Britain settles on a 'Body' -- 2 of them to welcome 2000 90-foot tall sculpture of couple is showpiece for Millennium Dome

November 27, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- For the organizers of the billion-dollar Millennium Dome project, the Body was the big headache.

They agonized over the shape, sex and size of the sculpture that will house an exhibit on the human body and serve as a showpiece for Britain's Millennium Experience exhibition in 2000.

They began with an infant crawling to a parent, then tried a half-man, half-woman. And finally, they decided to let love conquer all, creating a couple in an embrace, the male with his arm around a long-legged female.

Oh, and just so nobody would miss this sculpture, they promised to make it 90 feet tall and 200 feet long.

"It's not meant to be a work of art. It's a work of architecture and it's complex," designer Nigel Coates said yesterday as a computer image of his human body sculpture was unveiled.

With a little more than a year to go, Britain's brash and bold Millennium Experience exhibition is taking shape beneath a Teflon-coated fiberglass roof that is 165 feet high and 1,050 feet across along the prime meridian in Greenwich, which once served as the world's timekeeper.

From its gala kickoff Dec. 31, 1999, through 2000, organizers hope the gigantic extravaganza will be a focus of world attention, with more than 12 million visitors anticipated.

A lot is riding on this project, from the prestige of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government is bankrolling the exhibition, to the psyche of a nation that has a historical knack for mounting colorful exhibitions.

Critics have derided the project as unfocused, expensive, and remote, perched on a jut of former industrial wasteland along the Thames River five miles southeast of central London.

But the success or failure of the venture will ultimately be judged by what's placed beneath the dome. Taking a build-it-and-they-will-come approach, the organizers have spent more than a year trying to figure out just what to cram inside the building that is twice the size of most domed football stadiums.

"It will not be a trade fair," said Michael Grade, chairman of a creative-review team. "The intention was to create zones with intellectual rigor that tell a story."

The dome will feature 14 zones, each with a different theme ranging from the spiritual to the cultural, work to rest, local to global. In the center of the dome will be a "Millennium Show," which will run six times daily and feature acrobatics and trapeze artists.

But it's the Body Zone that could dominate the project. After viewing the latest incarnation of the Body, Rowan Moore, architectural critic of London's Evening Standard, said the zone has "become less mindless."

"A few months ago, dithering about its gender epitomized the dome's indecisiveness," Moore wrote yesterday. "Was it male, female or neither? No one seemed able to say. Now we have the answer -- both -- combined with the decision to make it more abstract."

Coates, the designer, acknowledged earlier models were flawed.

"It had to signify something," he said. "We finally asked ourselves, what is the most important identity issue? The relationship between men and women. I thought it should be both. We tried not to show every dimple or toenail. People can project their own character on it."

The sculpture also needs to be versatile. More than 3,000 people an hour are expected to zip through the Body, entering at the man's right arm and leaving at the women's left heel, enjoying a multimedia trip of human discovery that includes a beating heart and gurgling stomach.

Organizers even promise to show off a hangover -- from the inside. Not a bad trick for an exhibition timed for the century's grandest New Year celebration.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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