While there is a compulsion to draw together contemporary art and cinema, artists and curators who attempt to do their ‘take’ on Hollywood film can end up with a bad imitation. Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-80) retain power because they evoked a historical aesthetic that was already nostalgic when she first made them, for instance, while her 1997 feature film debut ‘Office Killer’ just leaves the question ‘whatever happened to Jeanne Tripplehorn?’
This exhibition curated by James Lavelle contains the same element of nostalgia experienced in Sherman’s early work and a sentimentality for the cinematic experience. But this is at odds with Kubrick’s status as a technical innovator for the medium, his reputation as a cool visual stylist and his position as one of Hollywood’s rare visionaries. This split is summed up by one of the best works in the exhibition, Samantha Morton and Douglas Hart’s short film ‘Anywhere out of this World’ in which a girl experiencing domestic abuse and a corrupted childhood temporarily escapes into the sanctuary of a local cinema screening ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Morton and Hart’s piece is familiar and personal, recounting the first sight of Kubrick’s film as a transformative and magical moment that offers escape.
The ‘film within a film’ moment that Morton and Hart focus on is the image of Bowman’s eye in intense close-up and the disembodied eye as a motif appears throughout the show. The motif, as well as being a symbol for Kubrick realising his unfettered vision, is a key moment in his film marking the passage of humans from ‘space monkeys’ to the divine ‘Star Child’ in the conclusion of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Morton and Hart’s reflection on this rite of passage – encountering the film for the first time as a cinematic spectacle – has the poignancy of knowing that this particular experience is rapidly receding from us.
The impression of exploring an archive of future repeats starts with Mat Collishaw’s museum- displayed space monkey. Julian Rosefeldt’s ‘Suprematism/Manifesto’ captures this retro-utopia effect by quoting the avant garde project of an art movement now a century old within a contemporary futuristic interior that references the designs of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The extent to which the styling of Kubrick’s films has been aped is somewhat overwhelming.
Gavin Turk’s miniature mirror maze sculpture provides other paths to explore Kubrick. Giles Deleuze has written about the scene in ‘The Shining’ that Turk’s piece refers to. Jack Nicholson’s character starring down at the model of the Overlook Hotel’s maze, which segues into the family lost within the actual maze, creates the illusion that the whole narrative is played out in the author/caretaker’s cracked mind. The exhibition does not propose that in going around show we are tripping around inside the imagined world of Stanley Kubrick of course, but this work does not entirely hold its conceit together. More successfully, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s ‘The Shining Carpet’ is the dominating installation of the show. It converts the connecting corridor into the Overlook Hotel with the expectation that the spooky ‘ghost girls’ might appear at any moment. The feeling of being trapped in the Overlook with Kubrick is reinforced by Joseph Kosuth’s text on the confrontation between Jack and Wendy up the spiral staircase.
Viewed together, some of the work is more ambiguous on Kubrick’s status. Jane & Louise Wilson present a portrait of an actress cast to appear in one of Kubrick’s unrealised film projects – a role that would have made her a star had she not been discarded by the director. Sarah Lucas’ ‘Priapus’ presents a sculpted penis that recalls the controversy of the sexual violence of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and the sexism that make the later films difficult to watch.
At times, the presentation tends toward the carnivalesque, with sound and views through from different pieces bleeding across distractingly. Doug Aitken’s ‘Twilight’ is a powerful installation of a shining American phone booth in a hall of mirrors. The ominously glowing communication device recalls the multiple monoliths of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the film’s video pay phone call between a commuter astronaut and his daughter, as well as the pivotal phone calls in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ where Peter Sellers fumbles to avert Armageddon. The major theme from Kubrick – that human communication is fraught, often banal or opaque and redundant to conveying meaning – echoes throughout the exhibition.