Artbeat

28th September 2001 at 01:00
The National Portrait Gallery has just commissioned its first conceptual portrait, a portrait by British artist Marc Quinn of the UK's leading genetic scientist Sir John Sulston. Quinn, one of the Sensation generation, came to prominence with a frozen sculpture he made of his own head, cast in his own blood, and kept in suspended animation in a glass cryogenic chamber.

Sulston (who will be giving this Christmas's BBC Reith Lectures) was the man behind the human genome project, racing to keep the human DNA codes in the public domain and out of the hands of private patenters.

The portrait uses a laboratory process employed by Sulston during his work. A random segment of Sulston's DNA is held within a plate coated in translucent jelly. It appears as delicate dots shadowing the surface of the plate, like specks of algae floating in a pond: like ancient creatures caught in amber.

"It's the first so-called abstract image in the portrait gallery," says Quinn, " but actually it's the most realistic and specific portrait in many ways."

The Image captures Sulston's genes, alongside all the genes he has shared with every one of his ancestors back to the primordial soup. With a highly polished frame, this genomic portrait also reflects the faces of today's and future viewers. "You could say it's a portrait of everything on Earth that's alive," says Quinn.

Quinn's portrait is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until February 10, 2002. Tel: 020 7306 0055. Visit www.npg.org.uk or www.wellcome.ac.uk A wonderfully informative display puts the image in context, explaining the history and development of the human genome project.

The Fresh series, which opens this week at London's Purcell Room, presents a programme of concerts designed to give a platform to young classical musicians just settling into their professional careers. On October 4 there's an opportunity to hear the Solaris Quartet play a mixed programme of 20th-century English music for strings.

"Chamber music is very hard to get off the ground in this country," explains Solaris cellist Nick Allen. "We're all slightly too old to enter competitions now, so a series like Fresh is very useful to give us the opportunity to play somewhere as high-profile as the Purcell Room.

"It takes a long time to get any quartet working well together. You have to reckon on at least four to five years' playing. We've been very lucky getting on so well early on."

Solaris is the resident orchestra at the London College of Music, where its members coach and record with the college's film composers. They have performed in special schools around the country as part of the Live Music Now initiative. Next summer, they will be working with schools in the London borough of Newham, including St Boniface's, to produce a performance of Britten's children's opera, Noye's Fludde.

"Our fortes are playing English music, and modern music. We seem to have a feel for that," says Allen.

Thursday's programme combines string quartets by Britten (No 3) and Elgar (E minor), with two new pieces. "Lamento d'Arianna", by Richard Rodney Bennett, is a fantasia based on a madrigal from the Monteverdi opera. Graham Williams's "String Quartet no 3", which features some racingly fast playing and a whole pizzicato movement, here receives its world premiere.

"It's fantastic being the first people to play something new and vibrant, and creating new repertoire. It has to be done, otherwise classical music will die a death," says Allen.

Solaris Quartet performs on October 4 at 7.30pm in the Purcell Room, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1. Fresh: Young Musicians' Platform continues until December 6. Tel: 020 7960 4242. Website: www.rfh.org.uk Also on the South Bank, on October 2, there's a rare public appearance by Trinidadian-born novelist V S Naipaul. The author of A House for Mr Biswas and The Enigma of Arrival reads from his new novel Half a Life, and discusses his work with Patrick French. Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm.

Biting the Mango is the UK's biggest festival of Asian and Black movies, now in its seventh year, at the National Museum of Photography and Television in Bradford.

Bollywood film star, sex symbol and box office dynamite Shah Rukh Khan gives an onstage interview on Saturday (if the international crisis allows him to make his flight) after a matinee screening of his 1998 film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai - a Hindi musical love story set among the students of an ultra-hip college.

India's number-one heart-throb also features in a more unusual setting - a celebrity episode of the TV quiz-show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The first European screening of the cult Indian version of the quiz sees Khan locked in battle with actress Rani Mukherjee, answering questions in English to win 10 million rupees for charity.

Biting the Mango ends this weekend. Booking and enquiries 01274 202030.

Other events this weekend include a seminar discussing opportunities for young British Black and Asian screenwriters; and Roots, a series of short films from Canada, Britain and Australia which explore culture-clash among second-generation immigrants.

Chikin Biznis, a feel-good picture about a young man setting up as a chicken farmer, gives a refreshing view of South Africa, for once outside a political context.

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