DAYDREAMING WITH STANLEY KUBRICK
The Daydreaming With… series attempts to marry contemporary art, music, film and photography, amongst other disciplines, in one portmanteau show around a defined theme. Its latest incarnation is in London’s Somerset House and features exhibits from different artists, filmmakers and designers based on the life and work of Stanley Kubrick, the brilliant director of ground-breaking and visionary films.
The show’s curator is artist and musician James Lavelle who says “I discovered Stanley Kubrick at my local video store when I was a teenager. From the day I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, my life changed forever. His work became a guiding influence, a reference point and has remained so throughout my career.”
Five years in the making, the exhibition features 45 installations which are given the run of the famous building’s West Wing. The main corridor is laid with hexagonal-patterned tiles by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin which echo the carpet pattern of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
Room 4 – sadly, not room 237 as in the Overlook itself – also references that film. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Requiem for 114 Radios plays a recording they made of 14 singer-songwriters including Jarvis Cocker and Beth Orton in a version of the classical piece Dies Irae which plays over the film’s opening credits. The music is broadcast via 114 vintage radios, itself another Kubrickian reference to a piece of radio kit in Dr Strangelove, the ‘CRM 114 Discriminator’.
And as if that weren’t enough the artists have casually placed an old biography of Napoleon on the table, a reference to Kubrick’s abandoned project on the Emperor’s life which would have starred Jack Nicholson.
Like James Lavelle, I too had a revelatory experience on first seeing 2001, in my case in my local cinema. I had literally never seen a film like it and Kubrick made me realise the great potential of the cinema as an art form.
My first Kubrick film though was actually Dr Strangelove. My parents took me to see it on release (approximate age spoiler alert) in 1964 and two things struck me at the time: the genius of Peter Sellers and the shot of Slim Pickens riding his nuclear missile like a bucking bronco as it descends over the Soviet Union, yee-ha-ing with his Stetson as he goes. Doug Aitken takes inspiration from this movie with Twilight, a public glowing pay phone surrounded by mirrors offering multiple images. It refers to the scene in Strangelove when Sellers, as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, attempts to make a reverse charge call to US President Muffley to warn him of the imminent nuclear holocaust. Here, twilight could refer to the end of the world and also the line in the American national anthem – “Twilight’s Last Gleaming”.
James Lavelle himself, along with John Isaacs and Azzi Glasser, presents In Consolus – Full of Hope and Full of Fear which offers Glasser’s perfume creation as an olfactory experience underlying what at first appears to be a playful, everyday experience of familiar objects such as packing boxes and teddy bears but which carries darker resonances.
As the exhibition guide explains: “Loss of innocence and abuse of power find expression through the over-scaled teddy bears and the banal food produce boxes reference the pantry scene in The Shining. Perfume designer Azzi Glasser’s scent ‘A Space Odyssey’ evokes Kubrick’s film whilst also alluding to his optioning of Patrick Susskind’s classic Perfume.”
One giant teddy adopts a Lolita pose in trademark shades and carries a lolly while confronted by another big bear adopting the stance and accoutrements of Alex the droog in A Clockwork Orange as he prepares to batter the Cat Lady to death with her own giant phallus.
Toby Dye presents The Corridor, a four-screen film on a continuous loop portraying different characters based on Kubrick’s films including Clockwork Orange, 2001 and Barry Lyndon. It features Joanna Lumley throwing a Georgian hissy fit and Aiden Gillen, both on the attack and running scared.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing displays is Unfolding the Aryan Papers by Jane and Louise Wilson. Unlike many of the other works, this was not created especially for the show but was made in 2009 after extensive research by the Wilson sisters in the Kubrick archive. The Aryan Papers, another Kubrick project that was never made, revolves around the character of Tania, a Polish Jewess trying to help her family escape from the Nazis. Although optioned by Kubrick in 1991, the film was finally scuppered by Spielberg going into full production on Schindler’s List the following year and the overwhelming accolades it received on worldwide release in 1994.
Tania was to be played by the Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege and the Wilsons juxtapose costume tests she made for Kubrick in 1993 with her re-enacting planned scenes from the film fifteen years later. It offers valuable insights into Kubrick as a director as ter Steege describes him telling her how to stand and move even in the test shots.
Nothing can recreate the strange, alien, occasionally terrifying world of Stanley Kubrick, but Daydreaming gives it a good try and some of the experiences contained within it are thought-provoking and highly original. And just as Jack Torrance is frozen in time in the maze at the finale of The Shining, so London artist Paul Fryer gives us The Second Law, a wax effigy of Kubrick himself, dressed as he was when directing the film on a cold Elstree Studio lot and encased here in a glass-fronted upright freezer, covered in snow and ice, an homage to his eternal influence.
Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick runs at Somerset House, London until 24 August, 2016. For details of booking and associated events go to: https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/daydreaming-with-stanley-kubrick
A KALEIDOSCOPE OF COLOUR
As spring arrives, a blogger’s mind naturally turns to thoughts of lepidoptera – the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths. And London is particularly well-served at the moment by having two exhibitions which show these delicate and beautiful creatures in all their glory. See my review of Maria Merian’s Butterflies at the Queen’s Gallery and the Natural History Museum’s Sensational Butterflies show. A visit to either is an experience but a visit to both is doubly rewarding.
THE AMAZING WORLD OF THE AMAZING M C ESCHER
Every time that there is an exhibition featuring the strangely wonderful works of the artist M C Escher, it sells out. Crowds queue round blocks in towns as diverse as Rio and Edinburgh and the current exhibition at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery has introduced extended opening hours to cope with demand. Yet Escher has rarely found favour with art critics and museum curators who have found him unclassifiable and therefore not worth understanding. That blinkered approach is beginning to change and there is now a growing acceptance among art academics and gallerists that Escher was indeed a great and original artist and not just a quirky if highly-skilled illustrator. Read my review of the exhibition and if you haven’t yet been to see it hurry as the show closes in January 2016.
THE LENS OF LIFE
Every year around this time the media is full of astonishing pictures of wildlife. The reason is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, a competition owned and administered by London’s Natural History Museum. This year is the 51st time it has been held and its prestige and scope attracted more than 42,000 entries from around the world. Over one hundred are currently on show at the museum before going on a UK and then international tour where they are expected to be seen by more than two million people.
The standard is very high and 18 category winners are chosen from which two winners are named as Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Don Gutoski, an A&E physician from Canada won the overall award for his image of two foxes on the sub-Arctic wastes, and 14-year-old Ondrej Pelánek from the Czech Republic won the Young Wildlife Photographer prize for his photo of fighting ruffs.
Dr Gutoski explained that his trip to Cape Churchill in the north of Manitoba province was made primarily to capture the polar bears which congregate there. He had heard that the red fox had been travelling further north for food due to warming weather and that there were stories of them fighting with their close relatives, the smaller Arctic fox, but no one had actually witnessed this.
“I had seen the red fox from a distance,” relates Dr Gutoski, “and realised that it was feeding on its prey, an Arctic fox. It did this for several hours then hid the remains under the ice so the polar bears would not find them.
“At the time I didn’t know what I had photographed and it wasn’t until that night when I went through the pictures on my laptop that I saw what a great shot it was. Nobody I knew had actually witnessed that before but it took close to 2,000 images to find that one. The ones before it and right after did not compare.”
The quality of the photos on display is so high that it must be extremely difficult to come to a final decision and we will all have our favourites. I especially liked Fabien Michenet’s It came from the deep which shows a young octopus, just two centimetres across, looking for a meal of zooplankton in the waters off Tahiti, French Polynesia. Transparent for protection in the ocean, its internal organs are nevertheless clearly visible against the dark water.
Another remarkable image was taken by the UK’s Charlie Hamilton James who was on assignment for National Geographic magazine in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to record the decline in vulture numbers there. Charlie had set up a camouflaged camera in the carcasses of zebra and wildebeest and, as with so many wildlife shoots – “this was the only [picture] that worked.” Charlie aimed to capture the feeding frenzy of the birds from within the carcass but, as he explains, “vultures are incredibly wary of anything out of the ordinary” and the image took three weeks of patient work to obtain.
Vultures are declining in the Serengeti due to pesticide which poisons them, loss of habitat, lack of carrion, hunting and persecution by man. This is certainly a highly original image and all part of an exhibition which will keep you enthralled for hours. The effort and ingenuity of the snappers to get their pictures is more than equalled by the range and beauty of the wildlife they have captured through the lens.
FIFTY YEARS OF MOTORING CLARITY
Road signs are so commonplace that we never think about them yet without a clear system of signage our roads would be chaotic and the risk of accident and injury would be much higher. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their current design on British roads and they were devised by Jock Kinneir and his assistant Margaret Calvert who had already designed the successful motorway signage seen below. They spent a great deal of time researching road signs in Britain and Europe before creating an original and clear form of signage which is still used today, here and in many other countries.
Roads were becoming choked by the late 1950s thanks to the greater availability of cheaper cars and the lack of motorways. The government of the day determined to modernise the country’s road network and follow the German example of country-wide autobahnen, which would also have the positive effect of increasing productivity and boosting the economy generally. Kinneir began working on the motorway signage in 1957 as the need for such routes was more urgent and moved on to primary route signage the following decade.
The European signs were mostly not fit for purpose being illegible and often in capital letters, produced as an after-thought by road engineers not designers, the experts on visual communication. Kinneir, a highly respected graphic designer who had recently developed the signage for Gatwick Airport, took his customary logical approach by posing the question: “What do I want to know, trying to read a sign at speed?” Calvert now says, “style never came into it. You were driving towards the absolute essence. How could we reduce the appearance to make the maximum sense and at minimum cost?”
They decided that a combination of upper and lower case would be more legible at speed than all upper and came up with a new typeface which became known as Transport. The new signage was tested in London and then introduced on the first stretch of motorway in Britain, the Preston by-pass in 1958. The government approved the system and their success won Kinneir and Calvert – by then partners in their eponymous design company – the contract to design signage for all other roads in the UK. The signs conformed to the 1949 Geneva Protocol by using triangular shapes to warn, circles for commands and rectangles to give information.
The motorway signs had used white lettering on a blue background. Now Kinneir and Calvert employed white lettering for place names and yellow for road numbers set against a green background for primary roads with black letters on a white background for secondary routes.
A new reflective material was used on the motorway lettering to enable drivers to see the sign information clearly at night but when used on white background signs on less important roads the letters became indistinct. The problem was solved by using a bolder font and Transport Heavy was developed. Today, three different densities of reflective lettering are used on Britain’s roads, depending on the need and location.
Kinneir and Calvert also designed a system of lettering which could be adapted to different traffic speeds and the level of information which needed to be imparted to the driver. Spacing and layout is an essential part of any road sign and this resulted in a formula based on stroke widths taken from the letter ‘I’ on their own Transport Medium font.
It was decided to adopt the European style of pictograms on street road signs rather than wording and Calvert drew most of these herself, basing some of them on her own personal experiences. For example, she thought the previous sign for ‘children crossing’ ill-suited to the modern age and, instead of a boy in school cap leading a girl, reversed the sexes and had a small boy holding his big sister’s hand, the girl being modelled on Calvert herself. She felt that the old sign was “quite archaic, almost like an illustration from Enid Blyton…I wanted to make it more inclusive because comprehensives were starting up.” Likewise the sign for cattle was based on a cow called Patience owned by Calvert’s relatives on their Warwickshire farm.
The Sheffield-based design initiative Made North has curated an exhibition at London’s Design Museum of some of the original road signs and modern variants on them created by leading artists and designers of today including Sir Peter Blake, Aubery Powell of Hipgnosis and Jock Kinneir’s son, Ross. Details below but last word here goes to Jock Kinneir himself, speaking in 1965.
“It is sad but true to say that most of us take our surroundings for granted. Direction signs and street names, for instance, are as vital as a drop of oil in an engine, without which the moving parts would seize up; one can picture the effect of the removal of this category of information on drivers in a busy city…It is a need which has bred a sub-division of graphic design with more influence on the appearance of our surroundings than any other.”
LADYBIRD BOOKS – ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON
Ladybird books have charmed and informed for years and kept generations of children engrossed by their clear texts and wonderful colour illustrations and 2015 marks their centenary. What started as a kitchen-table project in the Midlands has now grown to a multi-million selling imprint. Their inspiration was Douglas Keen, an advertising man who really knew how to sell an idea. He only employed top illustrators such as Charles Tunnicliffe, a graduate of the Royal College of Art and John Berry, who turned down a scholarship at the Royal Academy in order to join the RAF at the outbreak of the Second World War. The texts were researched in depth by their authors, often leading teachers and academics, who aimed to follow the Reithian principle – to inform and entertain. The centenary is being marked by a major exhibition at London’s House of Illustration and a book – Ladybird by Design – which charts the history of the series from a few cheap children’s publications to keep printing presses busy to the phenomenally successful Key Words series which alone will rack up more than 100 million sales this year. For more on the book and a link to the exhibition read the post in the Books section.
WORKING FOR THE MAD MEN
McCauley ‘Mac’ Conner survived the mad world of the ‘Mad Men’, working for the big advertising agencies as an illustrator on their campaigns and also for magazine fiction and books. He says he has had a very good life, which must be true as he is now 101 years old and is only too happy to regale his fans with tales of the agency life he lived. London’s House of Illustration has mounted an excellent exhibition of his work (originally seen last year at the Museum of the City of New York) which accurately conveys post-war America, where dreams were marketed and desire created for the products which drove the booming US economy. You’ll find my review of the show in the Museums and Galleries section of the site where there is also a link to an earlier piece I wrote about one of Mac Conner’s greatest influences, Norman Rockwell.
GOYA’S BEWITCHING ALBUM
London’s Courtauld Gallery has mounted a small wonder of an exhibition which, for the first time ever, has brought together all the known drawings of one of Francisco’s Goya’s eight albums, in their original sequence. It has taken the curatorial team four years of painstaking work but the result is unmissable for any art lover. The only problem: the show ends on 25 May 2015 so time is short to see this unique display. However, if you can’t make it you can read my review which I hope will give you some flavour of the show and I recommend the highly lucid catalogue which explains in detail just what the great Master was up to when he drew these weird, mysterious images.
SIMON SCHAMA DISPLAYS THE FACE OF BRITAIN
Simon Schama, Professor of Art and History at Columbia University, has been working with the National Portrait Gallery’s Chief Curator, Dr. Tarnya Cooper, to create five new displays for the gallery which reflect his personal view of British portraiture through the ages.
Explaining that his motivation came from Rembrandt and British history itself, he said at the preview – The Face of Britain opens on 16 September, 2015 – that he thought that visual sense was paramount. “Hogarth said that it was the only organ of the body which was fully-formed at birth and we now know early recognition by new-born babies is almost instant.”
Although the eye’s rods and cones still take some time to form after birth, for example, the professor has a point and his displays will attempt to let the viewer see the works, all taken from the NPG’s Collection, in a new light by grouping them in themes rather than the usual chronological approach.
This will mean that Power will, not unsurprisingly, feature Churchill and Thatcher but alongside Elizabeth I, normally separated by a whole floor in the gallery, her portraits hanging in the Tudor rooms. Likewise in Fame, the austere intellectual Thomas Carlyle will be in close proximity to Amy Winehouse, strange neighbours whose juxtaposition could prove fruitful.
Schama also related the story behind the portrait by Graham Sutherland of Winston Churchill and its unveiling in the Great Hall at Westminster in 1954. Commissioned to commemorate the then Prime Minster’s 80th birthday, Churchill, almost through gritted teeth, described it as “a remarkable example of modern art” at which point the distinguished guests dissolved into laughter, Churchill grinned with his best cheeky ‘baby face’ look and poor Graham Sutherland appeared increasingly distraught, clasping his hands to his face and obviously wishing Parliament’s cellars could open beneath him.
Churchill hated the painting describing it later as ‘filthy’ and ‘malignant’ and Lady Churchill felt it made him look like a ‘gross and cruel monster’ and it disappeared from view soon after its unveiling. In fact, it was only in 1979 that it was revealed that Lady Churchill had had it burned.
However, a colour transparency did survive and will be projected in the display with other Churchilliana such as the famous Karsh photo of 1941.
The Face of Britain displays will be accompanied by a book and a BBC2 television series. The displays open to the public at the National Portrait Gallery, London on 16 September, 2015. More information can be found at this link:
ANY COLOUR YOU WANT – ALMOST
When Henry Ford marketed the Model T in the early years of the last century, he famously said that the customer could have any colour as long as it was black. His early production lines only used that colour as it had a quick drying time and the cars could be pushed rapidly out of the factory and into the showrooms. Nearly fifty years earlier, in 1864, John Spedan Lewis had opened his draper’s shop on London’s Oxford Street and, although he did have a full range of colours, he too favoured black, stocking it in more than fifty different types of fabric. In his case the reason was the Victorian way of death with high infant and adult mortality rates and a very regulated range of mourning attire. Yet from that humble shop has grown a vast and successful retail empire stocking more than 350,000 separate lines in its stores across fashion, home and technology. The company is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and London’s Design Museum has a pop-up exhibition showcasing many of the products sold by John Lewis and the design stories behind them. Read my review then rush along as there’s not much time left to see this small but perfectly-curated show.
ROUTEMASTER ALL THE WAY
I recently spent the weekend taking in all things Routemaster, the famous London bus officially withdrawn from the capital’s streets in 2005 but still going strong in various guises. The Saturday was spent being entertainingly guided through the East End on a National Trust tour by the well-known television presenter and architectural historian Dan Cruickshank. On Sunday I joined hundreds of people in Finsbury Park to celebrate the bus’s 60th anniversary with more than 130 of the vintage vehicles on show. As it was built by Londoners for Londoners it’s only fitting you’ll find my post on this site’s London page.
THE YEARS OF LA DOLCE VITA
The Estorick Collection in London usually specialises in exhibitions of modern Italian art, yet its current show contains 80 photographs portraying the period of la dolce vita, literally the sweet life, and the title of Federico Fellini’s famous 1960 film, shot in and around Rome. Almost all the images come from the archives of one of the most famous Italian paparazzi, Marcello Geppetti, who cut his photographic teeth in serious photojournalism and who American Photo magazine called ‘the most undervalued photographer in history’. You can judge for yourself and read my review of the show The Years of la Dolce Vita on at the Estorick Collection until 29 June, 2014.
THE SCHOOL SUPPER SOCIETY
Last week I returned to Central Foundation, my old grammar school off Old Street in London for the first time in 43 years. It really hadn’t changed that much but the hall where we used to go every morning for assembly to be read the riot act by the prefects was now the venue for the School Supper Society. Produced by entertainment company Jack Arts, it’s an evening of fun and frolics with an excellent three-course meal included in the price.
I was last on stage there in 1971 performing in what was judged to be, myself apart, a very funny sixth-form show which we leavers put on. Most of the sketches were lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and At Last the 1948 Show. Sadly, I died a death with what was meant to be a deliberately poor impersonation of Sinatra which was so terrible that the audience thought I was just a lousy singer. Too post modern, perhaps. However, on this occasion, ably directed by Headmistress Miss Chastity Butterworth (Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones), I did not disgrace myself on this occasion, I believe.
Also on the bill were ‘French’ stand-up Marcel Lucont (geddit?), actually a wryly amusing Englishman by the name of Alexis Dubus who sends up Gallic arrogance a treat – “It is an honour for you to ’ave me ’ere” – and wonderful harpist Anne Denholm. Also on the bill were the 50-strong Chaps Choir (does what it says on the tin) whose repertoire includes a magnificent rendering of a traditional Finnish reindeer calling song and who were followed by resident tap teacher and bundle of naughty energy, Jenny Fawcett.
The next School Supper Society will take place on May 10 2014 and I urge you to attend. Acts will include Mr Bingo who specialises in sending customised hate mail on old post cards to anyone of your choice, Jenny Fawcett dancing madly again (I guarantee you won’t be able to stay seated) and the kind but firm Miss Butterworth who will keep a disciplined hand on proceedings. There’s also the possibility of a 28-piece orchestra. And if the organisers need to clear the hall quickly they say I can sing all seven verses of the old school hymn – Spe, labore, fide. What larks!
A PANORAMIC PINNACLE
The View from The Shard near London Bridge offers a 360-degree panorama of the city from just below the summit of the tallest building in Western Europe. Rienzo Piano’s skyscraper, owing its inspiration not just to shards of glass but also the old crane derricks which used to line the nearby Pool of London, is a breathtaking sight. But, as my post here says, the entrance fee is pretty breathtaking as well. I’m biased and am a fan; then again, I didn’t have to pay. Londoners like to say ‘yer pays yer money and makes yer choice’, but this is probably a case of doing the reverse. I hope my post helps you decide. CHAMPAGNE ET FROMAGE We had a great time recently at a wonderful shop-cum-bistro in London’s Covent Garden which, unsurprisingly given its name, specialises in combining champagne with a vast array of French cheeses in different tasting combinations. Champagne et Fromage sources its wines from five independent growers and there are tasting evenings you can attend to try some of them out.
As you can see from our visit there, a good time was had by all and you can read more about Champagne et Fromage here in the Food and Drink section.
Mark Ackerman. All material © Mark Ackerman unless otherwise stated. Mark Ackerman is not responsible for the content of external links.