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Opinion: Why a show celebrating London's worst bits has struck such a chord

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Editor Rob Alderson tries to explain why a new show revelling the very worst bits this city has to offer has been such a hit and why creatives should embrace the darker, dirtier sides of life. As ever feel free to add your comments in the discussion thread below!

Last week a show called Shit London opened at the KK Outlet gallery. This collection of photographs documenting dirty, underwhelming, aggressive and generally rubbish bits of the city (based on the hugely popular blog of the same name) attracted huge amounts of press attention, which seemed to suggest more than a knowing appreciation of this skewing of the usual artistic/gallery rules. So why are so many people apparently interested in immersing themselves in the crappiest bits this fine city has to offer?

Firstly and most obviously it’s a simple question of context. To truly appreciate the beautiful, the fascinating, the charimng and the engaging elements of any city, you need a counterpoint, those facets which render the best bits as the best bits, otherwise you’re leaving in a uniformly perfect but ultimately sterile Disneyland-esque nightmare. As The Beautiful South sung in Rotterdam “when blonde and beautiful are multiple they become so dull and dutiful” and this essentially sums up how I feel about a city like Bruges.

But there’s more going on here than this. I would suggest that you can learn a lot more about a city like London by studying its dodgy bits. The picture-postcard sights – The Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral – is the very deliberate projection of how London wants to be seen, the architectural equivalents of Facebook status updates; considered and controlled. But the bits of London captured in this show are like the under-the-breath mutterings caught on a forgotten microphone.

They anchor our sense of the city in reality, in everyday experience, and they’re goldmines of insight – and inspiration – into the human spirit. This acceptance of our shittier sides should indeed be welcomed, and embraced as an antidote to the aesthetic arms race which is the natural result of an online culture driven by oneupmanship – I see your soft tinted Instagram riverscape and raise you a discarded mattress!

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.