Coales' Notes: Working out in the open: Gordon Coales arrives for the first day of work at Ars Longa and discovers a fear of open spaces
Monday 22 March 1993
I was up at the very crack this morning, took a train down to Euston (no seat), and then on by tube. I arrived at the Ars Longa offices at 9.30 sharp. Everyone was already there.
Having been introduced all round by Di, I suggested that the best thing would be for me to spend the morning settling into my office. Di said: 'Well, this is where you are,' indicating a desk in the room (in which she and two other people appeared to be working). I observed that it seemed very spacious, but that, while I was reluctant to throw people out, I wouldn't of course be needing all these desks myself. Di said: 'No, Gordon, we all work here.' I asked how long this arrangement was intended to last. They said it was like that always.
I took Di to one side. I said I didn't want to make a thing about it - but just to establish the point that I was, officially, Project Co-Ordinator. She said: 'Well, we're all Project Co-Ordinators, apart from Susie. That's not a problem is it?'
So I must accept that, for the time being at least, I am to be working in an open-plan office. I find it a most unsatisfactory concept. For it seems to exclude those vitally important intervals of reflection and introspection which have always been (for me) essential to pacing out the working day.
I feel more tired now than I have felt for a long time.
Then we went off for a long lunch, and talked about the 'Ars Longa Report on the Arts and Their Audiences' - chiefly designed to annoy the Arts Council. I have agreed to take charge of this personally. I mentioned my old idea for an Arts Watchdog Body, which they liked.
One way in which this is so very different from the Centre is the attitude of refreshing frankness towards the arts. At one point the young man (called Rory) suddenly said: 'Well, I'm afraid Sonya Wren is moving into her boring period.' Di said: 'Yes, I know.' I asked what he meant. Rory said: 'What I mean, Gordon, is that the first show is fine, and then for the next one you bust your arse finding them this beautiful disused warehouse, and then they just stick a postage stamp in the middle of one wall, and expect everyone to go: 'Oh Wow] The space is transformed]' That's the boring period.'
He added that many artists on their books seemed to have simultaneously made this move in the last few months. Di said: 'I don't want to give Gordon a too negative impression at the start.'
Of course, it is particularly difficult to get down to anything with these conversations going on, as they are, almost continually.
By 7 o'clock, I thought it must be all right for me to sneak off and get some kip, but Di asked if I was doing anything, and I felt unable to refuse. So we went down to a South Bank concert by one of their proteges, an ensemble called Hypnos, premiering something. There was a kind of light-show, but unfortunately I don't remember much more about it. Then we went out for dinner, and Di explained to me how extraordinarily talented Rory was, and how she didn't expect him to stay with Ars Longa much longer. And then finally I was able to head for the Barbican.
Luckily Archie's lodger was at home. I haven't got a very clear impression of Gunnar yet. He went straight back into his room after letting me in. And I cannot honestly complain that his music is too loud. But I can hear it. The sheets on my bed, though perfectly clean, are coloured brown. Oh sleep.
TUESDAY I'm pretty much at the end of my tether. Spent the entire day sitting at my desk trying to make some preliminary progress on the report. And I have noticed there are actually rooms on the floor above completely unused. Then Di dragged me off to see a dance company. I don't know why she's doing this. Hospitality, I suppose. Again, I remember little. Gunnar's music continues. Not a moment's relaxation.
WEDNESDAY A comedian tonight, I think, and I can remember Di apologising to me.
THURSDAY Best to leave it.
FRIDAY At last, in my own house again. It has been quite a week.
This morning Di said to Rory: 'I'm afraid you're right. We're being let down seriously.'
Rory said (in a Grandstand voice): 'Shock result. The Arts - 8. Their Audiences - 0.'
Di went on: 'Well, I'm sorry to say so, but it's true. I mean, look at Gordon. I've taken him to see our basically four star acts this week - and he slept through every one of them. I mean, I was embarrassed. It's the most direct kind of judgement. We have to ask ourselves: are we that bad? Last night, he even managed to sleep through a private view - which you wouldn't normally think was possible, given there were no chairs.'
I laughed, and said I thought I would take the afternoon off. I had a really good catch-up on the train home. I don't think I'm going to last.
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