The Horror Show Of Modern Britain

Somerset House explores horror as a cultural statement for the last fifty years.

Yes, we know what you were thinking when you read that header – just call us the masters of clickbait. Britain is indeed a horror show right now and every day things are getting madder and madder – but that’s not what we are talking about here. Rather, The Horror Show!: A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain is the punctuation-challenging name of a forthcoming event at Somerset House in London, which explores “how ideas rooted in horror have informed the last 50 years of creative rebellion”. If you are wondering just what that means, let’s quote the press release:

The show looks beyond horror as a genre, instead taking it as a reaction and provocation to our most troubling times. The last five decades of modern British history are recast as a story of cultural shapeshifting told through some of our country’s most provocative artists. The Horror Show! offers a heady ride through the disruption of 1970s punk to the revolutionary potential of modern witchcraft, showing how the anarchic alchemy of horror – its subversion, transgression and the supernatural – can make sense of the world around us.

We’re not going to lie, this sounds pretty fascinating. Split into three ‘acts’ – Monster, Ghost and Witch – the show explores specific eras and specific archetypes in each section. ‘Monster’ covers the 1970s and 1980s via punk, fashion, social unrest and sexual expression with works from Marc Almond, Bauhaus, Judy Blame, Leigh Bowery, Philip Castle, Chila Burman, Helen Chadwick, Monster Chetwynd, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Tim Etchells, Noel Fielding, Mark Moore & Martin Green, Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Harminder Judge, Daniel Landin, Jeannette Lee, Andrew Liles, Linder, London Leatherman, Don Letts, Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, Lindsey Mendick, Peter Mitchell, Dennis Morris, Matilda Moors, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Guy Peellaert, Gareth Pugh, Jamie Reid, Derek Ridgers, Nick Ryan, Ralph Steadman, Ray Stevenson, Poly Styrene, Francis Upritchard and Jenkin van Zyl.

‘Ghost’ covers the 1980s through to the early 2000s, across the digital age, financial crashes and dance culture, with work from A Guy Called Gerald, Barry Adamson, Hamad Butt, Adam Chodzko, Kevin Cummins, Graham Dolphin, Tim Etchells, Angus Fairhurst, Paul Finnegan, Laura Grace Ford, Ghostwatch, Lucy Gunning, Paul Heartfield, Susan Hiller, Matthew Holness & Richard Ayoade, Stewart Home, Derek Jarman, Michael Landy, Richard Littler (Scarfolk), Jeremy Millar, Haroon Mirza, Drew Mulholland, Pat Naldi & Wendy Kirkup, Cornelia Parker, Steve Pemberton, Nic Roeg, Nick Ryan, Scanner (Robin Rimbaud), Adam Scovell, Sensory Leakage, Reece Shearsmith, David Shrigley, Iain Sinclair, Kerry Stewart, Tricky, Gavin Turk, Richard Wells, Rachel Whiteread and Words & Pictures.

And finally, ‘Witch’ goes from the financial crash of 2008 to the modern day covering the ‘global coven’ (I do like that phrase) of interconnected communities, ecology and ‘bodily autonomy’. Contributors here are Ackroyd & Harvey, Josh Appignanesi, Jane Arden, Ruth Bayer, Anna Bunting-Branch, Juno Calypso, Leonora Carrington, Coil, Charlotte Colbert, Marisa Carnesky, Damselfrau, Jesse Darling, Eccentronic Research Council, Jake Elwes, Tim Etchells, Gazelle Twin, Bert Gilbert, Rose Glass, Miles Glyn, Tyreis Holder, Matthew Holness, Sophy Hollington, Bones Tan Jones, Isaac Julien, Tina Keane, Serena Korda, Linder, Alice Lowe, Hollie Miller & Kate Street, Grace Ndiritu, Col Self, Tai Shani, Oliver Sim, Penny Slinger, Matthew Stone, Linda Stupart & Carl Gent, Suzanne Treister, Cathy Ward, Ben Wheatley, Zoe Williams and Zadie Xa.

Penny Slinger, Penny Red Dakini, 2019

Now, let’s not beat around the bush – this is likely to be as revisionist and selective as any TV documentary covering these periods – huge chunks of underground and subversive culture are likely to be overlooked or dismissed because they are unfashionable or culturally problematic while insignificant fads will be elevated in importance. That’s just the way these things happen, sadly and I can guarantee that for those of us immersed in this whole thing, there will be a lot that will frustrate. There are some truly awful people involved with this – you can decide for yourselves who is who (and we might well disagree on who they are!). But there are also a huge number of genuinely interesting and provocative contributors to make up for that. How things balance out will be interesting to see and if nothing else, there should be a lot to discuss after you’ve seen the exhibition.

There will also be accompanying events and talks that are yet to be announced. Hopefully, we’ll be reporting in from the whole thing as it takes place from October 27th through to February 19th 2023. You can book tickets and find more information here:

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  1. Surely the photo of the kids staring at Peter Cristopherson’s ‘Boy’ window display should be included. Strange that the Throbs/TOPY don’t seem to feature. Or am I being old fashioned? Some other London-area (Southern, anyway) characters I think fit the bill: first Iron Maiden LP, ‘Eddie’ art, pukoid-zomboid amber streetlamp, and Tubeway Army’s rape-machine infested park …

    1. Coil is included – but of course, there will be no reference to Iron Maiden or that imagery (happy if the event proves me wrong) – hence the comments about selective history. We shall see – even if I may have snarked myself out of a press pass…

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