Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Why going for a run by the River Thames is like creating a rubbish work of art.

I’ve read that a lot of people enjoy running by the river in London. Y'know, you hear about it, in those *My Ideal Sunday* articles in the Sunday papers:

“We usually get to have a lie in on Sunday and drag ourselves out of bed around 10. Which is wonderful as I am normally up at 5.30 during the week doing busy important things. To make myself feel a little less lazy I like to go for a run along the river for 5 miles or so. Consuela comes with me if she's not working on a film and Rufus the dog tags along too! It feels great to have that time together and enjoy the views of the Thames on a sunny morning. The sun shining on the water, the rabbits jumping about, tramps covered in their own vomit bla bla happy bla. After a busy week doing all that clever stuff we do it’s wonderful to unwind, get outside and get some much needed physical exercise. Then we race back, power-shower & eat breakfast while we read the papers.”

Incidentally, why do *successful* people always read “the papers”? Why not just get one? There’s no point in having 2 tv guides…

So, whilst visiting our lovely busy capital city, I thought it would be a jolly spiffing idea to go for a run *down the river*. It was… for a bit. Nice bridges, the Houses of Parliament, other big buildings that I have seen in the background of shows on the telly, then the London Eye.

100s & 1000s of colourful tourists milling around in circles; unable to decide where they want to go. All looking up at the wheel, at the skyline; not in my direction. Me trying to slip through the gaps, trying not to fall over baby buggies or run into people eating ice cream. Nice. A bit of fun for about 59 seconds...

It was a bit like playing frogger, only slower, initially challenging, but quickly dull and annoying. I was annoying the innocent tourists with my charging about; they were annoying me by just existing. Crowd running: not much fun really. I turned round and walked back.

I’ll stick to being a flâneur next time I’m down there. It’s easier and more enjoyable to go & watch someone else running in that part of town. And where would you go to see some running? That's right, an art gallery? Tate Britain.

“I think it’s good to see museums at high speed. It leaves time for other things.” Martin Creed on Work No.850

"Martin Creed's Work No. 850 [currently on show at Tate Britain, London, Ingerland] centres on a simple idea: that a person will run as fast as they can every thirty seconds through the gallery. Each run is followed by an equivalent pause, like a musical rest, during which the grand Neoclassical gallery is empty.

"This work celebrates physicality and the human spirit. Creed has instructed the runners to sprint as if their lives depended on it. Bringing together people from different backgrounds from all over London, Work No. 850 presents the beauty of human movement in its purest form, a recurring yet infinitely variable line drawn between two points." [Tate Britain words]

So it goes like this. Bloke runs through the long hally part of the Art Gallery. The main drag. Runs fast. Then disappears. Wow. Then there's a gap just long enough to make you think it's not going to happen again. Bloke no.2 comes flying out of the door at the top. Runs through the hall. Disappears out of the end. Like a mouse running along the kitchen floor, he's gone before you get over the shock of him ever being there. Repeat & repeat until everyone gets tired out...

"In Palermo we went to see the catacombs of the Capuchin monks. We were very late and only had five minutes to see it all before closing time. To do it we had to run. I remember running at top speed with my friends through the catacombs looking desperately left and right at all of the dead people hanging on the walls in their best clothes, trying our best to see it all... it was a good way to see it. It was that kind of delirious running which makes you laugh uncontrollably when you're doing it. I think it's good to see museums at high speed. It leaves time for other things. [Martin Creed, Tate Britain words]

The runners just wear vests, shorts and trainers (and possibly undergarments). But they don’t wear a uniform. Their vests don’t say 850 or 118/118. Anyone could join in. The attendants would never notice.

I really really reeellly want to do it. Have a run. Except you do have to be effin fit, man:
"You will be expected to sprint for a distance of approximately 86 metres through the gallery. You must be able to complete the 86 metre sprint in less than 15 seconds. At the end of the sprint you will walk back to the start point and repeat the sprint approximately every 2 minutes (ie around 15 sprints) during a ½ hour period maintaining a consistent speed for each sprint." [www.running-project.co.uk]
That's what they tell you on the *Job Application* page. Cheers. Way to put me off.

Meanwhile they are clearly employing loads of out-of-work athletes. It's been going on long enough that the attendants are clearly bored. But then museum/art gallery attendants are always bored. Security guards always look bored. They don’t want anything bad to happen, but they’re bored when nothing does.

There were a bunch of little kiddiewinkles there watching. Dragged along to the gallery by their parents to get them some *culture*. Fascinated and confused and annoyed by the running men and lady. Wanting to join in. Having a little run but getting dragged away.
“But why is that man running? Why is he allowed to run if I am not?”
“Because he works here.”
“How is it though? How is it his job? I want to be a running man.”
“Read the sign, it will tell you about it. The art thing that is happening.”
“Then am I allowed to run? When you have read the words to me?”

It might be nicer if the kids were allowed to run. Sports days are always fun to watch. Little kids do run in ridiculously comic styles. *All arms n legs*. And it’s always fun when they fall over – provided they don’t break too many bones n start screaming, but even then it’s sometimes still funny. That’s the whole point of the hilarious *New You've Been Framed*. Now that it's got Harry Hill narrating and not Lisa Riley/Jeremy Beadle, you've nothing to be scared of. Give it a watch. Go on, watch it. It's an undoubted humourfest. If Charlie Chaplin is allowed to be funny then how can small child falling off a swing and (not) hurting themselves not be hilarious?

People falling over are just idiots – for small moments – I’m an idiot when I bash my head into a kitchen door I left open. Anyone watching laughs. They can’t help it. It’s amusing to watch other people bang into things. It’s only when my skull starts bleeding & I faint that they start to barely suppress their sniggers.

But none of us running enthusiasts are thinking about anything but when is the next runner gonna pop out...

2 minutes later and bloke number 1 pops up again. It’s like they run then they get an escalator back to their starting place. They’re unannounced and they just head out into the hall, hurtling along at what looks like top speed – top speed moderated by the fact that there are a gaggle of confused tourists wandering across the hall in a zigzag of ceiling-gazing disinterest. Bloke no.1 doesn’t shout out – doesn’t tell em to get the Eff out of the way – he jags to his left, he loops to his right and he barely stalls his speed. He’s through them and they’re all startled and scooting out of the way like a flock of pigeons annoyed by a cyclist but never actually managing to get properly out of the way until he’s gone past.

It’s an art fright. They’re jumping with art shock & art adrenaline. Woken up by it. From bored art voyeurs to unwitting participants in this *happening*.

As a British onlooker my obvious first thought is: hmmm, Health & Safety? *No Claim No Fee*? Would it be worth my while to get bashed into by bloke no.3 so I could phone up 0800 ****** and see how much I could get? Skiddy floor/scary runny fellow/half-asleep attendants/randomly art grazing Japanese tourists. It’s like JG Ballard’s Crash – rethought for the post-petrol age.

It’s a bit scary. Muscley shaven headed bloke no.3 is fearful. It’s like having a nightclub bouncer charging towards you. A human rhino. The smell of his pheromones ensure that people get out of the way before he arrives, if they don't hear the crunch-crunch as his concrete lined trainers thud along the parquet floor. If you painted him green he’d look like the Hulk, if you painted him red and squidgy he’d be a Francis Bacon nightmare come to life.

Bloke no.1 might be an artist himself. Or a geography PhD student. He’s beardy and uneventful. Wistful & floaty like a hippy skirt or a St Ives watercolour painting.

Lady runner no.2 is obviously a proper athlete. She’s fast without ever seeming like she’s trying. All her muscles are in the right places. She’s like a Henry Moore sculpture animated, but with the correct number of limbs. A bit like that. Maybe.

So is it art? If I stand here waiting for lady runner to come out again will I get arrested for stalking? If I deliberately let a runner (probably not Hulk man) smash into me, is that frottage or a reactive Art statement – like when someone jumped up & down on Tracey Emin’s bed?

It’s definitely *Modern Art* coz it’s both genius & pathetic at the same time. It’s interesting and pointless. It’s meaningful and yet definitely something that *any 10 year old could do!*

I told all this to someone I’ll refer to euphamistically as *a close friend* and suggested she go and have a look. I thought it was fun. I thought it was funny. She thought it was dull, boring, pointless and just plain stupid. She doesn’t like running though. I watched the 10,000 metres and the 100 metres and the 400 metres hurdles at the Olympics. I like a bit of running. I watched the weightlifting and the crossbow shooting. I watched the bmx bikin n the ten-pin bowling. She hates all sport. To her *Art running* is still running & utterly mundane. Like the 10 year old, she’d rather be running herself. Ahem.

Work no. 850 could be improved though, surely. The hall where they’re running has no actual chuffin *Art* in it – it could be a big church hall. Where's the paintings, Tate people? It wasn’t like that in Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film *Bande à part* when those crazy French hot headed kidz were haring round the Louvre at top speed [see above]. More fun like that I'd say. A bit of danger.

And surely that film was Mart’s inspiration, not his made-up story about Italian monks? Hmmm? And if he really wants to link it back to Greek images of athletes – all those sculptures of discus throwers they used to do – then the runners have to be naked. Then you could see the muscles & the human body in full effect. Yes! That would get the tabloids interested, and so fulfill one of the other main objectives of a nice conceptual art piece. In fact I tried to explain this idea to lady runner no.2 as she was running along. She wasn't that interested, though the attendants were. They told me how they had been watching me for the past hour, as they escorted me out of the building...

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