Symphony of a Missing Room
Royal Academy of Arts
Until Sun Jun 8
© Julian Abrams
Time Out rating:
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Time Out says
Posted: Wed May 21 2014
Definitely not one for the claustrophobic, London-based experimental artists Lundahl & Seitl’s ‘Symphony of a Missing Room’ is about as immersive as theatre gets without actual dunking in liquid.
Pitching up at the Royal Academy of Arts as part of LIFT 2014, it notionally takes the form of a tour of the impressive Georgian gallery. The twist – and it is quite the twist – is that the tour is to a ‘missing room’, which contains the memories of the building, of all the old art that has disappeared, and all the potential art that was never displayed.
Is the missing room a real place? Philosophically speaking, that’s a difficult question to answer. As the show starts, we don headphones, through which tricksy sound design filters out ‘reality’, filling the gallery with ominous footsteps, murmured whispers and strange whirring. Then whited-out goggles are placed on our heads, meaning we can neither see nor hear our environment – an unseen guide took me by the hand and led me on a journey through places only evoked by the sounds and the fluting Nordic-accented voice coming through the ‘phones.
We visit the infinitely huge, cathedral-like missing room, and other strange spaces along the way – a busy dining room filled with music; a drowned upper floor; a sun-dappled courtyard with a silent old man sat in it. With so many stimuli blocked, and with such evocative sounds coming through our ears, these rooms inevitably take vivid, fantastical shape in the mind.
There is a thread to it all, a playful prying into the idea of a building’s soul, not just the idea of what a building is now, but what it was and what it could have been. The odd recorded archive snippet about the RAA filters through the sonic strangeness, and there is a definite romantic appreciation of the very idea of an art gallery.
Ultimately, though, it is the trippy extremeness of the immersive experience that defines the show, not its meaning. ‘Symphony of a Missing Room’ cuts you adrift from reality for an hour, leaving you to roam the grandest stage of all – your own imagination.