The London Pleasure Gardens are an oasis of culture perfectly set in a desolate industrial complex of warehouses. From within the complex visitors can see the newly erected Emirates Airline (Thames Cable Car) in the distance, elegantly cutting through the skyline and surrounded by a beautiful display of urban decay that the City of London is coming to embrace. This space holds a great deal of potential as the first weekend of events took the fringes of London by storm. It is a place where art and festival meet, families and trendies can mingle and relax, while music floats on a summery breeze.
Finding the location of the Pleasure Gardens is part of the enjoyment visitors have when going to events. The Gardens are a short walking distance from Pontoon Docks on the DLR. Before even arriving at the venue guests are treated to stunning views of the developing area in and around Greenwich and Limehouse. At Paradise Gardens, during the first weekend of events, several guests commented that the area around Limehouse has nothing (yet), but something special is happening around the Royal Victoria Docks. Several others compared this first weekend to the beginnings of Shangri-la at Glastonbury ten years ago. It is true, things are happening and a lot has already happened this weekend to ensure the future of events at Pleasure Gardens.
Before visitors even enter the space circus style welcoming signs present themselves. Many of them vibrantly decorated, and provoking the child in everyone. The only thing to be seen from the entrance points largely are the signs and the tops of mechanical and metallic wonders that lay in store just beyond the walled entrance. The Paradise Garden event which took place over the past weekend proved to be busiest on Saturday when the weather was amiable and people could enjoy spending some of their recently received pay cheques on a few drinks and time with the family. In relation to families, the general atmosphere was very accommodating for all ages. The organizers made sure that specific areas of the vast location were allocated for children. There was a section with carnival and circus rides including a small ferris wheel to enjoy. In keeping with the idea that this was a festival in support of the arts, the pieces installed also catered to the family agenda. Many of the pieces were interactive and provided an opportunity for children and grown children alike to climb, jump and generally play together. Very few venues encourage this type of interaction and it was refreshing to see families enjoying all of this together.
Each part of the venue space is transportive. The entire complex is not enormous as other events and festivals can be. The Pleasure Gardens are intimately organized with just enough space to accommodate music tents and a small selection of drink and food stalls. There is no need for anyone to worry about trekking for loos or wandering around in search of another exhibition or musical act, everything is accommodating in a minimalistic sense. For someone looking to sample every cuisine known to man kind, this is not the place. Perhaps over time there is a chance for that to expand, during this past weekend there were a couple of Caribbean food stalls between a Mexican wrap, and noodle vendor. Prices were more than reasonable and just enough to fill guests up and keeping them wandering around to see a flourishing number of events and installations.
Shepard Fairey and Ron English drew a crowd this weekend despite the ominous clouds and occasional showers. Shepard Fairey, the American street artist responsible for the “Hope” posters of Barack Obama used during his election campaign, created his largest mural in the UK at the weekend events. The scale of the piece, measuring 249ft tall can easily be spotted from inside the Pleasure Gardens complex. It replicates a vintage style billboard that encourages ‘freedom of speech and expression’ according to the artist. The piece is located across the complex from the main entrance and occupies the entire side of a magnificently dilapidated warehouse. Fairey included as part of the piece a cheeky “Obey” face for which the artist has gained fame and cult status. Ron English also created a piece, closely located to Fairey’s work, developing the exterior of an airplane cockpit into a collection of spech bubbles. English works with pop surrealism, and is known for shifting the street art movement away from words incorporating full-scale trompe l’oeil works. While all of these pieces are fantastic, the Pleasure Gardens has stripped the very foundation of street art from the pieces of those artists and a few others away from their visitors. The pieces by Fairey, English along with Risk and members from the artist collective TrustoCorp., appear totally inaccessible. From the visitors perspective the pieces may as well be contained within a gallery, somewhere near Mayfair. They have all been placed across from the water feature on what feels like a manmade island of artistic isolation. In one sense, seeing these pieces on a deserted island that houses a maddening industrial warehouse is a beautiful and surreal sight in itself. At the same time guests can not help but feel disconnected, being forced to admire from a distance. This is in direct contradiction to the atmosphere of the rest of the pieces on display. The piece “We Wanted to Be The Sky” by Tim Etchells, elegantly speaking in a very matter of fact manner, is located within the complex where people can mingle around and gaze up only a matter of steps away from the piece. That is the same as well for Sam Haggerty’s “The Gettysburg Horses” which valiantly in all their horror greet guests with power and force immediately upon entering the Garden’s space. Haggerty’s works have previously been on display at the Royal Academy of Art yet here they are amongst the people, to be explored on a personal level. It is disheartening to see the pieces by Fairey and English so removed and alienated from the rest of the pieces. It can only be hoped that this is for aesthetic purposes which have been discussed rather than as a way to form elitism among the works displayed.
The Pleasure Gardens amaze and astound anyone who visits them. They are truly an artistic eden just a short distance outside of the bustling city. It is meant to exist as a permanent space that is constantly evolving. They have more than accomplished the amazing task of balancing art and music. It’s more than a festival and is gearing up for more twisted, bizarre, and wonderful events on the horizon.
Words /Image by: Portia Pettersen © Artlyst 2012