Art beat

26th February 1999 at 00:00
Francis Bacon is an artist more admired than loved. His distortions of the human body present us with uncomfortably vivid images of ourselves, our anxieties and loneliness, which most of us find difficult to respond to except with revulsion. His presentation of his own life, spent mostly in post-war bohemian London, is full of obfuscations. One myth that he sought to perpetuate was that all his paintings were so spontaneous that he did not make preparatory sketches. Now the Tate Gallery has mounted a small exhibition, Francis Bacon: works on paper and paintings, to which the curator Matthew Gale admits Bacon would probably have objected.

Thirty-nine pages from a grubby "dismembered" sketch-book adorn the walls of two small rooms with the more familiar and imposing canvasses of the Tate's collection of Bacon's paintings displayed next door. The paint-sketches - they are not drawings in the conventional sense - show typically energetic Bacon figures, crouching, bending or based on photographs of boxers, executed in single colours, blues and reds. This would be a useful addition to any study of Bacon, but it would be a good idea to plan a visit to another part of the Tate's collection at the same time. The major Jackson Pollock exhibition, for instance, previewed in this column some months ago, opens on March 11.

Next door to the Bacon displays is a strange white room which seems, at first glance, to be undergoing renovation. But then you notice a video-screen with a PR voice-over, and a monstrous shredder. And the "workmen" dressed in matching red gear are not moving. "Would you like to be our very first visitor?" asked a Tate security guard. So, next moment I was alone in the room, crunching paper and tin-foil cut-outs of people underfoot. The installation, by Michael Landy, has, of course, a political point: the imaginary Scrapheap Services efficiently cleans up all the awkward people on the fringes of society, shredding them through a mincer-like "Vulture" machine. A smooth commentary assures us (we are not, of course, in the disposable category) of the company's commitment to us, while we are implicated in the heartless sweeping away of human problems.

Art-as-social-comment often seems over-elaborate: there are, after all, no new ideas here and they can quickly be expressed in words, but it is an odd sensation to be in an environment which is both ordinary and nightmarish.

Among other new displays is Damien Hirst's Pharmacy: clinical cabinets that suggest the alienation of modern medicine.

The Tate's new education leaflet is now available. Events include in-service training and 40-minute consultations with education staff for teachers wishing to organise their own visits. There are talks and workshops for children as young as three. Over-11s can take part in sculpture sessions supported by the Henry Moore Foundation. There will be an open evening for teachers on Jackson Pollock on March 26 and a day devoted to "Expressions of Abstraction" on April 17. Imaginative events focusing on illustration, story-telling and poetry will coincide with The Word, London's first festival of literature. Favourite book-people such as Shirley Hughes, Quentin Blake and John Hegley will take part. For details of all Tate events: 0171 887 8765.

Primary schools in the City of London, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets can benefit from the Poetry Society's Poet in the City scheme. John Mole, a TES guest poet in 1997, will work with a team of poets in a unique project which also involves city businesses. Details: 0171 420 9880.

Manchester's Irish Festival runs from March 6 to 17 and includes a - slightly premature - St Patrick's Day parade on March 14. Among dozens of events is Manchester Schools Unite, "a safe, smoke and alcohol-free environment especially for clubbers aged 11-17" featuring boy-band Storm. For a free festival guide: 0161 234 1943.

Pershore High School in Worcestershire is to present The Crucible on March 25 to 27, but this promises to be a more disconcerting experience than most school plays provide. As soon as the audience enters the building "they will immediately be drawn into a tight-knit world of gossip and rumour, where the merest hint of witchcraft sets the community ablaze with hysteria". Tickets: 01386 552471.

Science and art join forces in Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman, to be performed at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Shepperton Road, London, between March 12 and 20, and at the Mumford Theatre in Cambridge on March 21. Set 99, the company presenting the show, claims to make you "tap your feet, laugh out loud and want to tell all your friends about quantum electro-dynamics". Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist, drummer and storyteller. Information: Mike Maran Productions, 01223 514511.

Wyke College in Hull, in partnership with CityLearning, is holding a one-day conference, Making it Happen - Raising Attainment through the Arts on March 3. Dr Ken Robinson, chair of the Govern-ment's National Committee for Creative and Cultural Education, an excellent speaker who combines passion for arts education with a good line in jokes, will give the keynote address. Fee for delegates pound;10. Information: 01482 346347.

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