Monday, July 18, 2005

Playing house

Saturday began with a leisurely flick through the papers and delicious huevos rancheros (eggs, salsa and black beans on tortillas) in a packed and sunny Giraffe on Essex Road in Islington. Our fellow diners included The Fast Show's Paul Whitehouse and his two daughters, and the lead singer from Ash Tim Wheeler!

Stuffed and satisfied, we went into town and viewed Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija's installation of his New York apartment -- a fourth-floor walk-up in the East Village -- at the Serpentine, complete with DVD and couch in the lounge and fridge filled with food in the kitchen.

Tiravanija is known for reconstructing existing spaces, such as architect Rudolf Schindler's house in Los Angeles and Philip Johnson's Glass House. This full-scale, fully-functioning, plywood-constructed re-creation of his New York home is Tiravanija's first solo exhibition in the UK.

Visitors are encouraged to inhabit (but only during the gallery's opening hours) any part of the apartment as if it was their own -- from using the toilet and crashing out on Tiravanija's replica couch to fast-forwarding through the movie Last Life In The Universe on the DVD and making a cup of tea in the kitchen.

I was disheartened, however, that the gallery's staff had monopolised most of the space -- sitting at the table chatting to their friends in the kitchen, for example, or lying under the covers of the bed. I was tempted to flick through a discarded copy of gossip magazine Closer in the kitchen, but feeling the beady eyes of a Serpentiner scrutinising me from behind the book she was reading there, I felt intimidated and fled!

Tiravanija's intention is to blur the established boundaries between artists and institutions, art and its public (he's been known to cook curries in galleries and throw parties instead of exhibitions) in the now-cliched concept of the "democratisation of art". But my experience on Saturday was perhaps not the open-house, free-for-all, public usage of gallery space the artist had intended.

A little disappointed, we strolled out into Hyde Park with mint choc ice creams dripping down our arms, flopped down on the grass and spent the rest of the day reading and planning our upcoming three-week trip to Thailand.

As the sun sunk lower into the horizon I was a little reluctant to leave my chilled little oasis, but we had booked theatre tickets and arranged to meet a friend, so off we went to Dalston in East London. We grabbed a yummy dinner of chicken shish kebabs and salad at Mangal Ocakbasi on Arcola Street then crossed the road to the Arcola Theatre and their five staged stories of Carver.

I've never read a Raymond Carver story but the Arcola's production has really made me want to read his unpretentious and minimalist tales of small-town banalities and mundane lives: In Put Yourself in My Shoes, set during the season of goodwill, a writer and his wife visit an elderly couple who turn out to be harbouring a petty grudge against them; in Cathedral, a couch potato husband grows to like the stimulating blind man his wife has, against his wishes, invited over to dinner; in Fat, a waitress warms to the obese man she is serving; in What's in Alaska? two couples smoke pot together as sexual and marital tensions mount almost imperceptibly; during Intimacy, a woman verbally lashes out at her ex-husband when he pops in on her during his business trip.

The only thing that marred my enjoyment was the stuffy heat in the theatre that was, at one point, so unbearable for me that it took all my concentration to will myself not to walk out in the middle of a scene.

It's on until August 06 and I urge you to see it, but take a fan.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a quick drink in the theatre's cafe-bar -- still bearing traces of its carpet factory origins -- before heading home.

Sunday was a lazy day. We spent most of it reading the Sunday papers at home, drinking coffee and eating cream cheese and fig jam bagels. Suffering from cabin fever by the end of the afternoon, we walked through Crouch End, dreaming of the houses there we would love to live in, and ended up in Banners -- a cafe and bar covered with old punk posters and motor racing handbills that is owned by radio DJ and world music aficionado Andy Kershaw and which has been visited by Bob Dylan. There, I drank a strawberry icecream and lemonade float, or, as Banners affectionately calls it, a Pink Pig. Hadn't had an icecream float since childhood, so this was a real treat.

At the Khoai Café by the Clocktower, we ate a wonderful Vietnamese dinner of white fish in tamarind sauce, beef stir-fried in chilli and lemongrass sauce, and mixed vegetables, followed by pistachio icecream and glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice at my favourite Antepilier back on Green Lanes.

Then home to watch Wong Kar-Wai's Days Of Being Wild on DVD, which I first and last saw in October, and cool off with tall glasses of iced green tea.

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