The Devil Is In The Detail, At Roundhouse's Utopia

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 106 months ago

Last Updated 07 August 2015

The Devil Is In The Detail, At Roundhouse's Utopia
Photo: David Levene

“Utopia is already here” artist Penny Woolcock states, “in the sweet moments we share with those we love and random strangers whose eyes we catch”.

Out of context, this kind of saccharine statement flutters prettily in the air before dropping to the floor, useless. But Utopia, the summer installation in Roundhouse’s magnificent Main Space, is all about the context. And here, that’s provided by the stories of strangers, deeply personal and at times painfully honest.

Woolcock interviewed over 100 local, Camden residents and asked them to talk. About themselves. What she heard is the backbone of Utopia — a surround-sound storytelling session that digs deep into life’s triumphs, tragedies and consistencies. It is an installation of sorts, but far from passive, the space is active in drawing you slowly round through lighting, sound and design.

And oh, the design. Credit for that goes to Block9, the visual masterminds who have been creating post-apocalyptic Glastonbury sets for the past 10 years. Walking into Utopia requires you to give the outside world a solid goodbye. There are towering sculptures, written-off cars, phone boxes — each with their own story. But the set rewards visitors with an eye for detail and a willingness to listen too, not just see and touch.

Photo by David Levene
Photo by David Levene
Photo by David Levene
Some of the storytellers. Photo by David Levene
Photo by David Levene
Artist Penny Woolcock and Block9. Photo by David Levene

We stop at a tiny cubby hole and hear from Lizzie, who tells us “so I guess that’s my sex life… I put myself in terrible situations” as her Facebook page jumps with activity on a screen in front of us. We sit at a miniature cinema scene and learn of a man who delighted in working in London’s film studios. We pass through a passageway that burns bright with projected images of Black Friday and the 7/7 riots, as the speaker tells us “I saw it on a billboard … I did what you told me to do”.

Consumerism is a steady theme. But while exploring the space, we look up in surprise at the vast domed ceiling of Roundhouse’s Main Space high above us. It’s beautiful, it’s distant, and it’s a genius reminder of how you can be utterly consumed by your surroundings, weighed down by personal experience, how even the detail can define you. Woolcock finishes: “Utopia is for all of us who are thinking about leaving the cave. Who knows what we might find on the way?”

Utopia is at Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH until 23 August. Tickets cost £10 with Pay What You Like Tuesdays. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.

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