London can be a pricey city. But there’s no need to hibernate at home when your purse is feeling a little empty. Our city is full of world-class free museums, incredible free exhibitions and attractions that won't cost you a penny to enter. And don’t forget all those wonderful green spaces you’re free to enjoy at no cost. Here are a whole load of incredible and totally free things to do in London this week.
RECOMMENDED: The best free things to do in London
Now in its eighth year, the Tintype gallery will once again present eight newly commissioned films inspired by Essex Road. Screened seven days a week on a loop between 5pm and 11pm, each film at five minutes or shorter draws on the rich cultural history of the mile-long Islington street. From Patrick Goddard impersonating the supposed recent inheritor of the Tintype gallery building to young artist Ayo Akingbade who explores identity and wanting to confound stereotypes – come celebrate the beauty of N1.
The bright lights of Canary Wharf's towers are quite the spectacle after dark, but the business district glows brighter than usual throughout January thanks to the addition of sparkling installations from international artists. Winter Lights returns in 2020 with a new set of dazzling artworks, installations and interactive experiences. Hop on the DLR to see neon artwork ‘Mi-e dor de tine’, which means ‘I miss you’ in Romanian (it’ll be installed in Canary Wharf from November as an early preview of the Winter Lights festival - so keep your eyes peeled). Other artworks for 2020 are ‘Squiggle’ by Angus Muir, which is made up of 450 metres of digital neon tubing and ‘Affinity’, by Amigo & Amigo and S1T2, a colourful interconnected web of globes representing neurons in the human brain. Visit the Winter Lights website for more information and to see the full programme.
For the first time ever, Battersea Power Station will be a winter blues-busting beacon of light. Brighten up those dark nights with four spectacular installations from international artists including two giant LED heads that create different facial expressions in various colours and an interactive neon sign, which flashes, crackles and sparkles. Brought to you by Light Art Collection, the experts behind the Amsterdam Light Festival. Shine bright light like Battersea.
In the gallery entrance sits a vending machine selling Cofftea/Kafftee, a coffee-tea hybrid by Albert Oehlen that apparently 'won’t let you sleep ever again'. That might sound like a bold claim, until you look at the paintings, drawings and collages filling the exhibition space. All painted in the last 30 years, the artworks are a manic, sprawling cacophony of shape, colour, line and vaguely-emerging images. They look precisely like the result of mainlining cold brew after starting the day on three macchiatos. And the intermittent crashing soundtrack, created by three-piece group Steamboat Switzerland, sounds like it too. At the centre of the gallery is a set of huge canvases echoing a series in the Rothko Chapel, Texas. These, and everything else on display, riff on an oil painting by John Graham, a semi-forgotten American Modernist painter. The original, titled 'Tramonto Spaventoso’ (Terrifying Sunset), features a self-portrait of the mustachioed painter, a hyper-busty mermaid, a large letter H and a ragtag collection of cosmic symbols. Oehlen repeatedly recreates this hodgepodge assortment, a bit like how love-sick teenagers doodle the same series of hearts, initials and faces over their notebooks. The dopey handlebar ‘tash, the pneumatic-boobed mermaid, that contextless letter that keeps reminding me of ‘Jesus H. Christ’, it all just keeps appearing. Has Oehlen done this because he hearts Graham’s sludge-hued work as much as he loves an Americano? No. In the exhibiti
London’s streets are haunted by vile ghosts. Everywhere you walk, there are statues of Britons who conquered the world and pillaged its nations looming over you. And in front of Buckingham Palace stands the Victoria Memorial, an ornate, lavish celebration of Queen Vic and her imperial achievements. Now a version of it haunts the Turbine Hall. But American artist Kara Walker’s bubbling fountain isn’t a celebration of the British Empire, it’s a vicious, angry, fearsome attack on it. Walker has previous. Her career has seen her tackle the legacy of the slave trade for decades, using film, puppetry and installation. But this is her first stab at Britain, and the knife’s going deep. The enormous fountain is covered in crudely carved figures. Sharks leap out of the water, a man lies in a sinking boat, a prone body is pulled from the waves. On the tier above the water sits a ship’s captain, and a noose hangs from a tree. At the very top stands a black Venus spurting water from her breasts, with a mouth like a magical black goddess. It’s full of references to art history – Goya, Hirst, Turner – and nods to Britain. The whole thing is an allegory for the Atlantic as a site of black tragedy, of forcible removal, of death and pain. Though it’s a little rough, a little rushed, it still hits you pretty hard. Walker is using the fountain to highlight the links between Africa, Europe and America, to show how connected we are through a shared past of pain and exploitation. In its heady
Step away from the tangle of controls in your bedroom to dodge lasers, build Tetris walls, shoot aliens and become a Pac-Man IRL at The Actual Reality Arcade, a life-sized interactive classic games arcade. Your knackered thumbs will thank you for it.
Delve into the world of Judith Kerr’s wonderful children’s classic at this fiftieth-anniversary exhibition. See Kerr’s childhood drawings, learn about her experience of escaping Germany as Hitler came to power, step into scenes from the book and tuck into tiger-themed treats.
After a new project for 2020? Head to this Zinester’s Coffee Morning in the anarchist bookshop Freedom Bookshop in Bethnal Green. Head along to pick up tips on how to make your own zine or get feedback on one you’ve created already.
Formerly Flea at Flat Iron Square, this weekly vintage and makers market has moved to Vinegar Yard SE1, bringing its heaps of antiques, clothing, homeware, books, bikes and cameras with it. It's hunting ground for treasures and pre-loved artefacts. Can't make it this weekend? Visit its range of pop-up shops, open every weekday.
There's no need to worry about the next morning’s hangover at Club Soda’s Mindful Drinking Festival. This is a booze-free festival for anyone who's doing Dry January, sober-curious or on the wagon. There’ll be talks and cocktail classes, as well as traders showcasing alcohol-free beer, wine, low sugar craft sodas and more.
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