Thursday 13 August 2009

Jane and Louise Wilson at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Jane and Louise Wilson, Unfolding the Aryan Papers 2009, Installation view courtesy of the BFI London / © Dave Morgan

A few months ago I wrote about an exhibition that would be opening at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh. The exhibition, Unfolding the Aryan Papers is by Jane and Louise Wilson. I first saw it in London in March at the British Film Institute. I've already written about the main part of the exhibition, the video installation, in an earlier post so I won't repeat myself. Except to mention the space the film is being shown in - it's a box, constructed of a gauze-like material, darkened, and with mirrors which project the film infinitely on either side. The effect of the mirrors is very powerful though the temporary structure meant that noises from outside the box, people walking past, chatting, high heels on the floor etc. made it difficult to hear the film properly. Though this could also be to do with the fact I saw it on the opening night when the noise level might have been increased slightly by the wine on offer!

There was a large room upstairs in the Talbot Rice Gallery which contained archive material and new work by Jane and Louise Wilson which had not been part of the BFI exhibition. Old black and white photographs from the Ealing Studio Archive which Kubrick had collected are displayed alongside original photos of Johanna ter Steege, and new ones taken by Jane and Louise Wilson, and bronze sculptures of the yardsticks that are used in the original Ealing Studio photographs.

Once again what really struck me was how the re-use and re-interpretation of this material has finally brought it to life. It's very moving to hear Johanna ter Steege talk in the film, about the amount of time and feeling which she, and Kubrick, had invested in the project. She says something along the lines of 'this has brought some kind of closure to the film' which she was denied when the project was halted. I heard, though I can't find the reviews anywhere, that there have been criticisms of this exhibition as being too superficial, as somehow trivialising the very serious and horrific events it discusses. However that is so at odds with the impression I get from the film. The film is invested with the emotion and energy which Johanna ter Steege put into the original research and photographs for the film, the huge amount of research which Kubrick and his team carried out for it, and the amount of research and inspiration which the Wilson sisters have created with their film, and the photographs and sculptures, ensure that the installation creates a lasting impression.

On a final note about this exhibition - it's interesting how the revived interest in this film, through the re-use and promotion of the archive material, has reportedly led to interest in finally making this film. An article in The Times states that "Warner Bros still owns the rights to the film… and Harlan said the studio should employ a leading director such as Ang Lee, who made the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, to bring Kubrick’s vision to the screen. He said he would happily become involved in the project again." Although Warner Bros. haven't confirmed yet if they are going to resurrect this film.

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