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Winterfest 2019
Photograph: Chris Winter / Wembley Park

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

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
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  • South Kensington

London’s favourite dinosaur is back in town! The Natural History Museum’s life-sized replica Dippy was the first Diplodocus (which is pronounced DIP-low-DOCK-us by the way) to go on display back in 1905, but the 28-metre-lond skeletal sauropod has been on tour since 2017, delighting and terrifying 2 million museum-goers around the UK. But now, the prodigal dino is returning home, at least for a bit. This new temporary installation will feature visitors’ reflections from when they met the Jurassic giant, exploring how these meetings inspired them to re-connect with nature right on their doorsteps. The museum is remaining coy about Dippy’s plans once it’s over, but after such a successful UK tour, maybe he’ll set his sights even further afield next, so don’t miss this opportunity to call in on him while he’s got some down-time in Kensington.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Trafalgar Square

Two grotty old pervs paint saucy portraits of pretty young girls. That’s the bullet point summary of this tiny but lovely little exhibition. It features just two paintings: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ 1856 masterpiece ‘Madame Moitessier’, and Pablo Picasso’s 1932 riff on it, ‘Woman With a Book’. Ingres was the great defender of neo-classical orthodoxy, a hugely influential but resolutely conservative master of nineteenth-century French art. Born 100 years later, Pablo Picasso was the opposite, a wild iconoclast, an innovator who destroyed traditions. One preserved, the other annihilated. But Picasso knew how to mine art history for inspiration, and in Ingres’ portrait, he found a nugget of gold. The 23-year-old woman in Ingres’ work absolutely flows. Just look at her hand, all elongated like its made of five swans’ necks, or her dress which undulates across the canvas, or her swooping limbs, her big, deep round eyes. Somehow, despite the angle, a mirror behind her catches her reflection in profile. It’s a stunning painting of soft skin and hard edges, full of opulent details, a heady celebration of beauty and Parisian luxury. Picasso replicates Madame Moitessier’s pose in his depiction of his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter (28 years junior to old Pablo…). The subtle details of Ingres are chucked out the window. The dress is now flat planes of block colour, the room is stark and minimal, the facial features boiled down to their barest essentials. The reflection in the

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Euston

We put a lot of value on stupid stuff like trainers and caviar and NFTs of monkeys, but our most essential resources – air and water – are treated like they’re worthless. That’s probably because they’re free; and if big businesses can’t make a few bucks out of them, they may as well pollute them to death. So as pollution slowly robs us of breathable air, the Wellcome looks at art and archival scientific material that can help us parse the senseless choking of humanity.  A stack of concrete blocks by David Rickard as you walk in symbolises the weight of all the air in the gallery. Air is heavy, physical stuff. Chunks of 3.5 billion-year-old fossilised reefs show how the oceans oxygenated the Earth and made it habitable, while paintings of plankton by Irene Kopelman capture how essential microscopic organisms are to our existence, then Matterlurgy’s installation of spinning pollution particles shows just how suffocating the environment has become. A picture emerges here of air as a political substance, how the poor live in the most polluted places, how toxic air overwhelmingly impacts the most vulnerable, how skies are divided between nation states. This is air as a weapon, and Forensic Architecture are calling for disarmament It makes for grim viewing, but it feels important. Especially when you get to the heart of the show, Forensic Architecture’s excellent ‘Cloud Studies’ film installation. The group uses forensic techniques to investigate global injustices. They use witnes

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Bank

What will future archaeologists find when they discover your flat in 3000 years, perfectly preserved in ash after the terrible 2024 eruption of the Muswell Hill volcano? Flatscreen TVs and thousands of tote bags and reusable coffee cups and hidden jazz mags?  Be careful what you leave behind, is what I’m saying, because people like Mariana Castillo Deball might be around. The Mexican artist has taken inspiration from the beautiful Roman era Temple of Mithras – the ruins of a 1,800 year old place of worship right in the heart of the City, now open to visitors with contemporary art installations shown alongside it – to create an exhibition all about ancient trash, the rubbish that those Romans left lying about. Three pillars stand around the space, made of stacked clay recreations of vases, amulets and combs found downstairs in the temple itself. A curtain covered in drawings of Roman writing tablets divides the room, and the wall at the back is carved with designs and faces.  Castillo Deball is elevating these everyday bits of discarded Roman life – left abandoned right here 1800 years ago – into a celebration of human creativity. All these little aesthetic gestures – the carvings and patterns – have lasted centuries. She’s showing how art, and life, isn’t meaningless and forgettable: it survives, it endures, it’s beautiful. She’s showing how objects can tell endless mesmerising stories of identity and history. Even the rubbish. But does the art here tell you anything that the

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
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  • London

The Totally Thames Festival is back at it again, hosting a bunch of imaginative, river-themed activities at various locations along the riverbank – from Richmond to Barking and Dagenham. This year it’s also bringing the very first night-time flotilla to the Thames in an installation called ‘Reflections’, which will see over 150 boats process along the waterway from Chelseato Tower Bridge at dusk, all decorated with white lights (Sep 24). Other highlights include ‘River of Hope’, an installation of 200 silk flags exhibited outside the National Maritime Museum; ‘London’s Lost Village’, a series of events delving into the history of Leamouth Peninsula, 330 boats riding The Great London River Race, an exhibition dedicated to the Thames’ islands and much more. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Mayfair

Everyone is fabulous on the planet Atlantica. It’s a whole world of bold fashion, unapologetic bodies and joyful pride.  It’s American artist April Bey’s planet, and at Simon Lee Gallery we all get to live on it for a little while. The walls are lined with pink fur and green satin, draped with images of plants that are half-banana, half-perfectly manicured Black hand. Peering out at you are the citizens of Atlantica, presented in glittery, collaged photos, like portraits of the campest dictators ever. Bey is glorying in queer aesthetic, eclebrating Black bodies. Her planet;’s citizens wear sparkling earrings long perfect nails, floral patterns and pink berets. Atlantica is a place where you can be whatever you want, where difference is a badge of pride, where no one is marginalised for their body or their skin. I don’t like the overall aesthetic, but the ideas are a lot of fun. The story goes that as a four year old, Bey asked her father why she was being treated differently for the colour of her skin. He said that it’s because they were aliens from outer space. This is continuation of that childhood legend: it’s science fiction as resistance, it’s utopian ideals as an escape from injustice, it’s difference as positivity, as rebellion, and it really makes you wish Earth could be this fabulous.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • London

Psychosis is reduced to one-liners in New Wave songs and cliches in horror films, but it’s a deeply complex condition. So making art about it - especially art that doesn’t descend into wildy insensitive, patronising farce - isn’t easy.  But Marcus Coates has tried anyway. He’s made five films about psychosis and dotted them around Pimlico, each one directed by someone in recovery from the condition, using Coates as the protagonist to tell their stories.  It’s obviously very tricky territory; it would be so easy for this to be exploitative, crass and voyeuristic. But in working so closely with people whose lives have been affected by psychosis, and giving the directors total agency and autonomy to tell their stories,Coates has just about walked that tightrope, and created some genuinely devastating art in the process. It starts in the Churchill Gardens residents association building. Upstairs in a faceless meeting room, you watch Coates being used to tell Marcus Gordon’s story. He sits on a stage and Gordon takes him through the feelings of being on a bus ride as hallucinations pulse through him and voices chatter wildly in his head. He’s convinced that he’s hot, that he’s cold, that he stinks, that he’s pissed himself, that everyone on the bus is staring. The voices grow louder, the heat hotter, the cold colder. It’s chaotic, terrifying, uncontrollable. But it’s just in his mind, it’s not real. ‘My mind hates me?’ Coates asks Gordon uncomprehendingly. How could your own brain

  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
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  • Peckham

Love belting out showtunes to a crowd of strangers? Then Peckham Skylight's West End Open Mic Night has got your name all over it. Bring your own sheet music – fancy! – and Josh Cottell will accompany you on piano as you holler along to any number of Broadway bangers, from Cats' Memories to Wicked's Defying Gravity. There'll also be special West End hosts, bringing a little razzle dazzle from London's theatre district all the way to Peckham. You can book a table if you like, but walk-ins are also accepted and the sign up sheet is first come first served. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • St James’s

They say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Pointless. But what about paintings about architecture, huh? How about abstract images that follow the geometric machinations of our built environment? Nothing pointless about that, if this show of Léon Wuidar’s painting is anything to go by. The Belgian artist’s work is heavily influenced by architecture, full of sharp lines and angles that flow into each other and bump and interact and zig and zag, and they're lovely.  The earlier work downstairs isn’t quite so sharp and geometric. In the 1960s you can spot the influence of abstract elders like Paul Klee, or the muted colours of Max Ernst. Everything is a bit more bodily, physical, limb-like, full of eyes and teeth and arms and legs. They’re not spectacular paintings, but by the end of the decade, things get refined, reduced, simplified into bold little interactions of line and shape. Triangles, rectangles, arches and doorways, all rendered in gorgeous shades of blue and ochre. They’re like blueprints for perfect buildings that will never be built.  Two works tucked away by the lifts are stunning, especially the blue painting, but the best stuff is upstairs. These slightly later paintings are bolder, brighter, simpler. One looks like a road seen from the sky, all grey and black with criss-crossing dotted lines, another is like a sketch of a tennis court. They’re so bold and graphic that they veer into modernist poster design, but that’s not a particularly

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Vauxhall

A lot of art is stupid. A lot of art is lazy. A lot is arrogant, a lot is crap. But very, very little art manages to be all of those things at once. Then in swans Damien Hirst and his 10,000 shitty dot paintings and, hey presto, he’s done it: stupid, lazy, arrogant, crap art. He’s made 10,000 little primary-coloured dot paintings, and 10,000 corresponding NFTs. Collectors had the option of keeping the NFT and destroying the physical artwork, or vice versa. If they chose NFT, their £20,000 painting is going to be torched, live in the gallery, during the run of this exhibition.  And here they are, strung up in rows. I’ll give him this much, they do look impressive all hung together in endless columns, the colourful originals next to grey facsimiles. But it also feels like walking through the fanciest ever Paperchase, browsing the world’s most expensive wrapping paper.  Upstairs, you find more dot paintings, placed around the ‘furnaces’ in which the works will be burned over the course of the exhibition. They’re essentially fancy fireplaces, which is useful because it helps you imagine what one of these abysmal paintings would look like in the living room of someone tasteless enough to buy one.  In the back room, there are video interviews with collectors talking about how NFTs are great investments. The whole show is Twitter crypto bros made real and it’s gross.  But look, forget about the fact that we’re in a cost-of-living crisis and people can’t afford to heat their homes wh

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