The current exhibition Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick at Somerset House (until 24 August 2016), curated by James Lavelle, proves that you can be a fan of someone’s work, but don’t necessarily have to like everything they put out. I admire the career of Lavelle, the founder of Mo’Wax record label and the band UNKLE, and I believe Kubrick has made some of the best films ever, but the exhibition unfortunately lacks any of either artists’ brilliantness.
The idea of this website is to write only about topics if they capture my interest or if I have something positive to say about it. I’d rather not waste my time or energy on negativity as there’s already enough of that in the world. Yet, I had promised a friend, proper cinema buff and writer of cultural blog Out of Dave’s Head* (yes, I’m talking about you, Dave King!) to document the exhibition as he couldn’t see it in person. So, instead of editing all the photos merely to post on my personal Facebook page, I thought I’d rather share it here with you and see what you make of it all.
For decades, Kubrick’s films have inspired many other filmmakers and artists and for this exhibition Lavelle invited artists to showcase either new or existing work they made based on a film, theme, scene or character. In principle an interesting idea, were it not that all the artists seem to only have seen Kubrick’s most famous films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. Furthermore, the majority of the works were rather superficial and didn’t manage to provoke any emotions in me, besides irritation perhaps. Also the physical lay-out of the exhibition didn’t allow me to fully experience the works as the spaces were either too cramped or because the sound from another installation down the corridor would completely drown out the sound of the film I was trying to watch. This was certainly true for Julian Rosefeldt’s film Suprematism/Manifesto (2015), which was set in a Futuristic building and featured Cate Blanchett as a factory girl. Although the film looked really interesting, I couldn’t focus on it as the music coming from another installation in a nearby room was far too loud. I had to leave as the music was making me far too restless. A real shame as I was very much intrigued by the film.
Toby Dye’s installation The Corridor (2016), which consisted of four short looping films (featuring Joanna Lumley and Aidan Gillen) of four different, yet connecting events that all took place in a hospital corridor. Each film was projected on a separate screen so the room consists of four big screens set up in a square. The viewers stand in the middle of the room to view the films, but because of the lack of space, there’s always someone right in the way, which makes it a slightly less comfortable experience.
The film Anywhere Out of This World (2016) by Samantha Morton and Douglas Hart looked like it was just shoved in an available empty cupboard. Perhaps this was done on purpose as Morton had based the film on her own experience of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey in an empty cinema as a child and she perhaps wanted to recreate a rather claustrophobic feeling by having the screen put in an awkward and really narrow space.
When someone asked me recently on social media what my favourite work in the exhibition was, I had to think a while about this. Usually art evokes an immediately response, either positive or negative, but I realised the exhibition had left me rather empty. The following day I concluded that the only piece that had meant something meaningful to me was the film Unfolding the Aryan Papers (2009) by Jane and Louise Wilson. I was literally drawn towards this installation/film because I thought I heard a woman speaking English with a Dutch accent and was curious to know who this could be. I had heard the voice of Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege, Kubrick’s chosen lead actress for a film he was going to make about WWII. Kubrick was known for his perfectionism and elaborate and detailed research. After probably years of extensive research he pulled the plug on the film, which was a hard blow for Ter Steege whose career would have obviously been given a great boost by playing the lead role in a Kubrick film. In the Wilsons film you can see recreations of production photos, photos of Nazi soldiers, Jews living in ghetto areas, whilst Ter Steege speaks about the pre-production phase of the Kubrick film. At a certain point she said that after Kubrick’s death, his widow had told her he cancelled the production because he couldn’t carry the burden of making the film. Because he was such an extreme perfectionist, he felt he wouldn’t be able to make a film that would depict this tragic and evil piece of history accurately. I believe this is a plausible explanation and I feel sorry Kubrick denied himself from making this film and that Ter Steege lost her big international break.
One of the good things of the exhibition is that photography is allowed. So, here are some of the photos I took at the show.
Have you been to the exhibition? I’m curious to hear your opinion so please leave me a comment below! If this article has persuaded you to see the show for yourself, you can visit the exhibition until Wednesday 24 August at Somerset House in London.
From left to right, top to bottom:
- Doug Aitken – Twilight: sculpture of a public pay phone. In the film Dr Strangelove the phone cell is used in an attempt to avert a nuclear catastrophe. There’s only one phone cell in the room but the mirror walls create an illusion of infinite booths.
- Stuart Hayyarth – PYRE (2016): this glowing tower of electric fires is a reference to a scene in The Shining.
- Seamus Farrell – Tempest in (a) glass\ a diaphanous arrangement (2016): while this installation makes nice pictures, I felt it was rather ‘flat’. What you see is a collection of glass objects with engraved with titles of Kubrick films.
- Nathan Coley – The Grady Twins (2004-2016): two almost identical models of Edinburgh churches, inspired by the twins in The Shining.
- Charlotte Colbert – Odyssey 01 (2013): the astronaut in the photo is said to symbolise ‘human kind’s power to surpass its environment, with surroundings suggestive of decay’. I see a photo of a naked woman, but that might be just my crude observation.
- Futura – Pointman (2000): Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired Futura to start graffiti writing and apparently his abstract style had been heavily influenced by Kubrick’s films.
- Norbert Schoerner – Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (2016): Here you see hubby experiencing the 360° Virtual Reality recreation of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when a character runs vertically through a circular area in the Discovery One space craft.
- Philip Castle – Various Works (2016): this airbrush artist has designed some of the most iconic posters of certain Kubrick films. In the exhibition you can see a never used poster design for Full Metal Jacket, a portrait of Alex from A Clockwork Orange in a lightbox display and a new work that depicts Kubrick’s portrait with elements from his films. These posters were some my favourite works in the exhibition, probably because they were more or less authentic.
- Invader – Rubik Kubrick (2016): Invader is a celebrated street artist whose cute pixelated works (he lends his name from the 80s computer game Space Invaders). This piece in the exhibition is less exciting than his works I usually spot in the streets. He created the portrait of Alex, the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange, from coloured tiles.
- Peter Kennard – Trident; A Strange Love (2013-2016): Kennard’s installation consists of stills from Dr. Strangelove and images of world leaders with nuclear weapons.
- Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard – Requiem for 114 radios (2016): 114 radios broadcast individual voices. As a collective, all individual singers perform a new version of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass Dies Irae, which is used by Kubrick in the soundtrack of The Shining and A Clockwork Orange.
- Paul Fryer – The Second Law (2016): a rather cheesy ‘frozen’ wax sculpture of Stanley Kubrick, a reference to the famous final scene of The Shining.
- Paul Insect – Clockwork Britain (2012): Paul Insect is mostly known for his street art. Here you see his version of the Penguin book cover of A Clockwork Orange.
- Polly Morgan – Metanoia (2016): I first heard of this famous taxidermy artist when I interviewed taxidermist Harriet Horton for my blog. Morgan is famous for creating carefully staged tableaux with dead animals. This triangular sculpture with a snake crammed inside it, is a reference to the codpieces worn by the characters in A Clockwork Orange.
- Sarah Lucas – Primps (2013): this fallic sculpture refers to the murder weapon of Alex, the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange. To me this installation placed near the end of the exhibition symbolised my overall feelings towards the entire show: very unsexy.
- Joseph Kosuth – (A Grammatical Remark #9) (2016): the final piece is installed in the long spiralling staircase of Somerset House. Here you see a transcript of the confrontation between characters Jack and Wendy from The Shining on the staircase. This work is number nine of a series of installations.
- Rachel Howard – Darkness and Light (2014-2015): the dark abstract painting on the back wall should bear the image of an emerging ghostly figure. It’s inspired by the ominous images in The Shining.
- Michael Nyman – A Phoney War (2016): video installation which plays with the narrative process in Dr. Strangelove. In all honesty it didn’t manageto capture my attention so I didn’t see much of this video (also quite literally because of the reflection).
- Mat Chivers – Eye (2016): you can’t really see the marble sculpture by Chivers that well in the photo, but it’s the black and white object (this pattern alludes to Kubrick’s love for chess) on the floor in front of Howard’s painting. For this piece, Chivers digitally manipulated a 10-second clip from 2001: A Space Odsyssey, which was then translated into stone.
- Gavin Turk – The Shining (2007): he maquette in the foreground is a reference to the hedge maze in Kubrick’s The Shining. Here it also ‘serves as a metaphor for being psychologically lost’.
- John Isaacs – In Consolus – Full of Hope and Full of Fear (2016): this elaborate installation consists of various elements and is complemented by music by James Lavelle, a wall illustration by Giovanni Estevez and a scent by perfume designer Azzi Glasser, although I didn’t realise at the time I should’ve smelled the significant ‘A Space Odyssey’ scent. In this photo you see a giant teddy bear that seems to refer to the film Lolita. I have asolutely nothing more to add to this piece.
- Mark Carsick – SK1928 (2016): this huge work is a recreation of Kubrick’s baby photo painted on 220 paper sheets.
- Haroon Mirza and Anish Kapoor – Bit Bang Mirror (2013-2015): this sound and light installation was one of my personal favourites in the show. Quite a comical moment when I tried to capture the random red-lit sphere, but eventually realised it was the reflection of my camera light just before I took a photo…
- Marc Quinn – History Painting (Kiev, 22 Jan 2014) (2014): Quinn uses images from media coverage of moments of social unrest. His work is inspired by the depiction of violence in Kubrick films.
*If you’re interested in ‘Film & culture stuff from the mind of Dave King’ (who has worked on animation films and is currently an associate professor on the animation course at Volda University College in Norway) then head to his website: Out of Dave’s Head.
3 thoughts on “Exhibition: ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’ at Somerset House – Tribute to a Master or Failed Project?”
Thanks SO much for this post, Zee (and also for the lovely plugs)!
I’m really sorry not to have been in London while this was on (or rather, not to have had the time to attend while I zipped across the capital on my last visit to the UK), but your mixed take on it has been echoed by several friends who went!
Still, I’m a Kubrick uber-geek and I’m immensely happy to be able to see it vicariously through your eyes!
You’re welcome! If I hadn’t promised you to document it, I probably wouldn’t have posted this article though 😉