There is so much more to the Southbank than the (overrated) London Eye. The Southbank Centre is a often just a place that people just pass through in order to get to the more “interesting” tourist places (I give special dispensation for the Tate Modern!). For those in the know, the Southbank actually has a lot of cool stuff going on.
I’ve only written about the place once, when I went to visit the Southbank Christmas market, so I made an extra special trip to the Southbank’s Festival of Love this past weekend. The Southbank Centre often has free festivals and events on to make use of their amazing space and location. (Visitor’s tip: head up to the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall building for a gorgeous view over the Thames):
The theme is LOVE can change the world and they’ve invited artists and communities to come together to celebrate the passing of the Same Sex Couples Marriage Act.
The festival is centered around seven of the most relevent words the Ancient Greeks used to describe love: Eros (romantic and erotic love), Storge (family love), Ludus (flirting, playful affection), Agape (love of humanity), Philautia (self-respect), Philia (shared experience), Pragma (love which endures). Inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer you can find out What Love Is.
The installation has 7 pillars explaining the different types of love with examples and videos to match. Start here as it sets out the theme of the whole festival, while each weekend is dedicated to one of the seven types of love.
From there, I made my way to the Hayward Gallery, which has a free show called What’s Love Got to Do With It. The exhibit was multimedia art, from videos and audio recordings to sculptures and photography. Personally, I didn’t find the pieces particularly compelling, although there was a video by William Cobbing that I found myself strangely repulsed by watching by couldn’t take my eyes off of.
I got right away that it was about how couples shape each other into different people: likes and dislikes, interests, even speech patterns, change when you’re in a relationship. I think I kept looking to figure out why I thought it was so disturbing. I just found it kind of gross to watch people shaping a block of plaster on each other’s heads in this really aggressive, carnal way. But that’s just my opinion.
When you mention urban culture, street art is inevitably going to be included. They had a few artists creating pieces, which I saw just outside the Hayward Gallery. I also caught this awesome Stik piece, under the Hungerford Bridge where the parkour was happening:
My partner and I visited the weekend before, which was Storge Weekend. There they centered the festival around the Tanabata Fukingashi decorations – streamers that are created to celebrate the Japanese star festival, which is a festival of love as well. You can see them at the back of the Royal Festival Hall where the food market is.
While you’re there, be sure to go to the Tunnel of Love. I found the actual tunnel a little bit unsettling, because there were giggles coming out of the walls and it just seemed like one of those horror films where someone is going crazy and hears laughing and sees people spinning around in their minds. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Anyway, the rest of it was an fun interactive experience all dedicated to Ludus love. I played some Twister and went into the Peep Show room. At the end you can make a little confession. Here was mine:
Last weekend was celebrating urban culture, so there was parkour, BMX battles, urban fashion shows, films pop-up basketball courts and more. I had chance to watch a couple documentaries inside the Royal Festival Hall as well. Above Queen Elizabeth Hall, there is an urban roof garden where you can hang out, have drinks and eat food with a lovely view over the Southbank. They also grow vegetables and herbs.
To celebrate urban culture, they were helping people make window boxes to take home and grow vegetables on rooftops or indoors. I’ve started growing some chilli plants (thanks, Wahaca!) and my partner has found a place outside my window to bring his plants from Martinique back to life. To grow your own food is an oddly satisfying endeavour!
In the Festival Village, under Queen Elizabeth Hall there is Heartbreak Hotel and the Museum of Broken Relationships. Inside Heartbreak Hotel you can have drinks, call the sexy chat phone in the Tunnel of Love, or dress up like some of your favourite stars in an exhibit that is about love going ‘crazy’ – over-the-top fandom.
My favourite was the Museum of Broken Relationships – a collection of relics from past relationships. People donate old teddy bears, handcuffs, wedding dresses and even a handful of dreadlocks that become a part of the exhibit.
A lot of the people who donated items were from London and I thought how awkward would it be to come here and see the teddy bear your gave your ex-girlfriend with a long story about your relationships and break-up?!?!
Am I the only one that thinks these sorts of things?
You can see all of the letters that were sent to agony aunts of Jackie magazine, Dear Cathy and Claire. A lot of them are from the seventies and read a lot like this:
There was also a wall of ‘Things I wish I knew when I was 15…’ One of my favourites was: Don’t listen to Limp Bizkit. Ha!
Outside, there is the Temple of Agape which is dedicated to the words of Martin Luther King, as well as the Storge Sliding Doors installation, meant to represent the ups and downs of family relationships.
So there you have it folks! I had a blast and my partner really enjoyed this festival because he found it to be one of the most accessible and relatable festivals they’ve put on at the Southbank.
There is food, drinks, music and plenty to see so you an easily spend an entire day here.
The Festival of Love is on until August 31st, and will culminate in the Big Wedding Weekend where they will marry or renew the vows of over 100 couples. If you’re thinking of doing something daring, they still have slots available on the Sunday – sign up before August 12th! 😉
For more details, check out the Festival of Love website.
Nearest Tube: Waterloo
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