The Horror Show!, Somerset House’s new exhibition that tells the story of the past 50 years through a haunting and disturbing art genre, originally conceived in 2019. Unfortunately, according to its curators, a real-life horror show then got in the way.
Back post-Covid, and conveniently timed for Halloween, it opens this week, and invites an obvious question: with so much real horror going on around us, why would anyone want to visit a London gallery to see more?
“You literally open the paper and you’ve got all the horror you can eat,” agrees artist and film-maker Ian Forsyth, who co-created the show with his creative partner Jane Pollard. As a clause, however, “I think [horror] Gives you a path through the darkness,” she says.
“It’s always been something that people come back to in the worst of times, not in the best of times. And for many artists and creators, it gives you a way to see the other side.”
Like a scary movie or a fairground ride, they argue, you can experience “thrills and spills and screams and tears” in an underlying way, “but you get off again at the end”.
The exhibition focuses on the period from the early 1970s to the present day and opens with an artefact that Forsyth and Pollard recall as particularly terrifying: a Spotting Image model of Margaret Thatcher, on loan from the program’s archive at the University of Cambridge and on display here. The first time.
“[Thatcher] That cast an incredibly dark shadow over the whole decade, and I think a lot of art in that decade responded to that,” says Claire Catterall, senior curator at Somerset House. “A lot of our work in the show is a direct response to his moral and political philosophy.”
The puppet opens a segment of the show entitled “Monster”, featuring works by Le Bowry, Monster Chetwynd and Jake and Dinos Chapman.
Why this period? The 20th century experienced plenty of horrors before the 1970s, after all. Forsyth and Pollard, who were both 50 at the time of the exhibition, said they envisioned the exhibition very much for their own lifetimes.
They range from ’80s angst and political rebellion during the Cold War, through ’90s pre-millennial anxieties (in a section titled Ghost, featuring works from Derek Jarman to David Shrigley) and finding out what they’ve cast. take out As a sort of “coven” of globally connected Z activists.
It closes with an audio installation by electronic composer Gazelle Twine, voiced by actor Maxine Peake, in a section that Catterall says she hopes people will find “healing and uplifting”. “There’s an imperative within the industry to change things, to open things up. and to propose an alternative future way.”
Forsyth agrees that there can be a kind of imaginative optimism in scary times: “The more power structures begin to fail, the more artists and others look for creative solutions to them and begin to imagine new ways, other ways.”
Pollard said they were particularly pleased to include a letter written by then Labor leader Neil Kinnock in 1984 to Barry Hynes, author of the apocalyptic nuclear drama Threads.
“Its very last line – it amused us yesterday – said: ‘The danger of complacency is greater than the danger of knowledge.'”
Horror show! Is at Somerset House from 27 October to 19 February 2023