Edited by Jo Ann Kaplan, the film (52 minutes) includes footage of a lecture by Robert Wilson at the Royal Geographical Society and interviews with Hans Peter Kuhn and production designer Michael Howells.
Enter a dark Victorian dining room, full of curios and clues; dinner has begun but the guests have gone. Then onwards and downwards into the cavernous interiors of the Clink Street vaults by the River Thames in London, transformed into an extraordinary sequence of time tableaux by theatre visionary Robert Wilson and audio artist Hans Peter Kuhn.
Celebrated film-maker Mike Figgis takes his camera on a disconcerting subterranean journey through time and space. Edited by Jo Ann Kaplan, the film includes footage of Wilson's lecture at the Royal Geographical Society and interviews with Hans Peter Kuhn and production designer Michael Howells.
A door opens off a forgotten London street. The room was full but now it is empty. A newspaper rests on the sidetable. The year is 1895...
You descend into the darkness below. Into a subterranean expanse of deserted spaces. The cavernous interiors of The Clink Street Vaults, once the site of one of London's medieval prisons, have been transformed in time; indeed different times, from pre-history to the recent past. Above and below, there are intimations of activity, and glimpses into distant places. Darkness and light, object and sound merge to create other worlds both strange, and strangely familiar; visions both ancient and modern.
H.G. was the first ever commission made in Britain by acclaimed US theatre artist Robert Wilson and his long-term collaborator, sound and light architect Hans Peter Kuhn. It was their first major installation since their award-winning project for the 1993 Venice Biennale. Joining forces with British film production designer Michael Howells, they staged a fugitive encounter with time.
The Making of H.G.
by James Lingwood, 2002
The mid-1990s was still a good time to search out unused, unwanted spaces in London – not as good as the early 1990s, but a lot better than now. The Clink Street vaults were like a huge underground street, in a part of London very near the City and very near the River Thames, but which every development boom had passed by (until the last one). From the street outside, it was impossible to have any idea of the scale of the spaces behind the facade.
Precisely when H.G. Wells entered the equation is unclear. 1995 was the 100th anniversary of The Time Machine, but the relationship was always understated, even if the first room did create an explicit connection with the first chapter of the book. The space was the starting point, rather than the book...
The audience was only allowed to go in one or two at a time, entering through an unprepossessing door. The transition from the street into the first room was startling. You came into a Victorian dining room from which the guests had departed, leaving the food on the table. There was the sound of a grandfather clock ticking.
On your way out of this room, you passed a copy of The Times newspaper from 100 years ago and then travelled down into the dark spaces beyond. It was only after a minute or two that you had any sense of how cavernous the space was. Following the choreographed beginning to the work, the audience was then free to wander through time and space at will.
Most of the time tableaux were open for people to walk around and through, but two or three were closed off. The skills of a film production designer came into full play here - using an economy of means to create extraordinary vistas onto inaccessible places, a glimpse of some pre-Iapsarian paradise through some bars in a door, some Classical ruins with a shaft of golden arrows seen through some broken brickwork.
H.G. was a collaborative project all the way down the line. Michael Morris had known Hans Peter for a while and through him Bob too. Following their first visits to London, we decided to work on H.G. together.
It was illuminating to see how they made the work, how they collaborated with Michael Howells, the film production designer to whom Michael Morris introduced them, as well as with a large group of artists and technicians. Bob would visualise an idea - a medieval figure lying down, illuminated by a shaft of blue light, for example and then Michael Howells gave a particular form to the idea. Things were added or taken away or shifted around - as if the images were being made and then edited. In the meantime, in parallel, Hans Peter was working on the sound.
Kuhn's sound was as important as Wilson's vision. On occasion the sound was very forceful – for example a train rushing through the vaults. But in most of the spaces it was localised and subtle. There was one room with a hole cut in the ceiling and a globe made out of cotton wool. What made that room work was the sound of footsteps slowly walking around the space above.
// Credits //
Artists: Hans Peter Kuhn, Mike Figgis & Robert Wilson
Editor: Jo Ann Kaplan
Mit: Mike Figgis, Robert Wilson, Hans Peter Kuhn, Michael Howells
The Clink Street Vaults, London
11 September 1995 - 15 October 1995
H.G. was commissioned by Artangel with Beck’s, further assistance on this project was received by The Henry Moore Foundation and the London Arts Board.
Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England and the private patronage of the Artangel International Circle, Special Angels, Guardian Angels and The Company of Angels.
// Press/Reviews //
The connecting theme of time travel – the H.G. in question being of course the author of The Time Machine – provides the opportunity to mount a series of stunningly theatrical tableaux. In one barrel-vaulted dungeon, a mummified corpse lies surrounded in billowing fog. Above, hovering in mid-air, hang a severed hand and goblet. Through a barred door it is possible to glimpse, in the distance, a sunlit jungle glade with fluttering foliage and crying birds. A ragged gap in the wall reveals a ruined classical city with arrows above which are miraculously suspended in the air. The effect is close to fiction of the magic realist school – a series of detached, mesmerisingly exact, images. – Martin Gayford, The Spectator, 14 October 1995
What Wilson and Kuhn achieve is the personalisation of history, distilling it from something vast and unfathomable into something intensely personal and meaningful. Like HG Wells’s angel, we can only stare and wonder. – Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 14 September 1995
...evocative and scary, beautiful and funny, hugely inventive and utterly unexpected. – Charles Hall, Art Review, October 1995
Wilson leaves it to us to draw our conclusions, with the warning that if we try too hard we could miss out on the experience. His vaulting imagination affords humour as well as the drama of a theatrical event. This is the Madame Tussaud’s I always hoped for as a child. – Daniel Farson, The Mail on Sunday, 8 October 199