What’s spookier than the ghouls and goblins of Halloween? How about the growing sense of existential angst and ennui that results from living in a society hobbled by the 2008 financial crash followed by enforced austerity, whilst navigating a world of digital hyper-connectivity that can nonetheless make us feel utterly, impossibly, alone? …Yep, that’ll do it. Happy Halloween indeed!
The Horror Show! at Somerset House is an audacious journey from the 1970s to today, which explores ‘horror’ not as a genre, but as a reaction to the darkness and traumas of the age. Co-curated by BAFTA-nominated filmmakers Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard and Claire Catterall, it’s a properly impressive piece of myth-making, recontextualising British history into three acts; MONSTER, mapping the political turbulence of the 70s and 80s, and setting it along side the macabre and the grotesque (punks assemble!); GHOST, mapping the “spectral landscape and technological glitches” of the 90s and 00s; and WITCH, exploring the post-2008 financial crash landscape through the enchanted and metaphysical.
If the conceit is high-concept, the art is pleasingly accessible; there’s lots to enjoy, including the divinely demented outfits of club kid and performance art savant Leigh Bowery, a taxidermized feline from David Shrigley, and Jeremy Millar’s ‘Self Portrait As a Drowned Man’ (an eerily lifelike full-sized corpse, made of silicone and fibreglass), all set against the prevailing horrors of the day – be it Thatcher, neoliberalism, or the atomisation of society.
There’s lashings of pop-culture – think early NME covers, a painting of Bowie as a dog, a Spitting Image puppet of the Iron Lady, and a great big Noel Fielding oil painting – alongside lots of weird and wonderful stuff that may be new to you; performance artist Anne Bean’s video installation ‘Paussus’ is a genuinely unsettling 2 mins and 59 seconds that has to be seen for yourself.
Disturbing, engaging, tongue-in-cheek and refreshingly ambitious, the exhibition is a brilliant repository of British creative work created in adversity – and, what’s more, it offers a glimmer of hope that, perhaps, we might find creative ways to navigate this horror show we’re all currently going through.
A tricksy exhibition that’s definitely a treat.
NOTE: The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain is at Somerset House from 27th October – 19th February 2023. You can grab yourself a ticket (£16.50) right here.
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