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Coal Drops Yard
Photograph: Shutterstock / Octus_PhotographyCoal Drops Yard, Granary Square, kings cross United Kingdom - June 2, 2022: Hipster Shop bar and restaurant

Free things to do in London this week

Patiently waiting for pay day? Make the most of these free things to do in London

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Things To Do Editors
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Bank balance looking a little bleak? A free lunch might be hard to come by, but there are plenty of things to do in the capital that won’t cost you a penny. If the weather’s on your side, you can explore the city’s best green spaces. And if it’s raining? Seek refuge indoors at London’s world-class free museums, brilliant free exhibitions and attractions. Whatever you fancy doing, we’ve put together a list of excellent and totally free things to do in London this week. 

RECOMMENDED: The best free things to do in London

  • Art
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  • Finchley Road
Find out what the UK's most promising fine art graduates have been up to in this annual showcase of up-and-coming talent from across the UK. 
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Trafalgar Square
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You wouldn't get away with it these days. But in the eighteenth century, you could go spend a few years in Turkey, come back with a big beard, and call yourself ‘the Turkish Painter’ like Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789) did. Call it cultural appropriation or just an incredibly embarrassing gap year, but it worked. Liotard was a sensation. He was a leading miniaturist and a master of pastels, able to sell his beautiful depiction of a woman and a young girl sharing breakfast for 200 guineas, a good wodge in 1754. So good, that 20 years later he took a second stab at it, likely hoping for another big sale. This later version was an almost exact replica but done in oils, and the two have been united here at the National Gallery for possibly the first time since 1773.  It’s the most luxurious game of spot-the-difference ever. The same elements appear in both: two figures in stunningly rendered clothes, their hair sculpted in the styles of the era, sit at the breakfast table. The young girl dips her bread into a cup of coffee that’s just about to overflow. The table is laid with a pewter coffee pot and a clashing set of porcelain teacups. This is high society, with its high society tastes in fashion and food and decorative arts, captured with gentleness, precision, tenderness and unbelievable skill. I’m not sure they’re perfect. The woman’s thumb feels fat and flat, the hair a little lifeless, but that’s what you pick up when you stare at two versions of the same work for an hour.
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Bankside
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The cost of trade isn’t just financial. The goods we consume have historically been paid for in blood too, in actual lives. And this human cost of the history of trade is at the heart of this year’s Turbine Hall installation. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui has draped the cavernous space in vast reams of fabric. The first is a huge red and gold sail, a symbol of the transatlantic trade of goods and people, and how ships ferried both across the ocean. Many of the slaves from West Africa were forcefully sent to work on sugar plantations to fuel the alcohol industry, creating spirits which would then be sent to Europe before making their way back to West Africa. Now look close: that gleaming golden sail is made of bottle caps. It’s a whole circular economy of trade, goods, lives, culture and history, billowing in the Turbine Hall. In the back of the space, a vast black sheet hangs from the ceiling to the floor, made of brandy and whisky bottle tops, flattened and knitted together. It could be a fence for containing, a wall for defending, it could be a crashing wave. Whatever it is, it ripples with the same symbolism as the sail: Africa, trade, exploitation, countless bodies.  The central work – human-like forms which coalesce into a globe if you stand in the right spot – is too easily dwarfed by the bigger pieces. And those big pieces are in turn dwarfed by the Turbine Hall. It’s just such an enormous, impossible space to deal with, in this doesn't deal with it as others have.  But i
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Hyde Park
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Barbara Kruger has a lot to say. The American artist has sloganeered her way to the very top with a combination of sans serif text and sampled imagery that’s as instantly recognisable and influential as it is widely copied. And her show at the Serpentine is a lexical assault, a torrent of word play and semantic shenanigans.  Iconic Kruger works – ‘I shop therefore I am’, ‘Your body is a battleground’ – are reconfigured and adapted for LED screens. Once-static works now move, turned into puzzles with their pieces slowly coalescing to a soundtrack of ticking clocks. The tech approach allows words in other works to be swapped and switched around. ‘Remember me’ flickers to ‘delete me’ and ‘dishevel me’; ‘I pledge allegiance’ becomes ‘I pledge anxiety’ and ‘affluenza’.  Your first impulse with Kruger might be to try and find solid definitions, singular meanings. Does she think shopping is bad? Are bodies meant to be battlegrounds? But the shifting vocabulary here is the point: language is fluid, adaptable, malleable. It can mean whatever you want, but it can also mean whatever they want, the advertisers, the authorities, the corporations. That's the lesson of Kruger’s work: always be wary of language, always question it. She shows how language is a weapon, one that you can wield, but also have to know how to defend yourself against. In your face, intelligible, approachable, clear as god damn crystal A new work in the central gallery is a multi-channel video that sees Kruger steal
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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
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  • Walthamstow
This epic 12-hour celebration is making a return for its sixth year to help support a really, really important cause. Ravenswood Industrial Estate, a little spot in Walthamstow, will yet again be hosting a cracking fundraiser to support east London food bank Eat or Heat, and it’s set to be a jam-packed event. With a roster of DJs playing across five of the site’s venues, the programme includes the likes of BBC regular Nemone, whose sets feature everything from hip and old skool dance to funk, and Richard Fearless, the founder of the electronic music group Death in Vegas. The event is free to attend, but organisers are hoping to add to the whopping £14,000 raised last year. You can get donating here.
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