All posts by Mariana Stasiak

A feminism, politics and doughnut-obsessed first year PPH student. Unlike many at Birkbeck, I don't work, so it looks like I can devote all my life to my undergraduate study (well hopefully not, but admittedly I do get easily obsessed and can't stop once I start). PPH is the delightful combination of Politics, Philosophy and History so my interests vary equally as much. Plus coffee and food (which surely count as interests); I merge the coffee part of Lorelai Gilmore with the very studious (almost worrying), nature of her daughter Rory. And if you haven't watched the Gilmore Girls then what the hell have you done with your life.

Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern

Image by Katie Lips (flickr) used under Creative Commons Licence 

I admit, I hadn’t even heard of Robert Rauschenberg, let alone seen any of his work before visiting Tate Modern’s current exhibition (open until the 2nd of April). In fact, I wasn’t even planning to go to this one – I was just too lazy to walk across half the building to get to the exhibition I’d really come for. So, the guy with the funny name it was.

The first thing that struck me was a large work to the right of the entrance, which several people crowded around, heads tilted in that peculiar way you see only in galleries. Automobile Tire Print consists of pieces of white paper, fastened together at their narrowest point, with the track of a car tyre running down their length. With pieces like this, Rauschenberg’s intention was to create art that questioned and disrupted the link between artist and work, for example, by having his friend drive the car. This theme was common throughout many of the other collections; an inquisitive nature that derailed artistic convention.

Rauschenberg was revolutionary. His work interrogated traditional art to the point where to look at it, you sometimes question whether it is still art at all. But of course it is, and before anyone chips in, no, a five year old would not have been capable of producing any of it. Another common narrative in his work was the tendency to combine different forms of art, crossing the boundaries of regular conceptions of the various forms.

For instance his Combines deployed paint as well as sculpture, to create hybrid sculptural-paintings. They draw you into their midst, encouraging you to consider the placement of the ordinary objects he used, and the muted or vibrant colours. This was art that involved the audience because it touched them, made them wince slightly, perhaps even made them uncomfortable. One of my favourite aspects of the exhibition was a history of Rauschenberg’s work for his friend’s dance company. He created many sets and costumes for the dancers who would engage in contemporary and collective dance; from an artistic interpretation of everyday movements to engagement with the sets themselves. These dancers would have had to consider not only the art that they were performing (the dance) but also that which they were interacting with.

I’ll end this article on a rather brilliant decision of his, a perfect representation of Rauschenberg’s character. Upon realising that he had been accepted into a well-regarded art exhibition which had rejected work by both his wife and his friend, he decided to include both of their works into his own. This display of outright contempt towards accepted authorities on art is reminiscent of many previous artists and artistic movements that, like Rauschenberg, manipulated traditional standards of art and reacted against the cultural institutions of their day.

The Robert Rauschenberg exhibition continues at the Tate Modern until 2nd April 2017. Exhibition fees apply.

Places you need to try: Top Coffee shops around Birkbeck

Image by flickr user Alper Çuğun

Prufrock – 23-25 Leather Lane

The coffee here is infinitely better than one would expect from somewhere that also does great food. It’s a leisurely, open-plan room with more than enough space to spread out all your notes while you dawdle over the coffee menu and bookshelves of chocolate. Yes, as well as great coffee, Prufrock also sell enticing looking chocolate bars from far-flung parts of the world (although I admit I have never tried these, considering some are ten quid a pop). This has to be one of my favourite spots in London because of all the boxes it expertly ticks.

Walkability: Not so great. It would take around 20 minutes, so still very far off the Oxfam Marathon Walk (been there, done that) but making one’s way past huffing commuters is not always the most pleasant experience. The nearest stations are Chancery Lane and Farringdon.

Studyability: 10/10; most definitely would recommend.

 

The Espresso Room – 31-35 Great Ormond Street

By flickr user Ricardo

 

The coffee here was (as the youth nowadays say) off-the-hook, fire, peng, dank whatever term you want to insert, you insert it baby! The view on the other hand wasn’t so dank; the hospital is right in your eyeline; turn away from the coffee shop towards the street and BAM there it is. To be fair I don’t recall this bothering me too much at the time, but I guess instead of rose-tinting my memories, my brain has the effect of making them seem so much worse than they were. My mother had the most delightful cappuccino, so creamy and smooth it felt like jumping into a pool of whipped cream, instead of just taking a sip of coffee in the horrendous hustle and bustle that is London. As for my americano, I truly have nothing bad to say about it. Now onto the rest of the rankings…

Walkability: 10 mins – so very easily done

Studyability: 1/10 – unless you have a penchant for awkwardly balancing a laptop on your knees while precariously holding your coffee in your free hand, this is not the study spot for you. Come here for a quick coffee after you hop off at Russell Square and before you enjoy your walk to Birkbeck. Take your coffee and go before you’re late for class; chop, chop.

 

 

Kaffeine – 66 Great Titchfield Street; 15 Eastcastle Street

By flickr user Bex Walton (modified)

I arrived at Kaffeine (yes, that’s really the name – blame the hipster Aussies) dead on twelve, and it was packed. Walking past an appetising and enticing food counter, I was greeted by a cute, smiling little blonde. The coffee this time was an americano; full of flavour and slightly fruity, with just a hint of acidity; not always a bad thing, in this case it complemented the other flavours nicely. The only downside was that on the walk to Birkbeck, I had to pass what I could only presume from the noise to be a jungle of wild children kept hidden behind high walls.

Walkability: only 13 minutes, and apart from the aforementioned wildlings, it was a pleasant route that took me down some back streets offering a mix of independent art galleries and impressive graffiti.

Studyability: 5/10; possible only if you precisely figure out the best time to get there and grab a spot. Then figure out the most convenient time to leave before people fill it up like bees gathering to a queen.

Places you need to try: Bloomsbury farmers’ market & the Petrie Museum

Image by Matt Brown (flickr)

Bloomsbury Farmers’ Market – Torrington Square

Walking into the midst of this market was like attempting to get through the world’s worst airport security. No chance for a stroll, I tried to speed walk through all of it, but kept getting stuck behind people goggling the artisan pasta or stopping in their tracks when taken away by a hot dog stand. I have to admit, I most likely ended up as one of those people.

I settled on a burger and pie stand with a queue almost round the block (well, actually just a couple times the length of the stall). It was a wild boar and red wine pie for me, with mash and gravy (I feel bad, I really do, as I have been trying to be a vegetarian recently – I console myself with the fact that the meat was organic and farm-bred; I’m sure the boar had a ‘happy’ life).

The pie crust was divine, flaky on the outside but not too soggy on the inside. The meat itself proved too much for me, and I have a feeling this pie is going to last me for a couple of days. I’ll definitely try the market again, but perhaps next time, go for something a little less ‘lunch for the miners’.

The Farmers’ Market is open every Thursday from 9am to 2pm

 

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology – UCL, Malet Place

By User:LordHarris, via Wikimedia Commons
This place is quite the little hide-out. Whilst the nearby British Museum is undeniably impressive and houses many grand pieces, the Petrie sits on the more minute side of things. I guess what they say is true, opposites do attract. Considering it is just around the corner from Birkbeck, located within UCL, it is most definitely worth a visit or two. It feels like stepping back in time to an eccentric old English home full of wonderful collections.

Open 1pm to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday

places you need to try: Dillons Coffee & SOAS’ Public Lectures

Image by poeloq (flickr)

Dillons Coffee (in Waterstones, Gower Street)

I admit it may not be for everyone, but bear with me a moment. The coffee itself could be worse, but I have also had better. The latte art on my choice (a soy flat white – I’m lactose-intolerant, not on a Gwyneth Paltrow style diet) was more abstract than I would normally expect, though to be fair, Dillons is located in the university heart of London. Such reservations were easily overlooked when I took my first sip of coffee right before a six o’clock lecture; strong, robust and not at all subtle. Precisely what I needed. However, a few more sips revealed an equally unsubtle lingering bitter flavour. I could hardly care less at that point – I’d just ordered a coffee from one of the most hipster-looking places I had seen, and must now be in with the ‘cool’ kids. Well, perhaps not.

The reason Dillons is on this (very subjective) list is that firstly, it’s close to Birkbeck so ideal for a pick-me-up right before your eyes roll into the back of your head and your body starts shutting down. Also, it’s something of an entertaining place; go there to combine work with a socialising, be amazed by the diversity of London university life, and take a break from the monotony of the library. On the subject of the latter, has anyone else noticed it smells weird, or is that just me?

If anyone has any other coffee shops they would like to recommend, I would be more than happy to visit them for a future review (independents only please – Costa and Starbucks don’t need my support). Suggestions in the comments please.

SOAS (public lectures)

There’s a part of my heart that harbours quite the soft spot for SOAS; it was the university everyone expected me to go to, and the university I did not get into. Even when I was taking my A-Levels I would wander every so often (or more like once a week) into this corner of London to attend one of the evening lectures that SOAS held for the public. I can’t remember when it was that I first fell in love, perhaps during the talk on the conflict in Palestine, or possibly the one on the remnants of the Arab Spring. Either way, I was hooked and there was no way back. My teachers and mother found it amusing I would spend my spare time on even more education, but I was never the ‘normal’ kid in my family.

I would more than recommend attending one of their lectures; you’ll most likely find something that will interest you, whether your field is finance or nuclear weapons. I know it can be difficult to find time for more lectures what with work during the days, studying during the evenings and not really having time to even take a breath; but it would really be the cherry-on-the-top of all the great things you’re already managing to do in your day.

Places you need to try: Persephone Bookshop

Our intrepid correspondent seeks out the best places to eat, drink, read and relax within walking distance of the main campus. Avoid lousy lattes, escape the buzzing phones of the library, find somewhere inspiring!

This quaint little spot can be found just off Great Ormond Street on Lamb’s Conduit Street, where I once drank one of the best coffees in London (on the street, not in the hospital – but that’s another story). Walking in, one is transported by just how unlike any high street bookshop Persephone is. After trapezing through half of London on the prowl for textbooks (along with a thousand other equally-desperate people) this comes as a welcome distraction.

I’m struck by how almost everything has the same greyish-blue cover, recalling frosty winter mornings. Books without matching covers are placed on a table in the corner, which satisfies my slightly manic organisational tendencies. Persephone reprints every title in their 117-strong catalogue (hence the uniform style), selecting fiction and non-fiction from neglected mid-twentieth-century women writers.

Behind the identical bindings, each book reveals a new world to step into, from just a couple hours to a few days. Whilst I’ve not yet bought out the whole shop, I will promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, that any volume you step out with will not leave you dissatisfied.

In case you’re wondering, I am in a fulfilling relationship, but he’ll never be able to penetrate my lifelong affair with books. Don’t ask, it’s complicated.

Apart from the obvious benefit that you can read snippets of books before you buy (it’s not the best place to try and read an entire book for free, as I have actually once done, albeit in a Waterstones), the staff are always helpful and willing to find something that suits you, as well as pointing out the shop’s most prized titles. And the best thing is, every one is by a woman. Literally women everywhere. All the books, most of them barely-known, are written only by women.

Heaven.

 

Image courtesy of flickr user Derya