Down in the Crypt
This piece was originally published in the The Courtauldian, the quarterly student newspaper for the Couratuld Institute of Art, London (March - June 2014).
The Crypt Gallery beneath St. Pancras Church is a quiet space away from the frenzy of King’s Cross station and the traffic of Euston Road.
A colonnade of caryatid figures watch over the entrance to this once solely sacred space and as I descended down the steps into what is now an exhibition space, I couldn’t help feeling the weight of ritual and mourning past.
Designed as a crypt for the church, it was used for burials from 1822 when the church was opened until 1854 when council edicts put an end to burials in London churches. Later, in World War II, the crypt was used as an air raid shelter during the London Blitz, complete with a canteen that offered servicemen a hot cup of tea and a bowl of bread pudding between patrols. The area was a prime target for bombers as the important stations of Kings Cross, St. Pancras and Euston are all nearby.
These memories seem to reverberate in the space, and although you may feel an icy chill down your spine as I did when I found myself in a small crypt chamber, the memories seem to enliven the space. As do the artworks.
I was lucky enough to catch an exhibition there that was intentionally designed to engage with the space. The curator of Live in Your Dreams! (open until March 2nd) Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro says that he wanted to “create a dialogue with the space” and “not just occupy it with art.” For Verlet-Bottéro the crypt recalled a Jungian cellar of internalised dreams and Freudian repressed memories. Descending into the crypt for this exhibition thus involves plumbing the depths of the subconscious and entering into a dreamscape.
Many of the works have a surrealist edge to them, perhaps heightened by the location of their display. The chrome and glass of a Modernist living room has been contorted in one chamber in The Deepest Window by Teresa Braula Reis, elsewhere we see the anatomised frailty of a nude figure in Alexandra Pace’s black and white photography series, Dreams. In a small chamber an interactive video work by Jing Hu captures the feeling of ensnarement in a Nightmare through a flickering eye deep in REM sleep. Whilst hanging suspended and lining the walls of one corridor brightly coloured contorted figures in printed acrylic portray the internal paralysis of dreams in Mona Choo’s Stuck.
Other works are seemingly less sombre. The oddities within mundane dreams are captured by Andy Flett in his video On the Couch, in which uncanny dream narratives are told in serious voice-over whilst a cat is shown lounging on a couch; sleeping and perhaps dreaming.
This exhibition was formed around an interpretation of the space. The Crypt Gallery is most certainly worth a visit – it may just spark your own curatorial muse. But you have to be quick and use some of that Courtauldian cunning to get through the door, as exhibitions can be sporadic. Check the website www.cryptgallery.org.uk for the latest exhibitions.
The Crypt Gallery
St. Pancras Church, Euston Road, London NW1 2BA
Closest Tube Stations: Euston, Euston Square or Kings Cross