Submerged in Hockney at London’s Lightroom
A new immersive cinematic venue has opened in London. Lightroom, designed by architects HaworthTompkins, launches with a biographical video installation by & about David Hockney, a totalising experience of sound & vision which suggests a potential future of unexpected creative responses.

Working with the London Theatre Company and 59 Productions, architects HaworthTompkins have created Lightroom, a unique entertainment space in Kings Cross, London. At heart, the concept is simple. A four-storey black-cube space with a vast grid of high definition projectors, mapping a purpose-made video over the four walls and carpeted floor.

In essence it is simply a twist upon the same cinematic projection that has been going on for over 130 years, now using the internal architecture as screen. On close inspection, the internal architecture is even quite rough, an arrangement of stretched panels, concrete slabs, and breeze blocks with varying textures and quality of finish. Not that this matters, because the constant flow of moving image renders the surface obsolete, those imperfections disappearing into the texture of the artworks and animations spreading throughout the space.


The arrival into the space is part of its subsuming reveal. Not only is it seemingly dug into the very foundations of the otherwise standard New London Vernacular building within which it is housed, but there are a series of thresholds visitors must pass before finding themselves looking into the vast projection space. A series of descending steps and passages are disorientating as the polished veneer of Coal Drops Yard is left outside and above. This serves to add a sense of otherness to the cinematic space, which will no doubt find extra value beyond the artistic: it seems a readymade for commercial hire, product launches, and festival or fashion week events which also seek to add an aura and technological spectacle to their commercial offer.


The venue opens with an immersive David Hockney experience, Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away),. It is a video installation sitting between exhibition, documentary, spectacle, and moving image artwork – often not entirely sure which it is most interested in being. Sometimes, this ambiguity lets the work down: sequences where Hockney’s art makes most curatorial and impactful sense within the space – such as the Palm Springs light-filled paintings, or his moving image study of four seasons of the same Yorkshire rural road – are presented all too briefly when, if it were more of an art context, a viewer may wish to dwell much longer within the experience.

Instead, the film rapidly jumps through a series of chapters, seemingly desperate to include as much as possible even at the risk of turning often poetic artworks into barely graspable Tik-Tok length moments. It flits between playful animated sequences, behind-the-scenes process, hagiographic autobiography, and spectacle, but doesn’t seem to know which mode it wants to concentrate on.


There are, however, some poetic motifs and ideas within the fragmented documentary style. Underlying ideas of perspective, collage, looking, being immersed in a scene, and the relationship of technology to art practice recur in the various chapters of the film. These are of course all elements of Hockney’s six and a half decades of work as an artist who relentless has persued the relationship of digital and analogue, played with technology right through to recent iPad drawings, and who has personally researched and explored the history of camera obscura in painting history, but also speak to the specifics of Lightroom, its modes of display and immersive reception.

While some of the sequences seem forced or a bit weak – with no clear delineation between Hockney’s original work and latterly-added animation or process – seem for spectacle and to make most use of the moving image on all five surfaces, other sections sing. A number of cameras affixed to the roof of Hockney’s open-top car follow his journey through the “squiggly” roads of the Los Angeles hills.

The voiceover, which is Hockney throughout and formed of archive interviews as well as new recordings for this work, tells of how the grid of Santa Monica gives way to the projected twisted path, and as he discusses how he found exactly the write moment to start playing Wagner’s Die Walküre so the musical crescendos marry those of the journey, moments of the it play within the space as part of Nico Muhly’s durational score.

There is the oft-repeated myth that when the Lumière brothers first showed L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, the audience leapt from their seats and fled the screening as the projected train trundled towards them. In the 21st century, we have perhaps lost the ability to be genuinely shocked by technology, saturated as we are by it throughout our daily lives, beings, and identities. But it can still find new ways to create relationships or ways of seeing and thinking.


Future artists who will get to play with the space in the same way as Hockney and his studio have not yet been announced and so the potential of the space has yet to be discovered – the documentary approach favoured here is only one way of utilising the architecture and technology, and it clear that various creatives could explore other avenues through the inclusion of installation, scent, sound, performance or other ways of augmenting the raw ingredients.

There is a fascinating melting of architectural surface and applied digital artwork which could become an interesting playground for a variety of creatives, and while HaworthTompkins’ architecture takes a discreet back seat to the technological prowess and illuminated artworks, it is a critical component from arrival space to stage set which creates the conditions for escape.


David Hockney (b. 1937) is an English painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer. As an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s, he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

Haworth Tompkins is a Stirling Prize-winning architectural studio with an international reputation for re-imagining the nature of public cultural spaces. Previous work includes the Bridge Theatre, the Liverpool Everyman, the Young Vic, the Royal Court, Battersea Arts Centre, NT Future and the Bristol Old Vic. Named AJ100 UK Practice of the Year in 2020 and 2022, the studio is working on new cultural projects in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia. Director Roger Watts has led the Lightroom design team.

Lightroom is a joint venture between 59 Productions and London Theatre Company, backed by a senior group of investors led by Sir Leonard Blavatnik who is represented by Danny Cohen, President of Access Entertainment; and Michael Sherwood, former co-CEO of Goldman Sachs International. Its CEO is Richard Slaney formerly of 59 Productions and its executive chair is Nick Starr, co-founder with Nicholas Hytner of London Theatre Company.


David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) is exhibited at Lightoom, London, until 4 June 2023. More details and tickets available at:


fig.i Lightroom External View
fig.ii Installation of David Hockney's "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)". Oil on 32 canvases (36 x 48" each), 144 x 384" overall, © David Hockney. Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle
fig.iii Installation of David Hockney’s "A Bigger Grand Canyon" 1998. Oil on 60 canvases, 81 1/2 x 293" overall, © David Hockney. Collection National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
fig.iv David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) Photo by Justin Sutcliffe.
fig.v David Hockey at Lightroom, photo by Justin Sutcliffe

publication date
22 February 2023

59 Productions, Biography, Cinema, HaworthTompkins, David Hockney, Immersive, Kings Cross, Lightroom, London Theatre Company, Lumiere Brothers, Nico Muhly, Projection, Technology, Theatre