Should music – or any art, for that matter – be explained? Many musicians delve deep into their lyrical choices and reveal them to the expectant world. Others famously keep their cards close to their chest, leaving metaphors, allusions and cryptic language a mystery. Musician, artist and UNKLE and Mo’ Wax founder James Lavelle has done something in between the two.
Taking over the top floor of the Saatchi Gallery, Lavelle’s new immersive exhibition Beyond The Road traces the visual influences and cues that played a part in his last two UNKLE albums, The Road: Part I and The Road: Part II/Lost Highway. Art fills the space in forms ranging from paintings and films through to sculptures and set design, with featured artists including John Isaacs, Norbert Schoerner, Jonas Burgert and Lavelle himself. However this is no standard walking tour of a gallery – though standard isn’t to be expected given the project was developed by two members of the Punchdrunk cohort: producer Colin Nightingale, and sound designer and creative director Stephen Dobbie.
Instead, much like Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma – which features prominently in a pivotal part of the exhibition, after the director approached Lavelle to make a song inspired by the film – it’s an introspective journey through Lavelle’s world. Together, it traces the making of his music, which rightly takes a central focus. Spaces take on a new character depending on the songs that sound out at the time, and revisiting an area may reveal something different as lighting and visuals morph, music changes and, in some cases, art comes to life.
Experiencing these spaces might at first invite a search for a story, for understanding the sadness, the joy, the loneliness, that pervade the different areas through the combination of sound, sight and spatial design. However, despite what the suggestive props might imply, there isn’t a clear overriding narrative to discover or a mystery to solve – instead each space is best treated as an isolated experience in the context of the music and visuals.
In fact, visitors would do well to remind themselves that it isn’t a Punchdrunk production – though it certainly feels like it in places, particularly in quieter moments when left alone – and as such the usual expectations and guidelines don’t necessarily apply here. It’s not a completely open realm, so it’s worth following the natural direction of the exhibition rather than countering the flow out of fear of missing anything.
The exhibition culminates in a dramatic audiovisual spectacle, evoking the same tale of real-world redemption that features in the UNKLE albums. As the mood becomes pensive, it veers on the self-indulgent, but perhaps that’s to be expected in an exhibition dedicated to one man’s story. However, if anyone is capable of doing so, it’s James Lavelle, whose longstanding role in the British music industry is bolstered by an unflinching commitment to art and design. Just as his music effortlessly straddles genre, so too does his vision for Beyond The Road.
Beyond the Road runs until July 24 at Saatchi Gallery, entry £20; beyondtheroad.saatchigallery.com