Miles Kington: The lights are going on (and off) all over Europe

'Was it the ironic display of mighty voltage overhead contrasted with the dark mass of people below?'
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The Independent Online

The title of Arts and Sports Personality of the Year was awarded last night to the English crowd performance artist, David Beckham, for his installation work: "Old Trafford: 93rd minute goal against Greece, 2001".

This monumental work was created earlier in the year in Manchester, where Mr Beckham and his 10 support artists had drawn a crowd of nearly 100,000 to the performance art gallery known as Old Trafford. The performance arena itself, a large rectangle of grass known as "the pitch", was brightly illuminated by a series of powerful lights focused on the centre, creating a dazzling rectilinear shape of almost blinding emerald in an urban surrounding.

Was this, in fact, what Mr Beckham was getting at, this display of pure, pristine rural green in surroundings of steel, concrete and electricity that symbolise the city at its most brutal? Was there an intention to create an ironic, perhaps even elegiac, "rus in urbe"?

No, said Mr Beckham, after some thought. No, he didn't think there was.

Well, was there any significance in the contrast between the viewing area, which was packed with thousands of people, and the immediately contiguous "playing pitch", which for most of the evening was empty of any humanity at all, and a lot of the time contained no more than just over 20 male figures? It must have required a superhuman amount of organisation on behalf of the artist to create such a contrast. One side pullulating humanity, the other side virtual emptiness. Was that the almost satirical thrust?

No, said Mr Beckham, after some more thought. No, he hadn't been consciously aiming at such a tension between the masses and the few.

So was it the lights, then? Was it the almost ironic display of such mighty voltage overhead, contrasted with the dark mass of people below – well, no, not completely dark, for there was always the constant minuscule flickering down below in the crowd, as individuals flicked on lighters or struck matches to light their cigarettes, thus creating a never-ending fizzle of flashes in the crowd, like candles in a gloomy Catholic church, or the flares of phosphoresence in a Mediterranean sea at dusk – had this spectacular effect been in Mr Beckham's mind?

Well, yes and no, said Mr Beckham, after some thought. No, make that a no. What he was really after was the human drama created by his team of 11 performance artists who had decided to run from one end of the "pitch" to the other, trying to kick a spherical object into a specially constructed reception area. The only bar to this intention would be provided by another 11 performance artists (hailing, in this instance, from Greece) who would provide a manifestation of opposition by attempting to wrest possession of the spherical object or "ball" and get it into the other reception area (or "net") behind Mr Beckham's crew, or "team".

Excuse me, but was Mr Beckham saying that upwards of 80,000 apparently sane people would turn out to watch 22 performance artists do ludicrous "artistic" things with a spherical object ?

Yes, said Mr Beckham, he was. And they had.

For up to five or 10 minutes at a time?

No, said Mr Beckham. For 90 minutes.

For 90 minutes?

Forty-five minutes each way, plus time added on if lost to injury. Thank goodness, added Mr Beckham. Because in the 93rd minute they had had the chance to put the spherical object in the so-called "Greek net", and although one of his fellow artists, Mr Edward Sheringham, had asked to be given the chance, he, David Beckham, had felt that he deserved centre stage and had given the spherical object a knock, and it had gone into the "Greek net", and everyone who had stayed to the end seemed very pleased with the visual effect this created.

And was this a one-off, or did Mr Beckham think he might try such a very frivolous installation work again? Even though he couldn't explain the intention and he had no idea whether there was any deeper meaning?

Yes, he said, he thought he might try a similar stadium performance work every foreseeable Saturday and most Wednesday evenings, and maybe take the idea on a Far East tour to Korea and Japan in mid-2002.

Well, good luck to you, mate. You're a brave man.

And there again, maybe the public is finally ready for modern performance art after all.