The Horror Show!
A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain, exhibition invites us to sift through the gory entrails of the last five debauch decades of British razor edge cultural movements, Duo Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, with Claire Catterall, have curated a slasher movie of an exhibition, and certainly cut up the rule book, artworks and culturally significant artefacts dance for attention here to a soundtrack of exploding smithereens of life and recurring teenage dreams.
This show bites into the street, quite literally, due to the frighteningly charming exhibition design courtesy of architects Sam Jacob Studio and playful genius of creative studio Barnbrook. The design is amazing, as you enter the exhibition from the low level of London’s damp foggy Thames Embankment, which in itself hides a Victorian sewer, an eery experience of face pareidolia, the building, Somerset House, peers through its’ windows with giant eyes and a pig snout looking down above the entrance, which has also been given fangs, stepping into the unknown, like going into the underbelly of nightlife, swallowed, through the doors as mouth. It’s a joy to leave personal contemporary horrors outside and get our ultra-bright day-glo teeth into the excitement of the alienation and anxiety shared by the unruly alliance that can only be British youth.
From the tomb of darkness, possessing the senses, a mythical familiar sound, Danial Ash spooks, his guitar played with what sounds like a rusty scrap metal yard, the EBow and Telecaster sound of oxidised corrosion pulls us into The Horror Show, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, and dead, and dead, and dead. And buried in a tomb full of dark treasure, the gaze is part Lara Croft, part Indiana Jones, the vibe is 1970’s UK and everything is trying to make you conform, post military Britain, the non-conformists are forced to commit violence onto their environment just to exist. ‘The Bromley Contingent’ – Siouxsie Sioux, Philip Salon, Debbie Juvenile, Simon Barker, Steve Severin, Berlin, Soo Severin, Sharon Hayman and Linda Ashby at Linda Ashby’s flat – Oct 1976. A photo by Ray Stevenson youth making their existence felt. Mesmerising. Slightly awkward and self-conscious, but who said getting noticed wouldn’t feel neurotic when living in a bombed out nostalgic war zone, more bomb shells anyone? There’s so many explosions onto the scene here to witness. Fashion was a killer once before victims existed. ‘Sex Sandal In Black’ brought by Eve Ferret at SEX Kings Road, London, 1974 designed by Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren. If only killer heels could talk the talk, what was the conversation over these shoes between the two designers, possibly they gave birth to this shoe as cynical opportunists and the shoe went on to have a life well beyond those conversations, a Frankenstein of a shoe, a Pinocchio dancing beyond reach and a myth begins to be carved by all who witness the alchemy of creation as it passes. Is image everything? This show feels like a collection of moments. So many visions, like looking at the museum through a broken mirror, refracted light, there are shards of brilliance, and reflections on mortality, sharp splinters of paranoia, everywhere. The chosen pieces have a very particular discourse, not so much a conversation, more of a slanging match, shouting across the gallery to each other. Understandable as these selected works are evidence from a very vocal time, before the silent intravenous instant intrusive communication of mobile phones. This is a television world before ideas became framed in HTML code.
Even British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a TV show puppet, here, with a letter from Neil Kinnock, her opposition leader at the time, a letter to Barry Hines referring to the British Television Premier screening of the devastating Nuclear War film ‘Threads’, in the handwritten letter Neil Kinnock alludes to the horrors of war with a long lost confidence as though there was once an imagined obtainable alternative. Margaret Thatcher models a Judy Blame crown above her head from John Galliano’s ‘Forgotten Innocents’ Fall/Winter 1986-7 collection, she looks the bomb, ready for the nightlife.
Dick Jewell’s film piece is a single social document, recording a stream of increasingly flamboyant descendants into the influential club night Kinky Gerlinky. Shot across seventeen Tuesday nights between March 1991 and October 1993, this film documents the cinematic emerge, over, and over, again, and again, and is mesmerising, and also unmissably hard to take your eyes off, it’s the beginning of the evening and the vitality and energy here is captured beautifully, there’s a structure to the piece, each character is introduced and descends a staircase. These people are the energy, and they are going to make this night the night.
Now, individual experienced hedonism tramples on an idea of political structural change, and politics seem to be less believed collectively, and focus becomes more about the personal, the inner space.
Derek Ridgers, night club documentary portraits, blown up larger than life, back lit on giant bill board screens sandwich one room from either side wall, these images captured at London nightclubs between 1978-1994, clubs including The Roxy, The Vortex, Billy’s, Gossips, Blitz, Hell, St. Moritz, Planets, La Beat Route, Heaven, The Batcave, Camden Palace, Skin Two, Wag Club, Kit Kat, Astral Flight, The Fridge, Tribe Club, Pleasure Dive, Zeetas, The Mud Club, Taboo, Hippodrome, Limelight, Torture Garden and Rubber Ball, these images take on a scale and proximity here that confront but also delight, it’s beautiful to watch from our dwarfed and distanced perspective, like Alice in Wonderland after the small pill we look up. Layered with this is a bespoke soundtrack from artists Martin Green & Mark Moore, ‘Freaks Come Out At Night’ this sound piece, brings further sensory dimension, a digital recording from a live DJ mix. And in the middle of this gallery as dancefloor are human forms, seemingly dancing off, ‘Hooded Cape Ensemble’ 1988, satin cape and sequined dress, Leigh Bowery. And ‘Xterminating Angel’ 2021 from the artist who is beyond a British fashion star, she’s her own solar system, Pam Hogg.
This show meanders further and tells of a twilight zone of turbulence, unease and creative revolution at the heart of the British cultural psyche, of how escaping into the self and imagination always contains an element of excited horror, and of how external reality can only truly be realised through the prism of our darkest imagination.
Author + Editor at large (london): Marcus Woodcock