Two of 'Six Scintillating Sinners (In Vitro)', 2021, by Jenkin van Zyl | Stephen Chung for Somerset House


Sabina Culver 01/11/22

The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain

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! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain

Jake & Dinos Chapman, Return of the Repressed³, 1997 2007, 2007. © Jake and Dinos Chapman

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.

The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain: Thatcher

Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

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.

Want more treats? Check out the best Japanese cafes & bakeries in London…

The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain

Somerset House, Strand, Covent Garden, WC2R 1LA

0333 320 2836