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A still from The Shining
A still from The Shining

UNKLE’s James Lavelle on his Stanley Kubrick exhibition

As an art exhibition inspired by the filmmaker’s legacy opens at Somerset House, we speak with Lavelle about the depth of Kubrick’s influence and importance

Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmakers in cinematic history. His films are considered by historians and critics to be among the most important contributions to world cinema in the 20th century, and his influence has not only left an indelible impression on cinema, but also on popular culture. Over the five decades of his career, Kubrick directed cinema classics that touched on all facets of human nature: high and low culture, love and sex, history, war, crime, madness, space travel, social conditioning and technology, all brought together under one rich and complex vision. Kubrick’s innovations in cinematography transformed filmmaking: he was the master of the tracking shot, the reverse zoom and the painting technique, while his use of music revolutionised the film score. And though Kubrick was an enigma to many people, he continues to be referenced and paid homage to by some of the world’s most acclaimed artists and filmmakers.

In July, Somerset House presents Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick, an exhibition of art inspired by the master filmmaker. Curated by Mo’Wax and UNKLE founder James Lavelle – a lifelong fan whose work often references Kubrick – the show will feature a host of contemporary artists such as Gavin Turk, Anish Kapoor, Marc Quinn, Samantha Morton and Sarah Lucas, who will explore and tackle Kubrick’s creative universe, casting new perspectives on his life’s work. The exhibition also includes work by Christiane Kubrick, the director’s wife of 41 years, who will be painting a new piece especially for the show.

During a visit to Somerset House, Lavelle shared his thoughts on Kubrick’s enduring impact on culture and what we can expect to see at the exhibition.

Why is Kubrick’s influence still so pertinent?

James Lavelle: The ideas and themes that Kubrick chose for his work have always been very poignant themes throughout time. We’re talking about power, sexuality, desire and the madness of men – if you think about the world now, we’re living in the world of Dr Strangelove. Kubrick chose themes that constantly repeat in the human cycle. Also, his attention to detail and his techniques and everything else that went into the films has made him a classic filmmaker, and his work is always going to be referenced. In the same way that people continue to reference Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Hitchcock, Kubrick is just one of those great artists and is still relevant in the world that we live in today.

“If you think about the world now, we are living in the world of Dr Strangelove” – James Lavelle

How about in contemporary cinema?

James Lavelle: Most contemporary filmmakers have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick, whether it’s technique, theory or style – it’s that classic thing of ‘What would Stanley do?’ Putting on this exhibition has made the breadth of his influence quite apparent. He’s as relevant now as he always has been, and perhaps in some ways he is more relevant, because things are so transient at times. Filmmaking has gone through a couple of good years with great contemporary films like The Revenant and Birdman. Both films had quite a lot of imagination and did well on a popular level, but cinema is not like it used to be, and it’s really interesting to see how wide Kubrick’s appeal is.

How wide is Kubrick’s appeal on a popular level?

James Lavelle: Kubrick is a bit like Warhol, he has had this profound effect on pop culture as well as being very much based in cerebral theory. His work has just touched so much, you could literally walk down the street and I guarantee you would see something today that is Kubrick-inspired. Whether it’s Dr Martens, or Lee Jeans doing Full Metal Jacket on a bus, his influence is everywhere. I was walking down the street yesterday and a couple of kids were wearing t-shirts with text on it that was in the Clockwork Orange font. The amount of Kubrick-inspired bootleg t-shirts in Camden Market is momentous. The iPhone, which is the number one selling product right now – the most financially rewarding product ever made – was based on the Monolith out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. His influence on contemporary culture is ridiculous.

There’s an allure with Kubrick, because there is mystique, theories and conspiracies surrounding his universe, whereas now people are constantly sharing as much as possible. You had to go to him as an interesting phenomenon, this untouched world of ideas, this world that’s influenced so much of what we’ve grown up with.

How did you select your contributors?

James Lavelle: I worked with another curator, James Putnam, and always with these kinds of things there are people that you know. Kubrick has been a major conversation theme throughout my career – it’s how I’ve discussed ideas with people and built friendships. So there were a lot of people that I knew would want to be involved, then it was a matter of going out of the box and putting together wish-lists and seeing who would come back. The response has been overwhelming and incredibly positive – I couldn’t be happier with the people who have come through.

“I was drawn to Kubrick because of his use of music” – James Lavelle

And you’ve composed music for the show?

James Lavelle: I’m working with a spectrum of young contemporary artists through to some of my heroes from electronic music, classical and rock’n’roll – all of whom have been influenced by Kubrick in their careers. Music has been put to use in different ways throughout the exhibition – for instance, Mick Jones has created music as part of Sarah Lucas’s installation, and directors Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth have made really great sound work that features artists like Jarvis Cocker.

Music was incredibly important for Kubrick. He had this amazing way of setting these incredible tones in his films, and a lot of the time juxtaposing what you’d expect. In 2001, the music from the opening scene is now synonymous with space travel, the backwards monks by Jocelyn Pook in Eyes Wide Shut conjures the sexual encounter, and A Clockwork Orange revolutionised synthesised music. Personally, I was drawn to Kubrick because of his use of music.

When did you first discover Kubrick, and how did it impact you?

James Lavelle: As a teenager, I discovered 2001: A Space Odyssey at my local video store. For a lot people from my generation, video shops were these social environments to discover because there was not much else to fucking do at that age, especially if you didn’t grow up in London. So that’s when my love affair with Kubrick began and the impact he had on me as a young artist – and throughout my career – was so immense that I felt the need to find him and involve him in my work. I contacted him to work on the music video for “Lonely Soul”, and he expressed interest, but he was working on Eyes Wide Shut at the time, and sadly he passed away before the conversation was completed.

“Kubrick has been a major conversation theme throughout my career, it’s how I’ve discussed ideas with people and built friendships” – James Lavelle

What can we expect to see in the exhibition?

James Lavelle: The exhibition is arranged a bit like a film set along one long corridor with 16 rooms off of it, like a long Steadicam shot – it’s a very Kubrickian environment. The work itself is an interesting mix of installation, painting, film, sculpture and sound pieces, the aim is to play with all the different senses artistically, and some pieces are more literal and based on particular films or unmade scenes, whereas other works have been influenced by theory, concept and technique. We’re trying to make something that is intellectual and clever, something that is incredibly respectful but also quite fun, because Kubrick always had a lot of humour in his films.

I feel very privileged to be given this opportunity and to be supported by (Kubrick’s) widow, family and the people that run his estate. Film is such a massive canvas, it’s not just one person’s idea – it can be one person’s vision, but there’s a lot of people that get involved. Art often tends to be quite an insular process, whereas with film you have costume, set design, actors, script writers, CGI and many other disciplines, so it’s this rich canvas for people to respond to and I’m not sure how many other people there are in the world who are like that.

Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick will be on show at Somerset House from July 6 to August 24