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Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
Photograph: Tavi IonescuMaltby Street Market, Bermondsey

Free things to do in London this weekend

Make the most of your free time without breaking the bank, thanks to our round-up of free things to do at the weekend

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Things To Do Editors
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Don't let your cash flow, or lack of it, get in the way of having a banging weekend. Read our guide to free things to do in London this weekend and you can make sure that your Friday, Saturday and Sunday go off with a bang, without eating up your bucks. After all, the best things in life are free. 

If that's whetted your appetite for events and cultural happenings in London, get planning further ahead by having a gander over our events calendar.

RECOMMENDED: Save even more dosh by taking a look at our guide to cheap London.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Bankside

A flying squadron of alien machines has invaded Tate Modern. They are Anicka Yi’s robo-army, sent from the future to make us consider what it would be like to share our world with machine intelligences. Quite nice, it turns out.  There are two different kinds of flying machines here: squid-like tentacled creatures called xenojellies and bulbous fleshy beasts called planulae. Powered by mini rotors, they float through the Turbine Hall’s vast space, rising and falling on invisible currents, governed by complex algorithms that dictate their flightpaths. They seem benevolent enough, and that’s kind of the point. Yi wants us to imagine co-existence, not conflict.  Accompanying the xenojellies and planulae is a ‘scentscape’. The odours Yi pumps into the space are meant to evoke different historical eras of the Thames riverbank: the pre-Cambrian, the cretaceous, industrialisation. But it smells so nice that really it’s just like you’re wandering around an enormous branch of Aesop.  The biggest problem here, as usual with this space, is that you can’t help but measure the work against previous Turbine Hall installations. Does this stand up against what Olafur Eliasson, or Ai Weiwei, or Doris Salcedo, or Miroslaw Balka did? It all feels a little bit like balloon animals in a perfume shop, but it’s fun, and Yi’s ideas are good, they’re utopian, idealistic, they make you think about your relationship to technology and nature and the air you breathe. And at least the robots are friendly

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Mayfair

Mark Rothko is hard to think about clearly. He’s hard to talk about, examine and consider. His work has become such an integral part of our cultural landscape – especially here in London, where the Tate is home to his Seagram Murals – that it’s almost impossible to separate his art from the narrative, the myth of Rothko; this tortured artist who painted his pain.  And that’s everywhere in this show of his late works on paper. These were all made when Rothko was at his sickest, barely mobile, crushed by depression. So the temptation is to read these as the product of an ailing man, an artist in ill health, physically and mentally. The narrative is so strong around Rothko that you WANT to find the torment and anguish. And that’s a shame, because whether it’s there or not – and it probably is – you end up missing the actual art, the paintings. And that’s a pity, because they are beautiful, beautiful things. They’re full of blocks and lines of shimmering colour that pulsate and throb. They feel familiar, too. Many have the deep, bloody, bodily reds and browns and blacks of the Tate works. But they don’t dwarf and envelope you here, they're too small for that. Instead, they suck you in, pull you eyeball to eyeball. The big, bold, angry marks of the bigger Rothko works are replaced with small, gentle gestures, soft drips, blurred smudges. It’s Rothko crying on your shoulder instead of screaming in your face. There are some duds here – including one yellow and white one that looks l

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • New Cross

We all want a perfect tan. Well, not all of us. Some of us actually long for peaches and cream paleness, or bright rosy cheeks. And each of those desires comes with a heavy implication: why would a white person want to be browner, why would a black person want to be whiter? Well, young painter Olivia Sterling is hellbent on poking and prodding that fleshy question in the gut. The new paintings in this show are all about skin and bodies, about tans and bronzer and bleach and sunscreen. Faceless women lounge by the pool. White bodies turn lobster pink in the sun, brown ones are slathered with cream. That tan, is it… chocolate? That sunscreen, is it… vanilla ice cream? There’s food everywhere, lumps and bumps, curves and skin.  You know what Sterling’s getting at. Society is obsessed with beautiful bodies and perfect skin, but those obsessions have deeply unsettling racial implications, Sterling is just tearing at those concepts.  So the ideas are good, but what makes Sterling’s paintings really shine is the execution. These are incredibly bright, vibrant paintings, properly glowing with yellows and blues and pinks. The figures are all cartoony and exaggerated, they look like Honoré Daumier painting Tom & Jerry’s racist Mammy Two Shoes character. Each work is filled with cake and ice cream, and hands slapping and grabbing. It’s not just clever, it’s really great painting. Sterling is only 24 years old, and as a result, these paintings feel like countless Gen Z neuroses and fears

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
  • Contemporary art
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  • Vauxhall

Photorealist painting is a bit like parkour or putting your whole fist in your mouth: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Because at its worst, the ability to paint photorealistically is the ultimate expression of skill over taste.  So why are so many of American artist Rachard Estes’ hyper-precise paintings so good?  The main reason is that the photorealism here isn’t the end goal, it’s a tool, it’s what Estes uses to look at urban environments, most famously New York City. He parses cities, he stares and analyses and dissects and captures them. And by putting what he sees down on canvas like he does, he finds ways to understand it.  NYC is the star of the show. Estes depicts infinite reflections and refractions in the city. You see a bus reflected in a restaurant window, lights repeated in a passing car’s windscreen, taxis reflected in the panes of a building and the building reflected back on the bonnets of the taxis. Endless, countless layers of looking and light.  Even when he isn’t painting the urban environment as a cracked mirrored surface that infinitely repeats itself, he still captures the art of looking. One painting of people lounging in Central Park is full of tourists with cameras and sightseers pointing out landmarks. Another work – well away from NYC this time – is a dizzying vista of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, twisted in fish eye, with sunglassed tourists taking in the view. Looking, staring, thinking, that’s what happens here. Much less good are

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Whitechapel

Theaster Gates is going to hit you like a ton of bricks. The American artist’s show here acts as a mini history of ceramics, and that comes with a lot of bricks, and a lot of weight: both metaphorical and physical. The show’s split in two, with a traditional sculpture layout upstairs and a more archival approach as you come in. It opens with four big cabinets. One is filled with historical ceramics from around the world, symbols of global trade. The next with objects leaden with colonial and racist implications; dancing black boys, grinning black faces. The other two are laid out with works by Gates and the ceramicists who influence him; all beautiful minimalism and modernism, cracked glazes and sombre tones. The rest of the space is all piles of bricks - a material he has used in the past to rebuild deprived areas of his native Chicago - and reams of information on clay and firing temperatures.  He’s essentially setting you up for what’s to come upstairs. He’s saying that clay has a past, that it’s part of the global history of trade, that it was used to perpetuate racism, that it’s an intrinsic part of countless visual cultures, that it builds homes and jails, etc. etc. etc.  He’s saying that he understands this material’s meaning and power, and he wants you to as well.  Because at first glance, the sculptures upstairs look a little...safe, a bit traditional, and maybe a tad boring. It’s so classically ‘modern’ it could be from 1930, it could be Brancusi or Giacometti.  But

  • Art
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  • Euston

Happiness isn’t hip. We like tortured artists, not happy ones. Think of the countless millions of sad songs about loneliness, heartbreak and misery. Then think of the happy ones. It’s ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and that’s it. Well, the Wellcome Collection doesn’t care, it absolutely loves Katrina and the Waves, and its new shows are all about happiness. ‘Tranquility’ comes first and you’re immediately confronted by Jasleen Kaur’s yoga-critical installation made of giant crystals and palo santo, taking aim at the exploitative, culturally insensitive practices of the wellness industry. It’s followed by old Taoist, Buddhist and German images of quiet, contemplative isolation, and sci fi master Octavia E Butler’s notes to self, filled with pleas of empowerment, before you find a thirteenth century book about centering the body that reads like it’s straight out of a 2018 juice bar.  You then get to sit silently in Chrystel Lebas’ immersive installation of photographs of ancient forests as the sound of a river burbles by. It’s forest bathing as photography. It’s calm, tranquil, but you can’t help thinking: do we really need an artist’s recreation of a forest when we can just, you know, go to a forest?  Upstairs, the ‘Joy’ exhibition tackles ideas of ecstatic happiness. Harold Offeh’s dancers in yellow are isolated but trying to lose themselves. David Shrigley does his usual wry, sardonic thing with drawings of rants and skulls and thumbs. Then there are ancient illustrations of whirling

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
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  • Stoke Newington

Over 40 ceramicists will come together to showcase everything from cups to sculptures at this market, so you can spruce up your home with the help of some of the finest craftmakers in city. Expect clay creations from up-and-coming affordable artists and more established independent names, so you can pick up some unique, design-led homeware at Ikea prices. 

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
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  • Covent Garden

Around 35,000 people attend this massive annual celebration of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of light in Trafalgar Square. It features loads of live music and dance, a bunch of delicious vegetarian food stalls and storytelling at the National Gallery. There’ll also be plenty of creative activities to get stuck into, including a cookery demonstration from two Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, henna drawing and a massive community display of rangoli art (those colourful floor patterns made using dyed sand and rice flower.) Sounds pretty... lit!

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Hyde Park

Hervé Télémaque saw the political potential of Pop, and pushed it to bursting. Born and raised in Haiti, Télélmaque spent a few years immersed in the abstract expressionism of New York before settling in Paris in the early 1960s. There, he set about building a visual language that would fuse pop aesthetics, found imagery and abstraction, all with a singularly political purpose.  The 1960s paintings here are angry, intense, colourful things. He takes aim at racist tropes in French culture, pictures of police brutality and military imagery. It’s brutal, impactful stuff, like a vicious mix of Tintin, Lichtenstein and radical politics. The self-portrait, playing on comic book depictions of black people, is the perfect distillation of all those ideas. Earlier works are rougher and harsher, full of angry brushstrokes and graffiti-like marks, a sort of proto-Basquiat. The later paintings are a little too bloated and aimless to have anything like the same impact. They’re not as clear in their intentions or targets, and sort of stumble as a result. It’s the 1950s and ’60s works that really standout. Radical, personal, passionate, and with a defined aesthetic. Pop perfection.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Haggerston

From the walls, suns blaze across a travel-agent-ready sea. A plinth of gold Caffeine-Free Diet Coke cans supports some fake sushi. In another room, there’s a second huge block made of thousands and thousands of Lego bricks. It’s called ‘Noise’, like electronic rubbish has crystalised into matter: a toy that has become massively lumpen and unplayable. Damien Roach’s new show is packed with tensions between the digital and the physical. For every super-sophisticated bit of hacked machine learning intriguingly recreating a seventeenth-century masterpiece (out of… what? Pictures of meat, people, furniture? I don’t know) there’s a dangly thing that looks like a big chicken’s head made from a foam hand and a busted cymbal. Maybe Roach is suggesting that all information, all sequences, now have equal value, or no value. There’s a flag sticking out of the wall next to a floor fan. The fan wasn’t turned on when I arrived, which I assumed was the point. Later on, it was, so the flag flapped around. It wasn’t any better, or worse. There’s a 4x4 grid of Beatles ‘White Album’ covers on the wall. Some are the famous numbered ‘top loaders’. Others aren’t. None of them is worth anything now they’re separated from the discs, posters and anal record-collectorism. It’s hardly Ai Weiwei smashing that 2,000-year-old vase. It’s funnier for a start – the debasement/elevation of the mass-cultural archaeology of the recent(ish) past.      If you can avoid tripping over the tailgates of Ford Fiestas

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