The deft tones of George Michael and Wham’s last Christmas filtered through the air as I walked along the Broadwalk of Regents Park to the main entrance of London Zoo on Sunday evening, trying to avoid peaking in and getting too much of a preview of “Christmas at London Zoo”! Myself and my parents joined the queue ahead of our 5:30pm time slot along with other parents and their children, notably I was the only non-toddler child and am in my thirties instead (I have no shame!), and readied ourselves for the mile long illuminated trail. The route begins with a tunnel comprising 100,000 twinkling lights which move across the walls and ceiling, giant paw prints projected onto the floor then lead you onto the light vortex – a series of rotating neon squares which continually change colour, and eject you into a cavernous concrete space filled with green neon spiralling lights and smoke. As the trail continues stunning illuminated animal sculptures appear, from penguins to a lion, a pair of kangaroos, giraffes and flamingos. There’s also an enormous lit up Christmas tree constructed out of wooden sleighs, giant neon snow-drops, lit up butterflies, presents, snow-flakes and open umbrellas decorating the trees. Iconic parts of the zoo also take centre stage; the original penguin enclosure (now a listed building) plays host to a choreographed illuminated fountain display, and the Mappin Terraces (lions’ mountain) have enormous festive scenes accompanied by a Christmas soundtrack cleverly projected across them. As well as zoo-themed festivities, more traditional elements are also present, including a huge fire pit to toast marshmallows, mulled wine and fairground rides including a helter-skelter and carousel. I only intended to spend about forty-five minutes there, and almost two hours later I was still enchanted, albeit a little chilly. Open until 1st January I’d highly recommend a visit for children of all ages!
The term ‘urban jungle’ is never more true than when used to describe Oxford Street in the lead-up to Christmas; a mass migration of the UK population to one shopping destination, prowling the streets in pursuit of the ultimate gift, and shoving any opponents out of the way to seize their prey. In the relative calm of nearby Golden Square is Marian Goodman Gallery, currently host to an exhibition entitled ‘Animality’ exploring the complex relationship between humans and animals. Split across both floors of the gallery, it comprises seventy works ranging from early cave paintings through to emerging artists’ creations including pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Cartsen Holler and Peter Wachtler alongside philosophy and writing by Charles Darwin, Michael Foucault and George Orwell to name just a few. Upon entering the gallery you are greeted by cabinets of illustrated animals, a giant white stuffed squirrel by Mark Dion, an enormous black and white printed image of an elephant, a purple octopus sculpture by Carsten Holler, and numerous photographic images of birds and other creatures littered across the ground floor. A calf dressed in bright prints synonymous with Yinka Shonibare is suspended on a tightrope above the staircase, an albino camel sculpture by John Baldessari, and humanised wooden sculptures of a foxy Fox Lady and raincoated Raven Man by Stephan Balkenhol all continue to question what distinguishes humans from animals. These pieces are interspersed with film, including Fischli and Weiss’s humerous projection of a cat endlessly drinking milk from a bowl, Pierre Bismuth’s version of Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ where each of the characters speaks in one of the many languages it was translated into it, and a dark cartoon version of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ sponsored by the CIA who altered the ending. With only days to go before it closes on 17th December, I’d suggest a visit to escape the human crowds and reacquaint yourself with our animal counterparts.