Review: Alejandro Jodorowsky's Exhibition of a Film of a Book That Never Was, London Drawing Room

By Alex Hopkins | 12 October 2009
A picture of a yellow structure in a dune

(Above) Chris Foss, The Emperor's Palace (1975). Montage of line drawing with ink and acrylic paint on art board. © the artist

Exhibition: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune: An Exhibition of a Film of a Book That Never Was, The Drawing Room, London, until October 25 2009

Creating a film from a novel is always a daunting task. In 1976 filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky undertook perhaps one of the most ambitious ventures ever in attempting to make a movie of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel Dune.

Not one single frame was shot, yet we have been left with a unique insight into Jodorowsky's imagination through a series of drawings and sculptures that depict and reflect upon a truly monumental project.

Herbert's novel is set 20,000 years in the future and describes the quest by an extraterrestrial tribe to mine for spice, a precious commodity endowing all who digest it with psychic powers. The sprawling narrative features mile-long sand worms, an evil Emperor, space travel and a holy guerrilla war.

A black and white drawing of a huge extraterrestrial picture

HR Giger, Dune IV (1976). Acrylic on paper., © the artist

Hollywood scuppered the project and funding proved elusive, but not before extensive production drawings had been created. Those on display at the Drawing Room, by HR Giger and Chris Foss, reveal the awe-inspiring, untapped potential of the film.

There is something distinctly unworldly and dreamlike about both artists' work. The three prints by Giger show what looks like a giant sandworm stranded amidst the destruction of a desert.

Rendered in greys and whites, the overall effect is resolutely bleak, and there is a sense of inertia about the scene. It sums up both the exhaustion and carnage of battle.

In contrast to Giger's subdued use of colour, is Foss's The Emperor's Palace, the centre of his artificial planet. A montage of line drawings, it is almost overpowering in its vibrant use of yellow and gold against a sinister black sky.

A watercolour painting of a multicoloured cloud over a mythical landscape

Vidya Gastaldon, You Should Never be in the...(2009). Watercolour, acrylic, gouache and coloured pencil on paper. Art:Concept, Paris

The work by Jodorowsky's contemporaries is complemented by pieces by three modern artists: Vidya Gastaldon, Matthew Day Jackson and Steven Claydon, all of whom are responding to Jodorowsky’s vision.

Gastaldon has produced a suite of drawings by flicking through the pages of Herbert's novel at random and then making an image based on the first thing she sees. The results, created with a mixture of watercolour and coloured pencil, use fluid line work and possess an ephemeral quality which is perhaps apt given the venture's failure.

Jackson’s sculptures are particularly striking, consisting of a gold skeleton and five black, dyed plastic skulls. One skull, atop a gilded skeleton, gradually transforms into a tetrahedron over a series of sculptural iterations. It is Jackson's way of illustrating the magical powers of spice at the core of the story.

In many ways these skulls sum up this show. The spectre of death and destruction is prevalent. The illustrations of arid deserts strewn with alien limbs resonate with ideas of chemical warfare and environmental squalor. Jodorowsky's mythical, doomed goal is strangely relevant to our own times.

Tours to Plymouth Arts Centre, April 3 – May 16 2010.

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