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London and beyond

On Wednesday MR picked up 50 rolls of processed film from as far back as March 2018. Nightly, we have made our way through a chunk of the contact sheets – each grabbing one and following the frames from top left to bottom right, rotating the sheet as necessary. The studious silence is broken occasionally with ‘oh yeh, this’, ‘this one is great’, ‘where is this??!’. On reaching sheets end we swap. Read becomes unread becomes read. The stack is in no given order, transporting us from London to The Lakes to New York to Uluru, back to London, to Sydney, to Paris. After exhausting our memory store, we start packing.

In a kind of temporal tumble turn we’re projected into the past and then launched into an unknown future.

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Paimio Sanatorium

Thinking about the restorative quality of sunshine reminded me of the Paimio Sanatorium, completed in 1933, designed by Alvar Aalto and featuring sun terraces for tuberculosis patients. It was included in Living with Buildings, a particularly sensitive exhibition that explored the impact of architecture on wellbeing, at the Wellcome Collection last year.

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A sunshine state of mind

As I turned home on my regular loop walk this morning, I took up the invitation of a park bench drenched in sunshine and the soothing sonics of a nearby fountain. Eyes closed, ears full, it dawned on me that this was the first time I’d paused and truly rested in the last month.

Fixed to the bench a small brass plaque reads:

In memory of Pearl and Jack Attfield who lived in Lee Green and enjoyed this park for over 70 years.

In a month we’ll be gone from this place that has made a comfortable home for five years. I’m grateful that a modern lifetime isn’t confined to a sub 10km radius, but amidst the instability of this life on the move, I need more pauses.

Note to self: Sunshine is the cure (A lesson learned late in life – being raised in The Sunshine State, oblivious to the fact that sunshine wasn’t a given.)

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Reverie in l’Orangerie

Monet’s Water Lilies are one of very few works of art that have physically overwhelmed me on viewing. The life-sized canvases are entirely mesmerising, ‘no sky, no horizon, hardly any perspective or stable points of reference enabling the viewer to orient himself…’.

The first room in 1930 © Albert Harlingue / Roger-Viollet, via the Museum

The intimacy is heightened further by their 360 degree installation in the two sequential oval rooms of Musée de l’Orangerie. On entering the second room, we found ourselves entirely alone – due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The deserted room was an unexpected gift and truer to the artist’s original intent for the viewer:

Those with nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, and, to whoever entered it, the room would provide a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium.

Claude Monet, 1909

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Oudolf Field

We have wanted to visit Oudolf Field for awhile and last weekend made it happen. During lockdown we’d primed ourselves with Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, but nothing compares to the real thing.

The Oudolf Field is masterfully planted, taking into account colour, shape, texture and height to frame nature as both sculpture and theatrical performance. Time congeals in the garden, as if its entrance is a portal to an over-cranked film. Bodies parade in slow motion to find every vantage point and appreciate every contrast. The best part is that nature takes no pause. I look forward to returning in autumn, winter and spring.

Over the course of his gardening practice, Piet Oudolf has developed an informal, but intricately detailed, approach to planning. Colour and pattern, seemingly haphazard, enables an agility in application. His hand-drawn sketches are beautiful objects in their own right, appealing to any graphic designer that is seduced by intelligent, orderly systems.

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All change

No single word can accurately capture the strangeness of 2020. MR and I have been extremely fortunate that we have, in the scheme of things, been relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our jobs – and income – have remained unchanged, and we have a dedicated workspace at home each with a comfortable desk and chair. We have no children that require entertaining or educating, nor any elderly family living locally in need of care. We have had the privilege of access to food, physical space, face masks, hand sanitiser and soap, unlike a large proportion of the developing world.

Despite our privilege, I am weary. In January, scaffolding went up around the Victorian terrace next to ours, ahead of a major reconstruction which gutted the property and added a floor. Aside from two weeks in early April, due to government restrictions on non-essential work, the renovation has charged forward. Hammering, drilling, sanding, sawing, has been the soundtrack of the last six months meaning that almost all of my work video calls have required me muting and briefly unmuting my microphone to contribute to the conversation.

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