As is usual with such auditions, and as my friend had warned me, the applicants had been told to arrive at 8 am but then spent two hours queueing outside before anything much happened. The whole thing was finished before 1pm but I had lots of time to spend while he was auditioning. I had a coffee and read a book for an hour and then strolled along Southampton Row towards the British Museum. I remembered that I had a black biro in my bag and bought a pad of plain paper on the way.
The Egyptian Sculpture hall, which is the first you come to from the main entrance, had not changed at all since I was last there, when my daughter was researching for a school project - still monumental, lovely textures of marble and stone and those impassive archaic faces gazing across at each other. I went on through the ages and across the ancient world to the Early Greek Geometric rooms. Bellied pots, lovingly pieced together by archaeological restorers, with fine geometric patterns circling them. And a bench, placed behind the statue of a young athlete with a beautiful bottom. He is poised as if to throw a discus and his body twists in a lovely tense arabesque. The bench is behind him so it was natural for me to sit down with my pad and biro and try to draw his back.
I heard a little laugh behind me and there was a smiling Japanese lady, jabbing excitedly towards the sculptured buttocks. Yes, I mimed, I'm drawing it. She looked even more gleeful, sat down on the next bench and pulled out a sketch pad and a little box of watercolour paints. We worked alongside each other, occasionally holding up the work to show each other and compliment each other in our own language (she began this). I was still trying to capture the tension and dynamism of the athletic back in my sketches when she put her book away and went on to the next gallery.
The statue was attracting a lot of competitive posing from people of all genders, ages and nationalities by now. Most of those flexing their biceps next to him were boys and men, but some girls were doing the same. The urge of many of the female visitors to stroke those lovely buttocks was obvious by their mimes. (The same urge was restrained by convention in most of the male visitors, but not all!) It is a lovely work and I found it difficult to do it justice in my drawing.
I walked on into the section about Molossian culture. This was based where modern Iran lies, in the Persian region, about 350BC. Here I found another bench, my Japanese friend, and a huge marble statue of Mausolus, a Persian satrap (governor) in damaged marble. I sat down and we drew companionably for a while. She introduced herself and offered me a sweet, and I wished that I could speak Japanese.
The satrap was a powerful figure in every sense. His heavy head and strong neck reminded me of Joseph, who was still in the audition. Mausolus’ robe was draped in complex marble folds and creases round his ample stomach. He was a great figure to draw and I found I was really enjoying myself. I had finished and was just beginning a sketch of a gigantic marble horse's head in the same gallery when a message came from Joseph - the audition was over, he had met up with someone he knew and what about lunch together? Of course, I said.
Sarah, whom Joseph had met, writes a controversial blog on Myspace and her ambition is to publish her work. She is a sweet girl from Philadelphia who has been based in New York and now lives in London. We all went to Mr. Wu's, an "all you can eat" Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which Joseph and I had been to before. The food there is good, plentiful and cheap and we had a good chat over our noodles, sweet and sour and rice dishes. Afterwards, we walked back towards the car with Sarah and said goodbye, but Joseph was in a "What shall we do now" mood so I took advantage of that to suggest the Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Having written about it after seeing a Channel 4 programme about it last week, I felt I must see the real thing.
We drove over to Waterloo and parked on the bridge, a stone's throw from the Hayward. It was after four in the afternoon and getting chilly. we found a queue for tickets, joined it and got in for the 5 o'clock slot. While we waited, we viewed what in Joseph's opinion was the only good part of the exhibition: "Event Horizon", which is free because it consists of replicas of Gormley's standing figure, installed on roofs and high points all over London. It's a simple idea with an amazing impact. You look up and spot one of the figures, then another, then another, until you find that scores of them have swum into your conscious perception. Why the installation is so impressive is hard to put into words. It's perhaps partly because they give scale to the buildings and skyline and also perhaps they excite a kind of empathetic feeling of being up there yourself, looking down and across London. Their collective gaze makes a kind of intangible network across the city, too.
The Channel 4 programme had predisposed Joseph and me towards the exhibition in diametrically opposed ways. I was prepared to love it. Joseph was prepared to dislike it. In the event I found Joseph's position was not unreasonable, but we both enjoyed the "Blind Light" installation - a glass cube full of dense white fog, where visitors wander unable to see each other or the sides of the box until they approach to within a few inches of them. The atmosphere in the cube is warm and damp and you are blinded, yet in light, not darkness. Joseph said it reminded him of when he flew helicopters through clouds. It reminded me of the "pea-souper" fogs we used to have in London when I was a child, in the days when coal was the main source of heat and power. It made me cough a little and I thought about the germs that might be enjoying the damp heat that we were all breathing in and out!
The other room that I enjoyed was called "Matrices and Expansions". In about ten hanging sculptures, Gormley has made three dimensional "drawings" in wires and rods of male figures (based on hs own body) and extended the lines through and around the enclosed figures. Each sculpture has a different character that comes from the spacing and thickness of the "lines" used to make them. I found these beautiful. Joseph didn't agree.
We couldn't face any more queuing so we didn't go inside "Hatch", another walk-in installation.
Joseph was somewhat scathing about the exhibition and pointed out that the only part worth seeing was visible free, so we shouldn't have paid to see the rest (£8 and I was disappointed that the senior concession rate was only £1 less at £7) I was glad I'd seen it, though -having written about the publicity for it, it was only honest to see the reality!
We were still in the mood to do more and so we decided to go to Leicester Square to get some discounted tickets for Blue Man Group, who are showing at the New English Theatre in Drury lane until 24th June. Joseph had seen them before, in Las Vegas, but was keen to do so again. We caught the tube this time and managed to get tickets for the 9pm show.
We then made our tired and rather tetchy way on foot to check where the theatre was, before having a drink and a snack. It turned out that Joseph and I have opposite views on finding the way in cities if you've left your A-Z in the car (as I had). Joseph won't ask the way because he maintains that this leads to misinformation if not to a complete blank. I reckon that you are likely to get the information you need if you pick someone to ask who works in the area. We got as far as Covent Garden and I spotted a newspaper seller – I ‘ve never met one who doesn’t know every road in a half mile radius or who isn’t glad to tell you how to get there. It worked. It wasn’t until we sat down outside the “Freemason’s Arms” near Drury Lane (having found the theatre) that Joseph looked at the back of the flier he had thoughtfully picked up at the ticket office and discovered the map of theatreland on it.
We were intrigued by a constant coming and going of men in black suits carrying identical black cases, in and out of the building opposite where we sat. We were tired – it shouldn’t have taken us so long to realise why the pub where we sat was so named. The identical ties and lapel pins were our final clue. There must have been quite a major pow-wow going on that evening.
The Blue Man Group show was absolutely the highlight of the day. As Joseph said, “This is real art” (I won’t repeat all his comments about Anthony Gormley here). He is right – this is stimulating, exciting, sensitive, funny, visual, musical, vibrant, cross cultural, honest, interactive performance art of the highest quality. I will say no more but will advise anyone who asks – go and see for yourself.
After the performance the group and their backstage crew come out into the foyer to pose for photos and sign programmes. So they are non-elitist and approachable as well. A great performance!
It’s a long time since I’ve had such a busy and enjoyable Saturday. Now I’m saving up for the next one!