Last Monday I decided to venture into town. Camden Town to be precise. I had recently come across the artist Andrzej Maria Borkowski and bought one of his pictures for my husband for his namesday and was intrigued when I discovered he was exhibiting his sculptures in a small gallery in North London.
So I thought I would take a look. I duly applied for my ticket on Eventbrite, printed it off and set off for the wilds of North London. We are in the middle of a pandemic so I put on my thickest mask, my latex gloves, a nice dress – I was seeing my daughter later – my book in my bag, and off I went. The journey did not look too complicated – I’m a Londoner after all, and I had the address; the weather was nice and I was excited to be going somewhere different.
I reached Camden Town station without mishap. I had to change places in the tube once or twice as people had their noses on the wrong side of their masks, but I enjoyed my book in peace. I got out of the station, blinking in the sunlight like a hibernating mole, and immediately lost my bearings. I looked at the map and could make neither head nor tail of it. Orienteering is not one of my skills. But, I do speak English, I can make myself understood with the indigenous population, I understand what is said to me. So I approached a community policeman outside the station. He was very helpful: he looked on his phone, and sent me in a certain direction, telling me exactly how far I should go, where I should turn, etc etc. I followed his instructions to the letter. I passed some fascinating ghost signs, some interesting architecture and some friendly looking cafes and pubs. By this time I was about twenty minutes late for my time slot, yet the weather was beautiful and I am nothing if not intrepid.
I asked a young woman who was passing for the street I was looking for. Oh, I used to live here, she said. I know the name… she looked around her vaguely… I know it’s near here. Well, so did I, but I just didn’t know which way. I kept on going, having thanked her profusely for her helpfulness. I walked and I walked and suddenly I found myself on the right street. I passed some incredible street art of Amy Winehouse
and then I began to look for the number.
I was looking for number 134 Camden Street. Should be simple enough. I got to number 132 and then the numbers ran out.This was on one of the walls of the end house, though.
I crossed the road. I peered into alleyways. I approached a man with green hair who looked as if he should know where he is – but no – he at least admitted he hadnt a clue. and then another brainwave. I would telephone and find out. I did – only to be told that the owner of the gallery and the curator of the exhibition had given up waiting for me and had gone for a walk with her dog. Luckily she wasn’t far away. When we actually met this beautiful smiley woman and her rather over enthusiastic dog pointed out the error of my ways. I had been looking for the wrong number. Why I hadn’t checked on the ticket I do not know. I was exhausted by then, and not even certain she would let me in. To number 132.
But she did. Up several flights of stairs. She led me into an enchanting flat and left me for a minute while she gave her dog a quick bath – he was rather pungent, it has to be admitted – where had he been wallowing?
The gallery – exhibition – I had come to see was to the side of her flat. As I waited in her living room I was delighted. The minute the titles of the books on her shelves leapt out at me – A Dance to the Music of Time was the first – I knew we were kindred spirits. The shelves were covered in books, the sideboards in little sculptures, found objects, creations everywhere – perfection as far as I am concerned, and the light in the little anteroom to the gallery was gorgeous.
And then she led me into the gallery itself. It was very small, but so inspiring. She told me that the work on display was by three people Andrzej Maria Borkowski, Julia Maddison and herself, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas. She told me that she had insisted that they brought her the stuff and that she would curate it herself. Which she did. Very theatrically – a bit like the back of a stage set or maybe the front. I was absolutely entranced by it. All the objects were small, (just as well as the gallery space is 6 metres by three, more or less) mainly made out of paper and papier mache, with a few found objects thrown in for good measure. The way they were set out all told different stories. You could look at each individual thing separately and then at the objects surrounding them and like in a kaleidescope the total image and story would change. There was no indication which object was made by which artist. But the juxtapositions worked so well. Natalia did at the end show me an index of the works and mostly I had guessed correctly. But that wasn’t important for this show.
While looking at the pieces I became very nostalgic for when I used to teach in Cambridge School. I used to take the children to various art galleries whenever I could, and Tate Modern was the most popular one. We used to look at the artworks in small groups and I would ask the children to tell me the stories they thought of as they looked at the pictures. Patrick Caulfield’s After Lunch was one which always provoked a lat of thoughtful talk – to the extent that one day I found that the girl who was expounding on the images had drawn quite an audience in the gallery, raptly listening so as not to stop her in full flow. So, this little exhibition brought all this back to me.
Simplicity yet profound sophistication.
This was one of the most poignant pieces. Apparently the white arm is a found object from Italy. The two pieces change position from time to time. The barbed wire bed was a later addition. i couldn’t stop looking at it. So many connotations were running through my mind when I first saw it and even now the words come rushing at me.
You can see me here. This playful collection was eminently touchable, not that I dared to move the pieces around myself
These disembodied hands to me invoke the supplicancy and power of prayer….
This little ladder of found and remade objects was again something that held my attention for a long time.
I loved this little exhibition – it was very moving in so many ways. it also made me feel quite inspired, which hasn’t happened in quite a while. So thank you, Natalia, Julie and Andrzej.
As I prepared to leave I asked Natalia about the best way to get to the station. It was a three minute walk. I tried to get a bus. The driver laughed at me!