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.

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‘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.

BlueDot Festival – A Reflection

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In July of 2016 I had what may be described as an out of this world experience. The story starts with simple, average expectations of a weekend away with friends working (through a company called Festaff, if you are a live music lover and of little means, I would highly recommend) at a brand new music-meets-science festival at Jordell bank, Cheshire. I had nothing to base my expectations on apart from the large commercial festivals I have attended previously, so what I was not expecting was the mind-expanding transformation that I received in those 3 days.

The first sprinkling of magic occurred when we were delegated our shifts for the weekend and were faced with a choice; a 16 hour shift in a car park from 10am till 1am, or, 3 x 5 hour shifts, one on each day, inside the ‘Luminarium’; an art installation. Tempting as it was to spend the best part of the Earth’s daily rotation standing in a field in a high-vis jacket periodically waving our arms around to direct fellow sweaty festival goers to a campsite, we chose the magic for ourselves and went with the daily shifts at the Luminarium. And how could we have been so lucky as to make such a choice without really knowing what we were choosing?13654322_10210008134260242_8527097354821993962_n

On my first expedition into ‘Katena’, the inflatable alien sculpture designed by Alan Parkinson and conceived by Architects of Air, I felt a lump in my chest that crawled up into my throat and drew tears from my eyes. I was moved, by sunlight hitting plastic. ‘A sanctuary of the senses’ with its turrets and its mutations, its brightness and its darkness, a dome of triangular stars burning just out of reach and endless variations of colours kissing your skin, the experience of a Luminarium is simply beyond words as it is so deeply rooted within raw emotion. Senses ecstatic, imaginations run wild, adults become children and children find a horizon of infinite joy and pleasure.26292745523_4fe52aa647_b1

Possibly the most beautiful part of working at the Luminarium was being able to see a public of all ages and backgrounds react to this magnificent environment. Standing on the other side of the airlock was one of the most wonderful jobs a human could ask for, holding the door open to unleash unsuspecting visitors into a new dimension of experience, each individual becomes a blank canvas, overcome by uncensored visceral emotion and wonder their pupils dilate and their heads tilt back so they can attempt to absorb the beast of incomprehension that surrounds them. This was a place where people could be together without words, without selfies, without ego. Of course, children ran and squealed, couples Publically Displayed their Affection and some were insistent on treating the delicately hand stitched walls as a slide, but one thing was true for every single human being that entered Katena, they were experiencing sensory freedom.

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Beyond the Luminarium there was still infinitely more phenomenon to be explored. The surface of the iconic Lovell telescope, a marvel of architecture, scientific purpose and human will power was used as a backdrop for a projection installation by Brian Eno. Similar to his ‘77 million paintings’ the installation consisted of ever changing textures and colours, this could be seen from any location at the festival, always looking spectacularly different. Most importantly it could be seen from the main stage, so whilst watching Karl Hyde’s energetic performance during Underworld’s set, or Jean Michel-Jarre play music by manipulating laser beams with gloved hands or even smaller bands such as Manchesters ‘Henge’ chanting about demilitarisation and the colonization of space, the Lovell telescope still stood, gloriously morphing, evolving just like our tiny little minds, unaware of the whole that we exist within on this tiny little blue dot surrounded by infinite mystery.

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I have not even gone into detail about the installations that covered the arboretum that continued on well into the night, creating a surreal place for people to meet and talk into the small hours of the morning. I cannot present within the limitations of words the sense of community that was created over those few days and the people we met and the things we saw. The whole experience of this weekend left me astounded by the power of human curiosity. From the musicians to the scientists, organisers to artists, the achievement of bringing humanity together to explore the primal curiosities of the unknown was rife. The realisation for me was that this is what I want to be a part of, I no longer have the desire to contribute to galleries where art is locked up in white cells. It is places like this; with people like this where things can really take place and change can begin to form in the outside world. Take all the ‘art’ out of galleries and turn them into venues that people can use so that things can finally start happening again. I fell in love with life and experience, I felt real hope for the environment and humanity and a calmness and determination I had never faced before, and finally I was brutally awaked from this idyllic utopia as I read the discarded newspapers on my train journey home.

140 per minute; Rave Culture and Art in 1990’s Poland – at Open’r music festival, Gdynia, Poland.

Referring to the beats in classic techno dance music belonging to 90’s cyber culture, this exhibition explores the relationship between politics, technology and art at the end of the 20th century. In his book ‘After the Future’ (2011) Italian theorist Franco Beradi (Bifo) refers to the 1900’s as ‘the century that trusted in the future’, but notes the negative shift in this belief starting in the final decades of the 20th century, ending with cyber culture in the 1990’s. Bifo describes cyber culture as a new type of utopia, one that differs from the utopia of progression and expansion imagined by the rest of the century;

“The Net is the utopia of an infinite, virtual space where countless trajectories of billions of intelligent agents meet and create their economic, cultural, and psychic reality.”

This too, reflects rave culture also taking place in 1990’s Poland where electronic music parties;

“began to appear in Poland together with the political system change in the early 90s, often voicing the naive, but nonetheless authentic optimism of opening up to the world, its civilizational and technological advancement.”

Bifo believes that the previously imagined utopia’s, so focused on economic and special growth, have caused the inevitability of environmental catastrophe, and pre empting it; our modern obsession with dystopia. This is embodied in the work of Janek Simon, whose work ‘Robot VJ mixing channels 1 and 2’ was included in the ‘140 beats per minute exhibition’. Simon’s practice strives for autonomy from our commodity dependant civilisation with works such as ‘Home made digital watch’ (2005), as well as works which physically predict the apocalypse such as ‘Slight Earth quake’ (2004) (a shaking glass of water) reflecting the importance of our own preparation for the end of the future.

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View of the “140 beats per minute” exhibition, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski   

Perhaps most efficient at transforming the viewer into the visual dimension of the 1990’s were the spatial installations by Andrzej Miastkowski; ‘That which appears everyday and makes itself’ (1997) and Piotr Wryzykowski; ‘Global Social Organism’ (1996). The first of which consisted of a black-lit room with walls decorated with small fragments of neon yellow, surrounding an intricately adorned shrine in the centre of the room. The added element of sound, a soothingly hypnotic pulse, (which was unfortunately rather drowned out by the wailings of Bastille taking place on the main stage at the time of my exhibition exploration) created a juxtaposition between the senses, a tension that mimics that of the 90’s rave culture; both stimulating and soothing, a comfort and a threat.

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Andrzej Miastkowski, Wspólnota Leeeżeć, “To, co widnieje każdego dnia i czyni się samo”, 1997, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Wryzykowski’s installation consisted of a spinning disco ball in the centre of a black room, the lights of which reached into every corner of the installation. Considering the admirable number of Wryzykowski’s artistic and politically active successes, I feel as though this was a rather bland representation of a truly inspiring artist.

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Piotr Wyrzykowski “Globalny Społeczny Organizm”, 1996, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Fortunately Wryzykowski’s greater achievements were showcased in ‘Test na Cyborga’ (Cyborg Test) (1996) by C.U.K.T, the Polish art collective he co-founded in 1995. This piece was the personal highlight of the exhibition for me, a documentation of a happening performed by both the collective and the general public. C.U.K.T set up raves open to everyone willing to exchange information about their weight and size of their body, they then had a number relating to this information branded onto their left hand with permanent marker, and had this hand photocopied. A selection of these photocopies were shown alongside the contract filled out by the rave goer and three screens documenting this process. For me, this trade between experience and personal information predicts and reflects the workings of modern social media, and poses the question; why do we perceive things as ‘free’ only if we are not exchanging money for it. With further research into this collective and their activism, (in particular their creation of Wictoria Cukt, a virtual presidential candidate for the 2001 Polish election that had the potential to electrically embody all of the views of all of the people using the infinite space of the internet), I realised that this collective’s core beliefs are in fact very close to my own. Their anti-institutional attitude puts life at the forefront of activity, not art, something I believe is sorely missing from the practices that surround me in 2016 Britain.

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C.U.K.T, “Test na cyborga” (fragment), Warsaw, Zielona Góra, Düsseldorf, 1995, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

In all, this exhibition remained faithful to the works on display, being confined to their specific timescale was vital for the audience to understand the anthropological significance of the works, which I sometimes feel can be lost with decade specific exhibitions. The midst of Poland’s biggest music festival was the perfect setting for this educational exhibition, although afterwards I would have been quite partial to a bit of hard core techno music, of which was lacking at the festival as Bastille was STILL playing, so in a way this exhibition commented on it’s location itself – the commercialized world of music. Ultimately the selection of works on show walked me through the setting of 90’s culture that I had read about in ‘After the Future’, visually demonstrating those feelings of scepticism and celebration prior to Y2K.

Gianni Colombo; ‘The body and the space’ at Robilant + Voena

“The body and the space” is a show that brings together a collection of Gianni Colombo’s most significant works made between 1959 – 1980 at the Robilant + Voena gallery, London. On reading the press release I was informed that; “Colombo’s practice aimed at overcoming the traditional notion of art as an object to contemplate, in order to create work that requires the active involvement of the viewer.” So prior to entering the gallery space I felt excitement at seeing work made over 30 years ago that evokes something that is sorely missing from the art world today, a physical relationship between viewers and art.

This feeling of excitement was slowly exchanged with a feeling of alienation as I entered the space. On entering the gallery I was met with a plush exterior of marble and stillness along with an overly polite steward who guided me around each piece with watchful eyes. In some ways this was an alternative gallery space, the beige walls and extravagant furnishings are worlds away from the conventional white cube. But instead of an exhibition curated to evoke relationships between viewers and art, this show successfully separated the audience whilst simultaneously turning kinetic art into conceptual artifacts.

‘Strutturazione pulsante (Pulsating Structuralization),’ 1959

All of the works that use electronical mechanisms, such as; ‘Strutturaziune fluida’ and ‘Robo optic’, to release their kinetic potentials are turned on and off individually by the steward as, of course, they are in a fragile state. This staged interaction transforms works that were originally designed to “[change] the spectator’s conventional relationship with reality, both physically and psychically” into relics held in a very wealthy museum. This dynamic between, viewer, work, steward and space denies the viewer of any reflective or intimate moments with the work, creating an awkward tension and inadequate presentation of the works incredible potential to engage viewers.

‘Roto-optic’ 1964

There was one space in this exhibition where this dialogue is allowed, and that is within Colombo’s immersive installation; ‘Topoestesia – tre zone contigue [itinerario programmato] (which translates to: ‘Topoesthesia – three contiguous zones [programmed itinerary]’). This is where I really felt the effect of what Colombo had designed for me as a viewer, I was transported into an other worldly interior that had disorientated my senses in a way that can only be experienced to be understood. I feel that this theme of wonder and visceral experience would continue throughout the show if the works were shown in the way that they were intended to be.

‘Topoestesia – tre zone contigue (itinerario programmato)’ 1965-1970

Of course, the limited function and interaction of these works is not the fault of the gallery but by displaying these originals instead of re worked productions places too much importance on the artist rather than to the experience of the viewer. It is known that Gruppo T (the kinetic art group that Colombo formed), had their works produced as multiples as a way to “distance the works from the artworld’s cult of the author.” These ideals of Colombo’s is something that I feel that this exhibitions curation ignores, thus creating an exhibition of incredibly exciting work that is made stagnant due to the importance placed on the items originality rather than it’s kinetic potential to evoke real awe and experience in the viewer.

A walk through British Art at Tate Britain, A review.

It is the third of ‘Three studies at the base of a Crucifixion’ (1944) that haunts my imagination every time I hear the word ‘painting’. It may be the animalistic scream echoing from the mouth of the spliced subject or perhaps it is that this painting seems to carry the brightest orange of them all, and with it the most excruciating pain. Either way, memory does not do justice to the reality of standing before this triptych that is so vibrantly dark, it steals the natural light that flows through Tate Britain’s glorious architecture.

Francis Bacon – ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’ (1944)

If you are able to drag yourself away from this introduction to the galleries, it is possible to take yourself on a tour of some of Francis Bacon’s most famous works within the BP walk through British Art display. Moving into the gallery exhibiting works from the 1970-80’s, one will find another dramatic expression by Bacon, ‘Triptych’ (1972). Here we can see the development of both Bacon’s painting style and subject, but when looking around the rest of the room we can also see the development of the art world as a whole. From Antony Gormley’s bread ‘Bed’ (1980-1) to Eddie Chambers’ ‘Destruction of the national front’ (1979-80), signs of post modernism are everywhere. At both sides of the rooms entrance sit two quadrilateral monochromatic pieces; to the right, Stephen Partridge’s ‘Monitor’ (1975) and to the left, John Hilliard’s ‘Camera Recording its own Condition’ (1971). Both of these pieces seem so far removed from the emotion and exploitation of Bacon’s ‘Triptych’ that it seems strange they can even be displayed in the same room.

Stephen Partridge – ‘Monitor’ (1975)

It was the performativity and playfulness of Partridge’s ‘Monitor’, a video displayed on the screen that is the subject of the video itself, which initially led me toward it. Displayed at eye level, the screen rotates and twists, hypnotizing the viewer with its slow, rhythmic beat, making it difficult to distinguish from the physicality of the real monitor and the representation of itself within the film it shows. It was this use of entrapment and reflection within a single medium that also drew me towards Hilliard’s ‘Camera Recording it’s own condition’. Just as repetitive as ‘Monitor’, but on a much larger scale, this piece both critiques the analogue photography process whilst also showcasing its possible perfection. Hilliard is most famous for his photography work that exposes the faults and subjectivity of the medium. I was aware whilst at Tate Britain that his piece ‘Cause of Death’ (1974) was being displayed down the road at the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition ‘History is now’, demonstrating the relevance of Hilliard’s technological exposures 40 years on.

John Hilliard – ‘Camera Recording its Own Condition’ (1971)

Both of these pieces by Hilliard and Partridge were born out of the rise in technology and although they are created from documentation, they subvert the limitations of the mediums used, marking the birth of photography and video as an art form. Meanwhile the use of these accessible tools, materials and simplistic processes also diminish the social boundaries of high and low art. In comparison to Bacon’s paintings these pieces are devoid of emotion and cultural history, but because of this they become limitless. They swap emotion for playfulness and cultural history for technological boundaries, finding the foundations and limitations of these new mediums before they can be developed into artistic expressions. Although I will always find the paradox of an art display funded by BP hard to swallow, this longstanding display at Tate Britain is always giving. There is always something to be learnt in the static interior of these gallery spaces whilst the world outside its walls continues to shift and change, just as the worth and relevance of the work it holds.

Paul McCarthy, WS SC at Hauser & Wirth exhibition review.

Before entering Paul McCarthy’s latest exhibition at Hauser & Wirth I noticed a sign on the blacked out windows of the gallery warning of the explicit content within. As I have grown up living amongst the capitalism of the modern Western world I shrugged this off, safe in the knowledge that from a young age mass media culture has exposed me to such absurd realities that anything fictional could no longer affect me. When I was to leave the exhibition an hour or so later, the only words of reflection I could write were; ‘shocking to the point of anxiety.’

Although McCarthy’s ongoing appropriation of fairytales is incorporated in the title of this exhibition, WS being a twisted abbreviation of ‘Snow white’, there is little visual inclusion of these comforting symbols of childhood innocence here. Instead McCarthy frames these abject large-scale paintings, with adverts ripped straight from magazines. In ‘WS, Dolce & Gabbana’ a D&G perfume advert stares back at me from it’s lustful airbrushed mask whilst unknowingly being swamped by the down pour of ‘sexy’ feces coming from an obscene lewd act above.

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‘WS, Dolce & Gabbana’ 2014

All of the paintings have a strange feel of stagnant voyeurism about them; once past the blacked out windows viewers are exposed to multiple scenes of awkwardly absurd sex acts limply played out by warped figures against pastel backgrounds. Each depiction of niche fetishes is devoid of passion, the characters aren’t sad or happy, they are indifferent, detached but yet seemingly aware of their own bleakness. In contrast, the collaged images of Internet porn tease us with the guilt and disgust that comes with looking at such literal exploitation.

In ‘SC, Luncheon on the Grass’ a young woman stares straight ahead from an A4 print out centred at the top of the composition, upon her head is a festive Santa hat, yet her mouth is agape with the feces smeared across her cheeks. McCarthy parodies this anonymous girl into an ‘updated’ version of Manet’s ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ where sexuality is no longer subtle and secret but crude and cruel, highlighting the state of human compassion in the structure of capitalism we live in today.

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‘SC, Luncheon on the Grass (Déjeuner sur l’herbe)’ 2014

It’s not just consumer culture and famous paintings that are sexually parodied into McCarthy’s lurid paintings though. Hollywood celebrities native to McCarthy’s hometown of LA are also dotted around the exhibition, appropriated as embodiments of both fiction and reality amid these chaotic portraits, which imitate the blur of the virtual and literal in our technological society today.

Just as the Modernists revolted against the industrial revolution, here McCarthy revolts against the technological revolution. With his collective use of disturbing sexual imagery and the consumer porn of advertisements alongside the context of fairytales, McCarthy begins to build up a chronological narrative of how basic human instincts are affected by the uprising of technology. He points out that at a young age we learn morality from fictional characters in fairytales so that later on we can learn about sexuality from fictional relationships in porn. Ultimately this exhibition explores truths about the technological advance that we find ourselves in, and how obscenity has become our reality and will remain to be so for as long as our basic human instincts are exploited and manipulated by capitalist systems.

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‘SC, Brad Pitt’ 2014