Mosaics for the Southbank and Jubilee Gardens

There was a limited amount of money after two world wars, so the buildings that characterize today’s Southbank have been constrained by austerity and a limited public purse. The key blocks are strong, minimalist, puritan and bold. The river runs alongside, like “bars of gold” when the sun catches it. There are some trees too, but precious few. The South London football team, Millwall, has a chant which goes: “No one loves us, and we don’t care,” which hints at the lack of self-love suffered by Britain’s national cultural institutions (perhaps a bit too much of Wellington’s modesty). The principle was inspirational: where war laid waste – to give birth to a festival; to allow individuals to judge for themselves the dangers of destruction, compared to the rewards of creativity. The neighbourhood remains adolescent and not fully formed. There is a suspicion that the stance of the cultural committees, charged with stewardship of our national culture, have, at times, been oblivious to the wider world and possible international opprobrium. The subtext is an inverted elitism: if we look dull, then fewer people will visit us, allowing the national culture to be exclusively enjoyed by the cognoscenti.
A balance will need to be struck. An attraction like the London Eye, open to all and looking elegant, attracts millions of visitors a year. The absence of cars from the river front walk, also points the way to how cities can be radically transformed through simple design decisions. How could the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery and the British Film Institute cope if they too became attractive to passers-by? Rather than threatening people with their edgy brutal minimalism! Evolution is the way forward. Change the environs, entrances and surface of the buildings to make them more attractive. Involve nature, plants, hanging gardens, artists and designers with the will and ability to civilize and decorate a post-war austerity décor. The original architect for the National Theatre, Denys Lasdun, emphasized how buildings once put up, always change. Somehow his ideas were lost and he was misrepresented by those who hid behind the cloak of a listed building, making their own lives simpler with the refrain: let’s keep it exactly the same.
Another British and Southbank tradition needs illumination: divide and rule. Those in power have taken to hiring the best international talent, to keep the natives down. Ignore the natives and bring in the distant one! Forget the people who worked alongside émigrés to make the Festival of Britain in 1951, and exclusively trawl the far seas for talent. Of course you will find much talent everywhere and let’s bring some here. But beware of the old imperial policy of keeping your boot on the neck of local genius, suppressing the vitality, creativity, imagination and commitment of the girl next door. As Natalie Bell, who runs the local Southbank Youth Forum (SE1 United) has long argued; if, as major cultural institutions and employers, you don’t engage with local youth in their neighbourhood, then they will engage with you in ways that you will find shocking.
Southbank Mosaics has chosen the location of the Southbank as a response to unfinished business – a lack of philanthropy to rescue or enhance the architecture and public space at the heart of London. Surrounded by major national and international businesses, the shabby nature of the public realm in the Southbank is testament to a lack of leadership and responsibility. Michael Lynch, who used to run Sydney Opera House before moving to the South Bank Centre in 2002, was stunned by the miserliness of the British establishment, compared to Sydney, where they were vying with each other to make their public space welcoming. Here, we have Jubilee Gardens, belatedly being given a make-over, after forty years of looking like an over-used football pitch, with litter and water-logged mud patch its face to the world. The best thing on the Southbank in recent years has been done by the graffiti artists, working underneath the South Bank Centre and along Leake Street.
Active citizens at Southbank Mosaics are working to bring character and detail to transform Jubilee Gardens into a memorable and significant space. The main development of the garden has been given to a Dutch company, West 8, who will do a splendid job, with the infrastructure. Rather comically their original idea was to include the White Cliffs of Dover as the main theme for the garden – a continental perspective perhaps. Southbank Mosaics however have taken a more partisan perspective and noticed the garden is called Jubilee, in respect of a local Queen, and have campaigned to represent her in Jubilee Gardens. Reflecting on the role of Queens in British history, a gathering theme emerges. Think of: Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II. The Queens stand head and shoulders above most of their male relatives. Linking with the Southbank’s tradition of concern for the welfare of women, the natives have also noticed that there is no public realm celebration of the Achievement of Women in Britain (or the world). Being internationalist by tradition this should be extended to Women of the World.
Wouldn’t this be a fine compliment to the characters represented in the sculptures of Parliament Square. By chance, all of them are men – obviously because the history of the world has been made by great men!!! By today’s standards several of them might well be indicted as war criminals. A balance can be provided, as events in Arabia denote: ordinary people are tired of strong men, and want respect, common decency and freedom in higher esteem. Once again, the Southbank can help redress this historic imbalance.
If we consider how public space is portioned in Britain, surely we can do better? Opulence is usually limited to enclosed and private space; where art works are in public they tend to be high up on plinths or elevated cornices, or behind patrolled rails, as if likely to be attacked or stolen. Public outdoor space, at ground level, is the preserve of corporate concrete slab companies. Meanwhile mental health deteriorates and pedestrians forget where they’ve been.
Southbank Mosaics is a small studio of artists and active citizens who are willing to take their time and give their imagination to transforming public space.

There was a limited amount of money after two world wars, so the buildings that characterize today’s Southbank have been constrained by austerity and a limited public purse. The key blocks are strong, minimalist, puritan and bold. The river runs alongside, like “bars of gold” when the sun catches it. There are some trees too, but precious few. The South London football team, Millwall, has a chant which goes: “No one loves us, and we don’t care,” which hints at the lack of self-love suffered by Britain’s national cultural institutions (perhaps a bit too much of Wellington’s modesty). The principle was inspirational: where war laid waste – to give birth to a festival; to allow individuals to judge for themselves the dangers of destruction, compared to the rewards of creativity. The neighbourhood remains adolescent and not fully formed. There is a suspicion that the stance of the cultural committees, charged with stewardship of our national culture, have, at times, been oblivious to the wider world and possible international opprobrium. The subtext is an inverted elitism: if we look dull, then fewer people will visit us, allowing the national culture to be exclusively enjoyed by the cognoscenti.
A balance will need to be struck. An attraction like the London Eye, open to all and looking elegant, attracts millions of visitors a year. The absence of cars from the river front walk, also points the way to how cities can be radically transformed through simple design decisions. How could the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery and the British Film Institute cope if they too became attractive to passers-by? Rather than threatening people with their edgy brutal minimalism! Evolution is the way forward. Change the environs, entrances and surface of the buildings to make them more attractive. Involve artists and designers with the will and ability to civilize and decorate a post-war austerity décor. The original architect for the National Theatre, Denys Lasdun, emphasized how buildings once put up, always change. Somehow his ideas were lost and he was misrepresented by those who hid behind the cloak of a listed building, making their own lives simpler with the refrain: let’s keep it exactly the same.
Another British and Southbank tradition needs illumination: divide and rule. Those in power have taken to hiring the best international talent, to keep the natives down. Ignore the natives and bring in the distant one! Forget the people who worked alongside émigrés to make the Festival of Britain in 1951, and exclusively trawl the far seas for talent. Of course you will find much talent everywhere and let’s bring some here. But beware of the old imperial policy of keeping your boot on the neck of local genius, suppressing the vitality, creativity, imagination and commitment of the girl next door. As Natalie Bell, who runs the local Southbank Youth Forum (SE1 United) has long argued; if, as major cultural institutions and employers, you don’t engage with local youth in their neighbourhood, then they will engage with you in ways that you will find shocking.
Southbank Mosaics has chosen the location of the Southbank as a response to unfinished business – a lack of philanthropy to rescue or enhance the architecture and public space at the heart of London. Surrounded by major national and international businesses, the shabby nature of the public realm in the Southbank is testament to a lack of leadership and responsibility. Michael Lynch, who used to run Sydney Opera House before moving to the South Bank Centre in 2002, was stunned by the miserliness of the British establishment, compared to Sydney, where they were vying with each other to make their public space welcoming. Here, we have Jubilee Gardens, belatedly being given a make-over, after forty years of looking like an over-used football pitch, with litter and water-logged mud patch its face to the world. The best thing on the Southbank in recent years has been done by the graffiti artists, working underneath the South Bank Centre and along Leake Street.
Active citizens at Southbank Mosaics are working to bring character and detail to transform Jubilee Gardens into a memorable and significant space. The main development of the garden has been given to a Dutch company, West 8, who will do a splendid job, with the infrastructure. Rather comically their original idea was to include the White Cliffs of Dover as the main theme for the garden – a continental perspective perhaps. Southbank Mosaics however have taken a more partisan perspective and noticed the garden is called Jubilee, in respect of a local Queen, and have campaigned to represent her in Jubilee Gardens. Reflecting on the role of Queens in British history, a gathering theme emerges. Think of: Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II. The Queens stand head and shoulders above most of their male relatives. Linking with the Southbank’s tradition of concern for the welfare of women, the natives have also noticed that there is no public realm celebration of the Achievement of Women in Britain (or the world). Being internationalist by tradition this should be extended to Women of the World.
Wouldn’t this be a fine compliment to the characters represented in the sculptures of Parliament Square. By chance, all of them are men – obviously because the history of the world has been made by great men. By today’s standards several of them might well be indicted as war criminals. A balance can be provided, as events in Arabia denote that ordinary people are tired of strong men, and hold respect, common decency and freedom in higher esteem. Once again, the Southbank can help redress this historic imbalance.
If we consider how public space is portioned in Britain, surely we can do better? Opulence is usually limited to enclosed and private space; where art works are in public they tend to be high up on plinths or elevated cornices, or behind patrolled rails, as if likely to be attacked or stolen. Public outdoor space, at ground level, is the preserve of corporate concrete slab companies. Meanwhile mental health deteriorates and pedestrians forget where they’ve been.
Southbank Mosaics is a small studio of artists and active citizens who are willing to take their time and give their imagination to transforming public space.

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