Half A Century Ago, I Was Wondering

Half a century ago I was wondering and I was wondering for months, at a time in history when a month sometimes seemed as long as a decade, because not a single thing about the future was certain, I was wondering about who looks at who? The fundamental question about painting. Who looks at who? At that time I was at an art school at the other end of this tunnel.

Men carved this tunnel 90 years ago, out of the blue clay which surrounds us. There are no tunnels with­out deaths. They were migrant workers, Irish most­ly, and the names of the dead are forgotten. But in the silence they are here.

"But wait a second", said Roque Dalton­ -
he wasn't a miner, he was a poet from El Salvador but he's also dead,
"But wait a second:
the dead have changed since then.
They're sarcastic now
they ask questions.
I think they've caught on
that they outnumber us more every day."

This way please, this way, down the tunnel...

Perspectives - and there are many perspectives ­- belong to the act of perception and the human capacity to move, to walk, to reach out with an arm, to look. Because some of us have been taught about Alberti in the Renaissance, we tend to think of perspective as a pictorial technique. It isn't...
it comes from being thrown into open space at birth.

There are art historians today, who marvel at the fact that the prehistoric cave painters discovered, thirty thousand years ago, the rudiments of perspec­tive; "one animal is placed behind another!", they say, amazed. "A far leg has been made smaller than a near leg!"

To think like this is to ride in the train facing where you have come from, instead of where you are going. So please face the right way. And follow your guides down the tunnel.

(At the other end of the tunnel we hear a radio extract from a WWII broadcast from the Aldwych shelter. The audience meander down to the platform. They lie down.)

Perhaps the most startling modern discovery is the immensity of the past.

At the beginning of the Vertical Line, a decade seemed a long while - at least as long as a month during the bombardment of London.

On the Vertical Line, as we travel backwards, the units for measuring time grow larger and larger...

... like money with inflation.

And so, after a few centuries 50 years becomes nothing.

I have here in my hand a small stone, about the size and colour of a walnut, given to me by Anne, Anne Michaels. It's, it's very light and weighs only about 30 grams. It may be what the geologists call palago­nite, which comes from a form of submarine lava.

After a couple of millennia, five hundred years is the mere difference between yesterday and the day before.

And, on what I always think of as its top surface, there is a very flat, thin, blackish deposit - more or less the colour of a dog's nose after the dog has scuffled in the earth.

Now, after five millennia, a thousand years is a normal margin you allow for a rendez-vous.
Why couldn't you wait a bit? I was only a thousand years late.

Anne's tiny stone comes from the west coast of Newfoundland. 450 million years before, it was part of the ocean floor.

And when Europe and North America cracked apart, due to the Continental Drift, this morsel was thrown up from the depths on to the land surface, so... what I'm holding is four hundred and fifty million years old. That's a fact which would have been unthinkable for Herodotus or Gibbon.

If we knew more about the social/productive rela­tions which existed under what Engels and Marx called "primitive communism" we might know more about the secrets of Palaeolithic art; unfortunately we know rather little, and so the Vertical Line takes another direction, tunnels in a different way.