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Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick

Clockwork Britain by Paul Insect

Somerset House’s latest exhibition explores the artistic legacy of one of history’s finest filmmakers.

Somerset House’s latest exhibition explores the artistic legacy of one of history’s finest filmmakers, Stanley Kubrick. A range of artists have responded to characters, themes and images from his films, their work ranging from sculpture to film and uncategorisable installations. The show stands as a testament to Kubrick’s broad, continuing legacy.

Few filmmakers command ardent fandom quite like Stanley Kubrick. A visionary artist, he redefined every genre he came to, whether it was sci-fi, horror or the noble period drama. Cinema after Kubrick had a new language of script, music and cinematography. Crucially, his films were always entertaining, never technical exercises for their own sake. It’s no surprise that he’s proved so inspiring to so many.
One major Kubrick fan is musician James Lavelle, known for his group UNKLE and his record label Mo’Wax. Following an early experience with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lavelle’s “life changed forever”, and Kubrick’s influence would continue to pervade every aspect of his art. It turns out that Lavelle wasn’t the only one. For this special exhibition at Somerset House, he’s gathered together almost fifty artworks inspired by Kubrick, covering a boggling array of artists and forms.
This is no staid exhibition with artworks statically arranged on white walls. Somerset House’s West Wing has been turned into a Kubrickian maze, with whole-room installations leading off a central corridor decked out in The Shining’s infernal carpet design. Walking into a room is like entering the mind of each artist, some immediately evoking aspects of Kubrick’s work, others less direct in their references.

Pyre, Stuart Haygarth, 2016.
For the legions of Kubrick fans, there’s a lot to salivate over beyond the exhibition’s layout. They’ll see Paul Fryer’s eerily realistic model of a man in a freezer that references the grisly end met by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, with Kubrick’s own face replacing that of character Jack Torrance. Gavin Turk’s miniature labyrinth is an exact replica of the film’s hedge maze where its climactic final scene plays out, while Toby Dye’s impressive video installation surrounds the viewer with four screens telling different stories in the same corridor, each occupied by some of Kubrick’s most iconic characters.
Some of the work also adds intriguing information to the mythology surrounding Kubrick’s life. Jane & Louise Wilson’s documentary Unfolding the Aryan Papers details one of Kubrick’s great unrealized projects, and the disappointment suffered by Johanna ter Steege, who was set to be the lead actress. Stuart Haygarth’s mountain of electric fireplaces references one of The Shining’s key symbols, while hinting at Kubrick’s exacting directorial eye – he shot one of the film’s key scenes twice, once for Nicholson, once for a perfect image of those glowing embers. Norbert Schoerner’s virtual reality installation puts you in the shoes of 2001’s Dr. Francis Poole with an immersive walk around the circular main space of the spacecraft.
These pieces will certainly please fans, but many of the exhibition’s purest pleasures are only linked obliquely to Kubrick’s films – they are more inspired by the atmosphere and undercurrents of his work. Haroon Mirza and Anish Kapoor have fashioned an audiovisual installation involving a rapidly oscillating tone and a large concave mirror which is improbably entrancing, while Chris Levine trumps up a work of pure sorcery with his LED strip-light that somehow projects a portrait of Kubrick onto your peripheral vision.

Requiem for 114 radios, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, 2016.
Out of all the different art on show, the one which captures the atmosphere of Kubrick’s films most eloquently is a piece of ‘radio art’ by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. You walk into a room decorated like a mid-century radio station, down to rusty tools and 114 analogue radio sets. An unearthly chorus seems to rise from the room itself, a performance of Dies Irae, the famous music from the Roman Cathloic Requiem Mass used by Kubrick in both The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. As you walk around it becomes clear that each radio set is emitting a single voice, the chorus effect artificially created in real time. The machines are harmonizing. It’s technically ingenious, insidiously eerie and undeniably beautiful. It would be hard to find a more accurate reconstruction of the effect of Kubrick’s films.
The range of disciplines on display makes for a surprise at every corner, and each visitor is sure to find something to marvel at, whether they’re a Kubrophile or not. While not every piece of art here is brilliant, the variety of possible responses to Kubrick’s work is a vital testament to the richness of his work. His influences are unlikely to fade anytime soon.
Daydreaming with Standley Kubrick is at Somerset House until 24th August. Book tickets online.