Hooray! The scaffolding is down and we can see the Brutalist façade on 180 Strand, London (formerly Arundel Great Court), now cleaned up, looking as it did in the 1970′s when it was the new kid on the block, designs by architects Frederick Gibberd & Partners. The south half facing the River Thames has disappeared for a new development, which is all to the good for it was the long unforgiving façades running down between the Strand and the Thames that were the major downsides of the original scheme. Sadly, the original courtyard at its heart, planned as a new public space, was closed off long ago but, when complete, we will have a new street across the site. 180 Strand looks far better at only half its size.
Work is not complete. If you look up, the builders are still busy at the rooftop levels as the transformation of 180 Strand from tired office block to multi-media arts centre for the 21st century continues.
There is a slight feel about a night club as you enter the current exhibition, with two entrances, one down a service road into a mysterious basement; the other a discrete small door on the Strand which, at busy times, has queues snaking round the corner, as if waiting for a nightclub to open – reminiscent of Heaven ten minutes away at Charing Cross. Not to be missed, The Store X and Vinyl Factory take you down dark corridors on a multi-media adventure through the spaces of the old building in ‘Other Spaces’ and ‘TRANSFORMER – A Rebirth of Wonder’. This title could refer as much to the building and its transformation as the exhibition itself.
Off the Strand are three stunning works in ‘Other Spaces’ displayed in conjunction with Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain by United Visual Artists (UVA) which bridge science, art, performance, music, technology, time and space – these are the highlights in which visitors immerse themselves for long periods to gain the full experience of the works.
Down in the bowels of the building, you go on an adventure through dark corridors that burst out into spaces with different experiences created by twelve artists. As you walk down the grimy utilitarian ramp, uncertain where you are going and what is ahead, Evan Ifekoya immerses you in a sound bath, through which you leave the London world of 2019 outside and prepare yourself for the adventure ahead. The atmosphere of the nightclub continues in Lawrence Lek’s imaginary subterranean nightclub of the future connecting the nearby Temple tube station to 180 Strand – perhaps this would be a good use for the disused Strand/Aldwych underground station opposite – while Chen Wei transports you back to the nightclub scene of 1990′s China – a symbol of ‘freedom, empathy and enlightenment’ and Evan Ifekoya returns later with a calming place of recovery, of changing colour and of meditation. What is a nightclub if it is not a place of transformation where you leave the cares of the world outside and release your inner self in the music, lights and gyrations of this temporary imaginary world? Harley Weir & George Rouy have filled what must be one of the most unusual art spaces in Londonwith their camera-less photographs – the former safe protected by an immense thick steel Chubb safe door. What was kept in here in the days when it was an office block – was it irreplaceable archives to be protected at all cost if the building burnt down (which today would be stored in the cloud) or was it the Chairman’s wine cellar?
These and other artists including Donna Huanca, Doug Aitken, Quentin Lacombe, Dozie Kanu and Sophie Al-Maria & Victoria Sin take you backwards into the past and forwards into the future, leaving you with one question – if our lives have been turned upside down since the first mobile phone call by Martin Cooper in 1973 (shown by Doug Aiken), how will they be transformed into the future as new technologies continue to appear? After the exhibition, catch the tube from the nearby Temple station and look at the passengers – most of them will be busy on a mobile device – 50 years ago they would have all been reading a newspaper or book. What will they be doing in 50 years time?
‘Art allows you to access worlds that aren’t your own’.