Pick of the Line 08/11 – 14/11

Culture Choice

The Balfron Project, Thursday 18th November

Photo: Nico Hogg

It took two years for Ai Weiwei’s team to hand paint 100 million imitation sunflower seeds for the Tate, eventually carpeting Turbine Hall in a pebbly sea of porcelain. Unfortunately, it only took the stroke of a pen from one health and safety official to render the whole thing rather pointless. Weiwei’s exhibition may have been deemed so dusty it had to be roped off from our delicate lungs, but there’s still plenty of art going on out there that you can fully engage with. This Thursday in Poplar you might have the chance to do just that, as the Balfron Estate is to be the subject of an ambitious photoshoot by artist Simon Terrill.

Residents of the tower block are invited to pose for Terrill in an expansive project aiming to capture the entire building in one shot. Taking to their balconies, the tenants are encouraged to pose however they wish, expressing themselves against the stark, New Brutalist architecture of their homes. It’s easy to forget that this imposing building is home to dozens upon dozens of families (including the artist himself), but Terrill’s proposal promises a depth and context that could demystify the harsh exterior.

The concept reminds me a little of Spencer Tunick’s urban work, though thankfully without the need for mid-November nudity. Terrill has a transformative emphasis though, debunking the traditionally gritty image of the estate and allowing the residents the opportunity to present it however they wish. It’s a celebration of a different kind, and one well worth taking part in. Most places are reserved for residents, though there is space on the forecourt for anyone interested.

Book your place, via the website.

Best of the Rest

If only Hoxton Station looked like this...

Wandering merry-eyed through Hoxton Overground station late last Thursday night, I was surprised to hear that the building had been shortlisted in the 2010 Hackney Design Awards. Not that the building is awful, or that I don’t like a refurbished brick arch as much as the next man, but the whole thing is just a little…bleh. Standard materials, standard Overground branding. No extra flair, no seeming deviation from the orange against brick against steel that we see up and down the line. In a word, bleh.

Happily, while waiting outside for a friend, I caught a glimpse through a door just up the street. A door that turned out to be the door of Arch 402 Gallery, and led to a much more interesting set of walls, adorned as they were with the art of Aldo Cristofaro.

A series of large and small canvases, Cristofaro’s paintings are a welcome respite from the blanching impulse of public spaces. With colour foregrounded and given license to become a language unto itself, these remarkably tonal paintings require a degree of attention, forcing the imagination to decipher the riotous constructions on show. The colour seems frozen to the canvas, but also possessed of a watchful movement, as if just waiting for you to turn your back. There are connotations of captured music, but I saw these paintings more as junkyard visions through a kaleidoscope, where beauty is raised from the most mundane of precepts.

For my money, we should hand Cristofaro a brush and let him have a bash at Hoxton station. At the very least, it would’ve stopped me falling asleep on the platform. Failing that, you should at least get down there and show him some love; if nothing else, the banality of the train ride will act as a palate cleanser.

Aldo Cristofaro – Zirkus Royale, runs at the Arch 402 gallery on Cremer St, E2 8 HD, until November 24th. Arch 402 is open Tuesday – Friday, 11-6.

Test your wits at the Star

Your Quiz

The Star of Bethnal Green

Every Tuesday at 8pm

The Star of Bethnal Green plays host to a quiz night every Tuesday, offering food, drinks and a perfectly relaxed atmosphere. The whole night is pitched perfectly, as the weekend fades in the blurry-to-begin-with past, and hump day looms before us. The pub is comfortable, and the quiz draws in a good crowd through the lure of cash prizes. In fact the crowd is so good that seating is limited, so I’d recommend getting there early.

At two pound per person, the quiz is a value-for-money seven rounds long, over two hours. The rounds themselves are themed, and actually quite inventive, on top of being well paced and engaging. In the movie round, for example, you had to guess the film based on a quote, except the quotes were bleated out through the lilting sing-song of a computerised voice. “U-cann-OT-han-DELL-the-Troooth.” The music round was ‘guess the song’, equipped only with snippets of the karaoke, lyric-less versions.

I got the impression it has a bit of a cult following, with the quizmaster greeting a good few of the tables with good-natured familiarity. If there was one flaw on the night though, it’s that the rivalry that could be fostered between regular teams isn’t exploited. The quiz simply starts, rattles along and ends. Audience interaction is minimal. There were prizes, for example, for funniest team names; but none were read out at the beginning, which struck me as a bit of a missed opportunity.

That said, the night was one of the most well-considered quizzes I’ve been to, swinging from questions that were wonderfully obscure, to obvious but fun in the asking. The crowd’s engagement was obvious, both in the atmosphere and the high scores at the end. If any team with me on it can score thirty and a half out of thirty-five, and only narrowly miss out on the rolling cash prize, you know you’ve found a quiz worth going back to.

Your Pub Quiz runs on Tuesdays at 8pm, in the Star of Bethnal Green, 359 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 6LG. Phone: 020 7729 0167.

Venue Choice

Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

The not-so-famous Hackney Rabbit

An odd one. The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is a run-down, pie and mash, ash-in-the-carpet type of place. Yet there’s always a price on the door, and when I was last there they had no beer on draught but there were bottles of champagne for fifty quid an over-priced pop. So is it worth it?

Happily, yes. Contradictions such as these are at the heart of BGWMC, a self-styled East End party house that walks the thin line between irony and idiocy, and does it rather well. The venue wears its history on its sleeve, but stitches it in with some great ideas and a bucket load of initiative. The nights range from arts and crafts love-ins, to news-obsessed panel events, to cabaret, film screenings and an eclectic hand in music that should suit all (ok, most) tastes.

Live acts and shows are usually the order of the day, and help to make an evening at the Workers a unique experience. Be aware that there’s an open mic policy at times, so the quality goes up and down. Of course it goes without saying you should respect the live acts, but don’t rely on them; you may need to make your own entertainment.

That’s not to say you’d be better off at home though. There’s a genuine camaraderie in the place that is admirable as the niche nights command a loyal following. At times it even feels like a cross between Shortbus and Byker Grove. Indeed, this is a venue that plays heavily on performance, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to pretension. It can be jarring at first, you might wonder if these are just bourgeois-born kids acting out class fantasies. At the end of the day though, working men just wanna have fun.

The only thing that might let you down are your own preconceptions. It’s often inventive, interactive, contradictory and club-housey. Let your guard down. You might love it.

Bethnal Green Working Men’s is located at 42-44 Pollard Row, London E2 6NB. Check out their website for various events,  or phone 0207 739 7170.

Bunch of Misfits

Staying In?

Misfits Series Two, E4

If you’re still weary from smashing up the Tory HQ yesterday, why not settle down with a nice cup of Horlicks and tune in to the return of Misfits, E4’s fantastic comedy sci-fi.

If you missed the first series, it centres on a group of young offenders serving out their community service, sentenced to perform menial, mindless tasks for their misdemeanours. Mops in hand, a freak storm stirs up out of nowhere, the anti-heroes are struck by lightning and develop miraculous superpowers. Kind of like how criminals in prison learn lots of new tricks, except some of these kids can now bend the fabric of time.

Series one was ridiculously entertaining, as well as proving that you can put a local spin on universal sci-fi themes. Think Charlie Brooker’s excellent Dead Set, with perhaps a little bit of Skins in there too. That is, if Skins had been bitten by a radioactive spider that stopped it being so middle class and self-satisfied. Series Two looks equally set to dazzle, as these heroes with ASBOs face up to the new lives taking shape around them. Kick back, put the kids on the kettle, and embrace the high-flying profanity.

Misfits Series Two starts tonight on E4 at 10pm.

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