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Review: 'Lido Love' by Amy Liptrot

Journalist Amy Liptrot reviews the recent 'Lido Love' night at the much loved London Fields Lido. Once a home to “squatters, discussions, festivals, community events, raves” this night bought art back into the changing room.

The pleasure of swimming outdoors, all-year-round, is one that was well known to Londoners at the beginning of the last century but has been almost lost in recent decades. The re-opening of London Fields Lido in Hackney, and the semi-evangelical enthusiasm of those who now swim there, has opened this invigorating experience to a new generation and was celebrated on this special evening last weekend.

Curators Adriana Marques and Gillian Fox brought together local artists to create work inspired by the only Olympic-sized heated pool in London, which was built in 1932 and, apart from closure over the war years, was in use until it was closed due to lack of funds in 1988.

At first I was annoyed that during for a bash held at a swimming pool, you would not be allowed to get in the water. But the below-freezing temperatures, and the variety of distractions on the poolside, tempered my disappointment on the evening itself.

The pool is lit from underwater and steam is gently rising from the water, which is warm when I dip my hand. Cold people queue for food and hot drinks from the cafe, looking up at the silhouetted trees of London Fields, orange-lit Hackney tower blocks beyond and stars above.

Cyanotype blue-prints of swimmers' bodies by Zoe Burt are, appropriately, displayed in the outdoor changing rooms while, inside, a 'DJ Lion Man' is playing relaxed beats in the ladies changing rooms. Towards the end of the evening, people are dancing, more to get warm than anything else.

Tracy Emin's film Why I Never Became a Dancer, which includes images of Margate Lido, plays in the male changing room, her disturbing tale of teenage promiscuity incongruous with the signs to 'shower before entering the pool'.

Fire artist La Horrax performs an Egyptian Fire Dance on the poolside, the flames reflected in the water. Unfortunately, the flames on her fan are extinguished, one-by-one, by the cold conditions and the act is prematurely ended. A good natured round of applause follows, the crowd being brought together, in British Best, by the shivering cold.

I have been a regular user of the Lido, swimming all through last winter, so it was interesting to find out about the history of the place, including the tireless work of those who prevented the building for being bulldozed in the early 90s and campaigned for its eventual refurbishment and re-opening in 2006. Lido Love is a celebration of these people as well as the current swimmers and the artists who are influenced by warm water on a cold day, open air, in central London.

The event was particularly focused on the “alternative history” of the Lido, and the accompanying literature explained how, at points during its wilderness year, the Lido was home to squatters and hosted “screenings, discussions, festivals, community events, raves”. It is this “alternative bohemian history”, rather than the Hackney Council-sanctioned fitness regimes and membership schemes, that Lido Love brought back to life on Saturday.

In keeping with this slightly anarchic spirit, I just wish I'd worn my cozzie under my clothes and stripped off on the frosty night and jumped in! If Lido Love organises another event, perhaps in the summer, who's with me?

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