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