Tuesday 19 July 2016

Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick


Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick
6th July to 24th August
Somerset House, London, England

While I was on the way to stay with a friend for a London holiday over a few days, I noticed a tube train advert for an art exhibition called Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick. Now Kubrick has always been a bit hit and miss for me (although he did some films which I hold in very high regard), so I didn’t give it much of a second glance. However, on the last day of the holiday, me and my friend decided to go to the show at Somerset House, last minute, since it’s located only a few minutes walk from the hotel where we were both staying.

I have to say... I’m glad we did. I also wish we’d got there earlier as two hours was not enough and one of the exhibits shuts at 5pm, before we could get to that room (although I will most certainly be going back there to check that one out too).

The exhibition is a selection of works with the common theme of art inspired by Stanley Kubrick and, although it sounds like its going to be a bit derivative of the director’s work... nothing could be further from the truth and there are some great works of art on display here, along with the fair share of pretentious rubbish you also get at these things. There are paintings, installations and also some films with big names such as Michael Nyman, Joanna Lumley, Cate Blanchett, Samantha Morton and Philip Castle involved in one way or another. Not to mention a contribution by Stanley’s wife, Christiane Kubrick.

After seeing one of her paintings opposite the desk where you buy your tickets, you go into a room and are confronted with an art installation of a space helmet with a screen inside depicting a monkey. No guesses for which of Kubrick’s famous films inspired this one then. After that, a fair amount of the exhibition is floored with shiny tiles which sport the same pattern as the carpet in the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining. After pausing to look at a pile of electric fires over the carpet, you enter a room with lots of old radios and the Dies Irae playing loudly in the background. It’s amazing stuff but it just keeps getting better and better as you make your way through this astonishing exhibition.

There were two works in particular which invoked the ‘wow’ factor in me when I saw them. One is a room you enter to watch a short film play out on each of the four walls. The piece is called The Corridor and it’s by Toby Dye. Each wall's film is shot in the same corridor but... stick around and look at all the screens as much as you can, constantly shifting your head, as the looping movies with no actual end or beginning (and starring Joanna Lumley, amongst others) start to interpenetrate and invade each other’s narrative space in a truly amazing way. I’ve got no idea how the artist was able to plan this one all out in his head but it’s worth standing in the centre of that room and just watching what is going on, constantly changing your viewpoint, as it plays out. Just mind blowing.

The other mind blower, for me, is a long, thin, flashing light situated near the end of the exhibition on the far wall of a lighted corridor. It’s stroboscopic and looks a bit pretentious until you... well... until you see the brilliance of it for yourself. The piece is by Chris Levine and it’s called Mr. Kubrick is Looking. I’ll quote the free booklet you get when you buy a ticket here, I think.

“A self-portrait by Kubrick is projected into the viewers peripheral vision using LED light technology. This ‘visual echo’ appears and disappears in a moment like a phantom. Levine is fascinated by the ‘sensory energy’ and ‘spiritual dimension’ of light.”

So, yeah, what happens here is quite uncanny and, being as I’m not technically minded, I am at a loss to explain exactly how it does this but... look at it full on and it’s a thin column of flashing light... look away from it and immediately, for half a second or so, you’ll get a photograph of Stanley Kubricks face as a fading ghost impression on your eyeball. As your eyes flash back and forth between the light and anywhere else in the room, the image briefly appears and reappears in your vision. Just incredible, amazing stuff. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the scientific alchemy on display here and will need to look into this at some point soon.

There are, of course, some not so hot pieces with fairly tenuous links in the show too. For me the two similar Scottish churches made of cardboard as a ‘tribute’ to the twin girls in The Shining seemed nicely constructed although a bit ludicrous but... you know... one person’s disappointment is another’s true art. I would certainly say the exhibition was way more positive than the few negatives I found and with 45 exhibits of varying shapes, sizes and media dotted about the ersatz Overlook, you’d be hard pushed, I think, not to find something to your liking here. Definitely a big recommendation for me and something which I’m still thinking about a week on from having first seen it. A repeat visit is certainly on the cards and you can find out more about Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick at the website somersethouse.org.uk/dreamkubrick and photography is, apparently, allowed... although ‘flash photography’ is forbidden.

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