In the basement kitchen of Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – which reopens this week – there’s a mummified whippet half stuck into a bread roll. It’s not an insight into the domestic catering arrangements of one of England’s greatest architects. It’s part of a show called ‘Degrees of Truth’ by artist duo Langlands & Bell. Their works are scattered throughout the house, which now has a one-way system in place. The exhibition closed along with the museum back in March. Langlands & Bell found the grisly dried-out pooch on a stall in Brick Lane market and incorporated it into their work. You sort of picture the dog alive and in the house, snoozing in front of the range. Then you realise that this connection is momentary – the dog and the house have interacted for the first and only time in their respective histories.
Sir John Soane’s London house makes time work like this. It’s full of dead things. I mean, full. The architect, who was responsible for the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Pitzhanger Manor and many other significant commissions, made his own home a strange and delirious living museum of the dead, with a ‘sepulchral chamber’ in the cellar containing a sarcophagus, statues of the dead, paintings of ruins. It’s not remotely morbid, or gloomy or gothic. It’s an artful balance of light and shade, colour and blackness: a dreamspace.
Actually, Langlands & Bell are a weirdly good fit for Sir John Soane’s Museum. Their preoccupations – how spaces and buildings both reflect and define the individual, how power structures and physical structures overlap, how history and the future exist in the present – chime with many of Soane’s ideas: an avant-garde architect in thrall to