Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick at Somerset House

The first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space Odyssey (1968) was at a screening held by the BFI in late 2014. On the walk back to Waterloo station my friend (a long-standing and dedicated Kubrick fan) turned to me and asked me what I had thought of the experience. I simply had no answer. Unable to get my feeble human mind around the scope of what I had just seen, I was in a state of awe and confusion. Even now, after a number of re watches, the consumption of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series and several YouTube videos explaining camera techniques, I still feel inadequate to answer that question without doing the masterpiece that is 2001 a gross injustice. What I have not been able to stop asking since that day is; how can one mind conceive such a monumental idea and even more so, put it into an accessible experience? Inspired in my own practice by Kubrick’s breadth of curiosity, ideas and styles I went to Somerset House’s ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’ exhibition to see how established artists have been influenced by one man’s mind.

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I was firstly pleased to find that this was indeed not a show of sourced film props and camera equipment as so many exhibitions for anyone related to film often are. Unfortunately though the work on display varied from brilliant artistic conceptions to some rather poor and confusing works, with no real in-between. Despite this the successful works were (almost) worth the visit alone. Starting with Mat Collishaws’ isolated ‘A Ω’ (2016) which manages to condense the entirety of 2001: A Space Odyssey into a single object, gave me hope for the quality of works ahead.

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  ‘A Ω’ (2016) – Mat Collishaw

Just around the corner I was not yet disappointed being faced with; ‘Requiem for 114 radios’ (2016) by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. If it had not been for the other visitors it would have been all too easy to convince my self that I was in a real life horror story, stumbling across a room filled with a suspicious amount of radios that all suddenly come to life in the middle of the night, like something from The Shining (1980). Leaning closer to individual radio sets the viewer will notice that each one has a different voice of varying pitch and tone contributing to the recital of ‘Dias Irae’, echoing that famous scene from Eyes Wide Shut (1999). The disembodied choir and dimly lit room manipulate the senses until the rooms’ eerie qualities become unbearably similar to Hal’s last moments in 2001, robotic yet somehow pathetically quivering; ‘Daisy, Daisy…’

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‘Requiem for 114 Radios’ (2016) – Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Up there with ‘Requiem for 114 radios’ was Toby Dye’s installation ‘The Corridor’ (2016). The small dark room of the installation provided a contrast against the sparse white walls of the hospital on which the panoramic action takes place. The life size projections of characters and events allows viewers to become totally immersed in the narrative but the constant motion of the camera prohibits us from ever feeling present within it. Yet the audience finds themselves in the invisible centre of this interweaving, 4 dimensional story that rolls on infinitely. There is a lot to be said for the sound design on this work as well, not only was the score (‘Lonely Soul’ provided by James Lavelle’s ‘UNKLE’) a perfect fit, but the synchronisation of folio sounds kept you constantly on your toes, looking from screen to screen.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick

‘The corridor’ (2016) – Toby Dye

Aside from these worthy homages, it did feel that there were many works that were painfully pointless. These were works that focused on elevating Kubrick to a god-like status rather than reflecting on his works. The most extreme examples of this was Chris Levine’s impressive but simultaneously ludicrous ‘Mr. Kubrick is Looking’ (2016), in which an LED light contains the visual information of a self portrait of Stanley Kubrick, so when looked at out of peripheral vision it momentarily flashes into sight. Another was Mark Karasick’s ‘SK1928’ (2016) an installation consisting of 220 paper sheets pieced together to form a painted image of Kubrick as a quite uncomfortable looking baby. The marble inscription underneath reading; ‘The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent…’ along with the eerily anonymous type writer noise makes you feel like you’re being forced into mournful tears, and it’s just a bit weird.

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‘Mr. Kubrick is looking’ (2016) – Chris Levine

My expectation of this exhibition was to follow lines of influence from Kubrick into all variations of artistic practice and following that, into society. But instead it felt that this exhibition was generally homage to the man rather than to the work. Suspiciously the majority of the works were dated as made in 2016, giving the impression that these works had not been previously realised by the artists until they received a brief from the curator. This then, made the exhibition feel more like fan art made by big names, rather than a genuine showcase of Kubrick’s influence.

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