First Night: Going underground to search for artists lost in time

The Vertical Line Strand London

THE VENUE for so many prosaic scenarios (bodies thrown under trains, bomb scares, the malodorous intimacies of the rush hour), the London Underground, has also haunted the imagination of poets. Both T S Eliot in Four Quartets and Derek Walcott in his stage version of the Odyssey have used the Underground as a contemporary symbol of the classical Underworld. But you don't need to be a genius to feel that this location offers a pretty graphic sneak preview of Hell.

Now, though, if you descend 30 metres below the Strand to the murky innards of a disused Tube station, you will find that the Underground has been commandeered for somewhat less gloomy considerations. A collaboration between the writer John Berger and Theatre de Complicite director, Simon McBurney, The Vertical Line takes you on an imaginary journey backwards in time and downwards in space to the Chauvet cave in France. It was here, in 1995, that paintings of animals were discovered which, dating back 32,000 years, constitute the oldest images created by man yet found.

A spooky combination of intrepid potholing and reverberating meditations on time and art, this powerful experience begins with saturation bombardment by images flashed up on a bank of television screens and ends in a tunnel of palpably dense darkness where we join in the attempt to recapture what it was like to discover these ur-paintings, collapsing the concepts of "then" and "now".

In between, the journey takes in a huge circular shaft where ghostly images of Berger lecturing on the astonishingly well preserved and life- like Egyptian funerary portraits from Fayum are projected on the bleak walls. It also includes an episode where you lie on mattresses by a defunct line and look up at lonely cloudscapes shifting across the barrel vaulting while Berger, aping the tones of a foreign correspondent, offers a front- line report on Corsica 3,000 BC.

The main philosophical point would seem to be that it is naive to call the art of cave painting "primitive". "There was no fumbling at the beginning," declares Berger. "The need to make images did not precede the talent for doing so." Allied to this assertion is the more difficult and tendentious notion that what gives the Sayum portraits and the animal paintings their special power is that the artists submitted to being looked at by their subjects: hence, the pictures are, in a curious way, self-portraits. The five remaining shows are, alas, fully booked. But the curious can follow the event on the Internet at www.innercity.demon.co.uk. A piquant conjunction of the ancient and modern.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Coordinator

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent