The Friday Arts Diary

Exhibitions

Whitechapel Gallery, E1, Gillian Wearing, from 28 March

In an image-driven digital world, how large is the dichotomy between how we present ourselves to others, and who we truly are? This is the question that shapes the Turner Prize winning artist's new exhibition, which uses film and photography to explore the modern sense of identity.

Books

Clapham Grand, SW11, Book Slam, 27 March

Author of the bestselling novel Any Human Heart William Boyd reads from his new novel Waiting for Sunrise. Plus, there's an appearance from poet Martin Figura, and music from Jono McCleery

Film

BFI Southbank, SE1, London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, 24 March -1 April

This year's festival includes exclusive gala screenings of Cloudburst, Absent and North Sea Texas, as well as another chance to revisit highlights from the last year, including Potiche and Bol. The programme also showcases the best of international queer cinema, and a varied programme of festival events.

Music

Barbican, EC2Y, Roberto Fonseca, 26 March.

One of the stars of Gilles Peterson's Havana Cultura band, the pianist plays tracks from his new album YO, an expert blend of Afro-Cuban beats and jazz lyricism. Plus support from Ayanna.

Theatre

Soho Theatre, W1D, 7 Day Drunk, until 31 March

This raucous one-woman show explores the relationship between mind-altering substances and creativity. Join the star of the show Bryony Kimmings as she throws a party on 30 March at the Soho downstairs.

Photo: Getty
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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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