7pm. From the southbank centre I meet artist Whitney McVeigh for tonight’s hottest ticket on the London’s arts scene. It’s The Royal Academy GSK Contemporary Earth exhibition opening of thirty international artists off regent
Street. Jude Kelly appears and we all enter a packed and happening foyer up the stairs and into the exhibition proper. It’s busy. But don’t expect this to be a review. It isn’t.
Jude, Whitney, Vicky Long , Eva Martinez and I curl through the crowds taking in the magnificence of it all, each one of us stopping to chat to different people.
I meet Antony Gormley stood outside of his piece which fills an entire room preventing viewer or artist from physically entering. “I haven’t seen this piece for seventeen years” he says with melancholy. It’s as if he is stood next to an old
eccentric friend, or thousands of them as it were. We stand, talk amongst those
friends and say goodbye.
On my way further down the stairs – I was popping out for a cigarette – Tracey Emin in ball gown looks astounding as she floats upwards. I get tell Emin that her artwork sold at the houses of parliament yesterday in an auction for charity and the winner was Kate Adie. Her eyes brighten and she talks of Kate. I introduce myself “I know you Lemn Sissay” she frowns “You’re in the exhibition.” I continue down the stairs to see to my pleasure one of Britain’s and definitely London’s most stylish writers whom each time I meet him seems more and more like an older cooler and wiser brother – Ben Okri.We swap numbers again.
Finally I’m outside flushed by the night air. After the cigarette (nasty habit) I return for a second sighting of “What if”. Sometimes at exhibitions it is good to stand by your work. “What If” is a film of the poem performed with two Jazz Musicians. They are Gary Crosby OBE and Peter Edwards. I wrote the poem and they the music. It was filmed by Deborah May.
Somehow the curators found a perfect space for it, a blackened space with in its centre the film playing on a loop. There are two writers in the exhibition (I am using an archaic idea of what writers are cause Tracey Emin is a writer too) but let’s say the two “writers” are myself and Ian McEwan. We are at opposite sides of the book sales flow chart but you understand what I mean.
As I arrived two people were watching: Ian McEwan the husband shoulder to shoulder with Annalena McAfee the wife and both in total concentration upon my film . It would be rude to disturb them wouldn’t it? I decided to wait. While waiting it dawned What if they hate it and then turn around and I’m stood here. Ian McEwan went to the arctic with Cape Farewell the year before I went. His wife Annalena is a respected one time colleague of The Journalist. I waas so involved in these thoughts the film finished and they freakin’ turn around.