Tying in nicely with the upcoming 4k digital re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s underrated masterpiece Barry Lyndon (which Smoke Screen will be covering, watch this space), Somerset House this month unveiled a new exhibition - Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick - curated by Mo’Wax and UNKLE founder, artist and musician James Lavelle, featuring a host of contemporary artists, film makers and musicians showcasing works inspired by the revered filmmaker. The Smoke Screen, long a worshipper at the feet of the master director, could not resist taking a peek.
It is important to note that this is NOT an exhibition showcasing artefacts or substantial amounts of footage from Kubrick’s films. For that, you are advised to head to the Kubrick Archives at the London College of Communication (UAL), or get yourself a Kubrick boxset. Instead, Daydreaming is based on the concept of participating artists responding to a film, scene, character or theme from the Kubrick archives, and then putting forward new perspectives onto the director’s lifework. In concert with this, James Lavelle collaborated with contemporary musicians and composers to produce a soundtrack to some of the installations. Also worth bearing in mind is not all of the works on display here are newly commissioned, some, like Jane and Louise Wilson’s exploration of Kubrick’s unmade films, have been seen before.
Such a diverse collection of works inevitably means the experience is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of impact. Some works seem either a bit too obscure, or on the flipside, too prosaic, to really translate the epic transcendent heights that the best of Kubrick’s work could reach. Political artist Peter Kennard’s contribution - Trident: A Strange Love 2013-2016 - juxtaposes images of characters set in the War Room of Dr Strangelove with present day leaders of nuclear states - but this is a bit of an obvious take to go for and doesn’t exploit the glorious black comedy vibe and intricate world building of the film. Mat Chiver’s Eye sculpture, which is based on a reflection seen in the eye of astronaut David Bowman in 2001 in one scene, just feels too offbeat and uninspired when you finally see it sitting there inert on the floor. Likewise, Gavin Turk’s tabletop sculpture - The Shining- a work that recreates the Shining’s maze in silver reflective surfaces to scale, feels lacking inthe all-encompassing menace that the film;s full scale counterpart as imbued with. On the other hand, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Requiem for 114 Radios, which sees the artists fill a room with dismantled radios and clocks, fees like a neat allegory for the inside of Kubrick’s mind. He loved technology, and could spend forever and a day taking things apart to see how they worked.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what a visual titan Kubrick was, it is the installations that use film footage themselves that seem better able to transmit that special ‘Kubrickian ‘ vibe. The outstanding contribution to the show comes from Jane and Louise Wilson with their film Unfolding the Aryan Papers. This film is as much about a film that never happened as it is a portrait of lead actress Johanna ter Steege, and was built from time spent in Kubrick’s vast archives. Johanna ter Steege was cast as the lead in Kubrick’s great unfinished exploration of the Holocaust, The Aryan Papers, a film which consumed years of his life in research, and was eventually abandoned in pre-production. The installation film begins with images of Johanna taken in 1993 by Stanley Kubrick - they are of the wardrobe shoot for the film. Johanna was to play the lead role of Tania, a Polish Jew trying to save herself and her family from the Nazis. Intercut between stills of Johanna are images from the archive of specific scenes Kubrick wanted to recreate, including harrowing images captured from the jewish ghettos and war zones from WWII, and images from the Ealing Studios Archive of interiors, shot in 1939/40. The film moves into live action with footage of Johanna filmed now, fifteen years later, where she appears to come to life, recreating stills from the original wardrobe shoot. It is both a powerful tribute to Kubrick’s desire for authenticity and his hunger for information, and a haunting exploration of the great tragedy of the Holocaust. Implicit in the film is the idea of it being ultimately impossible to ever sum up such a tragedy into a singular film. It was a subject that was too much even for a filmmaker like Kubrick to hammer into shape: the experience apparently left him deeply depressed.
Actress and filmmaker Samantha Morton’s Anywhere out of this World turns out to be one of the more compelling video pieces, because it feels so straight-forwardly personal. The short film sees a young girl, who seems to be fleeing a background of abuse, flee to the sanctity of a near-empty cinema during matinee hours (in real life this is the gorgeous Phoenix Cinema in north London). After messing about in the back row, bored, the girl is soon immersed against her expectations by the film that starts playing: Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Morton’s film overcranks the sound effects of the cinema operation, with the curtain’s slide back set to a roar, as if it was the space ship in the film, suggesting the transportive effect of Kubrick’s work. The camera holds on the young girl’s face as she watches astronaut bowman fall into the star gate in the film’s famous surreal light sequence: what is she thinking? Is this a brief window of respite from what seems like a harsh home life? Is this a life changing moment? It turns out that this is a semi-autobiographical tale from Morton’s troubled childhood, and like the best of Kubrick’s work, is it both touching and troubling, complicated and extremely straightforward, all at the same time.
Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick runs 6 July – 24 August 2016
Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 (last admission 17.00)
Late night Wednesdays & Thursdays on 20, 21, 27 & 28 July until 21.00
(last admission 20.00)
West Wing Galleries, West Wing
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Advance tickets must be booked by 23.59 the day prior to your visit.
Tickets can be purchased in person from the admissions desk on the day.