Reekie's Round-Up

Jonathan Reekie CBE

28 Dec 2017

Having made a list of my 2017 highlights, I ended up with way more than 12.  It made me realise what an extraordinary and varied year we have had at Somerset House. Especially satisfying is seeing more and more work from Studios artists infiltrating our cultural programme.

Somerset House Studios

Following its launch in 2016, the Studios community has doubled in size this year, with 35 new artists, makers and thinkers bringing us up to 75 in total. New and exciting work has been presented across our building - we’ve had raves in The Deadhouse with LoneLady and Graham Dunning, discussed the future of power with Superflux and Brian Eno, welcomed London’s Night Czar Amy Lame to debate the future of club culture in the city and explored deep listening with Beatrice Dillon. Keep watching for more developments in 2018.

Dismantle Yourself, Graham Dunning. Image by Theo Cottle
Amy Lame, Nocturnal City, Somerset House Studios

Game Changers

From Zach Gage's Really Bad Chess to Ed Saperia's twisted take on billiards, Home Turf, this joyous and interactive exhibition delved into the history of three of the most popular board games and showed how artists and designers today continue to reinvent the formats.

Game Changers: Another Way To Play

Western Flag

This monumental artwork by artist John Gerrard was erected in our courtyard to mark World Earth Day. Commissioned by Channel 4, the work is a computer-generated simulation of the site of the world's first major oil discovery in Spindletop, Texas, a timely reminder of our continued reliance on oil and the ongoing challenges in the battle against climate change.

Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017, John Gerrard


Following on from the success of Bjork Digital, we continued to push the parameters of what's possible with virtual reality with artist Mat Collishaw, who recreated an entire exhibition from 1856 in VR, taking us back in time to the dawn of photography.

Listen to the podcast below which includes interviews from artist Mat Collishaw; Larry Schaaf, historian and authority on Fox Talbot; Nicolas Byrne and Ed Lloyd of VMI Studios on the creation of the VR experience; and Hans Kraus, a dealer of 19th century photography and a collector of Fox Talbot prints.

Larry Achiampong

Somerset House Studios artist Larry Achiampong's Pan African Flag for the Relic Traveller's Alliance marked the first in a series of flag commissions. The raising of Larry's flag, a celebration of black culture and the African diaspora, was a proud moment for all involved and marked the growing stature of Somerset House Studios artists.

Pan African Flag for the Relic Travellers' Alliance, Larry Achiampong

Mashrou' Leila

Our Summer Series gigs lit up the courtyard once again this summer, with eleven nights of standout performances from some of the finest acts from around the world. Watching Mashrou' Leila's storming set on the final Saturday night was the highlight of the series.

Mashrou' Leila, Summer Series at Somerset House

An Inconvenient Sequel

Welcoming former Vice President Al Gore to the stage at Film4 Summer Screen for the premiere of his new climate change documentary was an incredible moment. Hearing him proclaim Somerset House as ‘the most iconic venue for a film festival in the world’ certainly topped off the occasion!

Al Gore introduces An Inconvenient Sequel at Film 4 Summer Screen


A particular highlight of 2017, we put the spotlight on the contemporary scent makers shaking up the world of fragrance. We installed a fully functioning Perfume Lab where visitors could discover the art of constructing perfume, and met some larger-than-life perfumers along the way.

Meet the Perfumers

Hassan Hajjaj/1:54

Always one of my favourite events of our cultural calendar, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair celebrated its fifth anniversary in October. We presented a homecoming show for itinerant, British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, showcasing his vibrant fusion of contemporary cultures.

Hassan Hajjaj, La Caravane


It's been wonderful to see our Great Arch Hall animated by stage designer and Somerset House Studios resident Chloe Lamford's shimmering Show Room installation, a theatrical stage set inspired by our building. Chloe is associate designer at the Royal Court and moved into the Studios this year.

Show Room, Chloe Lamford

And two from elsewhere…

Cities of culture

Visits to Hull City of Culture and to Documenta 14 in Athens, showed the power of the arts in giving cities a new sense of pride and purpose, and took me firmly away from the London bubble.

Hull UK City Of Culture 2017

Help Refugees

I recently met some of the amazing people that set up Help Refugees. This led to Ai Wei Wei visiting Somerset House for the first time (he was in prison when his work was last represented at Somerset House) traducing a Somerset House preview of his powerful new film Human Flow. My last theatre visit of the year was to the Jungle, a play by Good Chance Theatre at the Young Vic, set in the Calais Jungle, packed full of humanity and a sobering reminder of how this country has avoided its responsibilities.

Human Flow, Ai Wei Wei