver suspiciously cased the joint, with entirely less enthusiasm… Pupils darting from dash-to-doorway, he confirmed the number and wished me a, no less quizzical, ‘Have a nice day?!’, as I sent a sunshine smile his way… Nothing was going to rain on this parade… Neither an unconvinced driver, nor the inference of imminent precipitation from the indecisive clouds above!
One man’s doubt was my wonderment!
To me, this crumbling Georgian townhouse in the centre of London, was the architectural embodiment of a stroppy teen. Unkempt, undone…. As if it had just rolled out of bed, to be faced by early-visiting relatives… whilst utterly overshadowed by its beyond-presentable, elder sibling opposite, in the guise of The British Museum! In this case, considering myself the ‘cool Aunt’, who sees beyond the skin-deep, I sought to get to know the narrative behind the edgy, yet dishevelled styling of this work-in-progress…
No sooner thought, than materialised Maria, Gaby (and later, Emily), of Plinth UK, part of the four-strong collaboration (including ‘Photo London’, ‘Sedition’ and ‘Thames and Hudson’), presenting this on-edge edifice for its imminent launch, that evening, as ‘The Magnum Home’…. a boldly inventive, site-specific, multi-media presentation of ‘Magnum Photography’ and interior design installation, as curated by Cultural Polymath, Ekow Eshun and Artist extraordinaire, Yinka Ilori, respectively.
As I was to learn, there would be a lot to celebrate… What with Magnum celebrating its 70th anniversary, a range of complementary, unique merchandise and a Thames and Hudson publication to fête…there would, in addition, be the sheer triumph in overcoming the feat of transforming this shell and nurturing the angst-ridden, adolescent assembly into an absolute must-see, Magnum Home-of-a-house-party!
This was my idea of pre-private-view perfection!
My diehard loyalty to experiencing the behind-the-scenes process, in search of the sneak-peek pieces of the progress-report were, as ever, fuelling my creative engines… Such anecdotes as the microscopic attention-to-detail with which Ilori approached his responses to the photography, which co-curator, Eshun, had ‘trawled’* through, were captivating. From conceptualising the ‘Venice Beach Room’ in lengths of lofted, multi-coloured Dalston drapery and matching beach umbrellas, to upcycled deckchairs with bespoke Aburi fabric, designed by Eva Sonaike, the primary relationship between hues, not only juxtaposed the stark black-and-white series by David Hurn, but further, seemed to pull the emotional richness and spirit from each image, rendering the substance alive within the space. Having drawn the eye up through soft-furnishing treatments, the skylight reconnected me to the sun (not rain!), and as swathes of rays came flooding in, I was immersed further into the West-Coast world of ‘Perfect 10’, bikini-clad babes and bicep-curling bodies, some on-the-cusp of ‘Muscle Beach’ glory… others not! Yukka plants further guided my eyes down to a floor which had not been ignored….quite literally inscribed with a single series of lines, as to invoke the boardwalk and roads, which, to me, mirrored the plethora of teen human traffic, waiting to flirt their afternoons away, before finishing or, moreover, starting their homework! The youthful need to be centre-of-attention, was represented by a bold block of blue, upon the courtyard wall. Definitely flashy… almost gaudy, it is accompanied by a bench, in-turn, supported by sherbet-lemon yellow barrels, embellished in pen-and-ink, utilising Ilori’s idiosyncratic flourish….the prime position for a selfie-centred shot!
The Plinth ethos of integrating art and design in an authentic and multi-accessible way would spiral upwards through the house, which, with every step of my expertly-guided tour, was transforming into an ever-increasingly, thought-provoking, home. Eshun’s awareness of the ‘danger of romanticising youth culture’** was compressed into a finely-assorted array of photographs, acutely dissecting its rollercoaster-like dichotomies…. From the chilling portrayal of political ambition of the next-gen UKIP candidates, being displayed, disconcertingly prom-style, ascending the staircase… and the extreme anger captured through the monochromatic lens of Ian Berry, in the stiflingly small ‘Skinhead Room’, to the feisty ode to West Midlands glamour on a gregarious night out and the high-octane Harrow Boys, flanked by disapproving parental looks, which formed Martin Parr’s collection, the visceral intensity of the ‘pack tendency’ was, at once, hard-hitting and eye-opening.
Chris Steele-Perkins, meanwhile, packed a punch with a room that visually soliloquises the group aesthetic, through the viewfinder of the Black diaspora… Encapsulating the joy of the dancehall days, through ‘Disco’, the larger-than-life print, mirroring the flamboyant females who’ve taken-to-the-floor… holding court up-high, whilst mid-twist and bowing down-low, in almost reverential catharsis! Not to be outdone, a portrait sits above the mantelpiece… pride-of-place, as if to suggest the ‘number one son’… Staring, quietly confident, through a crown of cascading dreadlocks, the unframed persona showcases effortless style and profound substance. This palpable freedom threw me back to Parr’s Harrovians, whose hyperactivity, although captured in a full-bleed palette, is being contained by the use of solid frames…which, to me, spoke to the hovering constraint of tradition.
In the ‘East-Coast Room’, such tacit messages would continue to register via the compelling works of Ferdinando Scianna and Eve Arnold. Surrounded by images in New York subway trains, you are with the people…. watched over by ‘The Guardian Angels’ at one end and an extreme close-up of a fellow male passenger at the other… hanging off the ceiling handles and leaning into the lens, as if he were about to kiss you on the cheek! The sense of belonging, as witnessed in one group, is beautifully contrasted by the sensibility of developing flirtatious assertiveness…
By the time you reach ‘Cuba’ (a.k.a ‘The Isle of Youth’) on the top floor, creaking floorboards and dust-clouds give way to full-blown ‘amor’! Entering through a heavily-beaded, rust-hued curtain, an amalgamation of its dynamism and passion are symbolised texturally, through woven textiles, tonally, through clashing fabric patterns and sonically, (during the evening viewing), with booming Cuban-heel-tapping basslines! A visually vociferous canon of calorific attraction by Michael Christopher Brown, are pinned-up, like teen idol posters, devouring the den walls… The hours poured into Instagram research into the country, conducted by Ilori, have certainly paid off!
Absorbing the greatness on offer left me full-to-bursting… and returning to the start of my journey I was carried, three-sixty, from the hot Tropics, back to the ‘Club Tropicana’-vibe of Venice Beach… More enthused than ever, I was also left anticipating the night ahead… which promised much and, due to teamwork-making-the-dream-work, completely over-delivered, in every way imaginable!
‘The Magnum Home’ is a thunderous meteor amidst the ‘Photo London’ firmament… ‘Just Kids’, a free, all-encompassing, once-in-a-lifetime rendition of the thrills and spills of youth lifestyle… Its masterful curation distils the ‘white cube’ experience, by expanding it into an, unintimidating, tangible environment with which we can endlessly relate, namely, ‘home’. ‘Barbie Dream-Home’ it is not, but its raw and undercooked state segues seamlessly into the very nature of the young, rough-diamond within us all and with interactive events and tours set to run through Sunday, who knows what unearthed potential you might discover?!
©A_F_R_O_W2017 All Rights Reserved.
*Ekow Eshun: @EkowEshun (Twitter: 16/05/2017) ~ **Ekow Eshun: P.V Q & A (‘The Magnum Home’ 16/05/2017)
Congratulations and warmest Afrow-appreciation to ‘Team Plinth’ for such an amazing time…with special mention to Maria, Gaby and Emily for being the most illuminating tour-guides…and Team VERNISSAGE__ for the Blogger recommendation!