Hill House, London, UK
Stepping out onto the darkened tenth floor of Hill House one hardly knows where to look. A glittering nocturnal panorama of London wraps around the windows on three sides of the derelict office. To the right, Laurence Kavanagh’s installation The Lonely Room (2008), only accessible after nightfall, stands crisply in a pool of light down at the end of the room.
At closer quarters, the structure reveals itself to be a grid of rooms, snipped and scored out of grey office filing cabinets whose frames mark the edges and corners of a space that resembles a diagram of a domestic interior. A lampshade, a staircase, a bed and a dressing table are all also conjured from the same metal sheeting, each a fractionally smaller-than-life-sized feat of material transubstantiation. Elsewhere, an overturned glass spills its metal contents over the side of a table while a cigarette packet lies open and empty.
Eschewing these objects’ approaches towards illusionism is a silhouette of a figure on horseback, painted gloss red and dangling at one end of a counterbalanced metal bar, itself suspended from the ceiling like a Country & Western Alexander Calder. This anomaly is, in fact, just another page in a lexicon of cinematic reference points that Kavanagh has compiled during his research for the work – in this case a nod to Sidney Pollack’s The Electric Horseman (1979). Many motifs are taken from the five last films to be shown in the now demolished cinemas of Archway, the busy north London gyratory on which the Hill House office block is built.
Pushing further back, Kavanagh unearthed R. W. Paul’s 1906 film Is Spiritualism a Fraud?, which climaxes in a chase down the nearby Holloway Road. That got him thinking about the possibility of telepathy, and the scientists that attempted to discredit it by challenging mediums to transmit filmic imagery from one mind to another, or physical matter from the past into the present. Bringing the two dimensions of cinematic projection into the three dimensions of the office space, the horizontal memory of the razed buildings onto the top floor of their defiantly vertical replacement, and the flat pages of historical records into the deep space of personal experience all seem like appropriate ways for the artist to try and make sense of such a loaded location. Tellingly, Kavanagh is more used to working with collage, cutting together found imagery and occasionally allowing it to peel away from the page.
There’s a lot going on in The Lonely House, and this prevents it from being easily bound into a single, conveyable idea or image. Like snatches of sentences caught through radio static, or the disjointed images jotted down by a medium, the work’s meanings are alternately clear and muddied. The installation is most like a combination of half-dismantled movie sets, stripped of narrative cohesion but packed with curious non-sequiturs in every corner. Only when I turned to leave, and caught sight of the work reflected in the darkened glass of the window, did it pull focus into an image, while the city outside, with its thousands of rooms-within-rooms and stories-within-stories, stretched dizzyingly away behind it.
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