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Monday, 28 October 2013

Chanelling our inner steam-punk at Victoriana: The Art of Revival

Here at the Ministry we tend not to write reviews of the events we attend. Why? It seems cruel- because you have already missed out on your chance to be there. But in this case you will just have to suffer through your jealousy, because we are dying to tell you all about the Guildhall Art Gallery’s Neo-Victorian Ball in honour of its current exhibition, Victoriana: The Art of Revival.

The ladies swoon for the Lion of London- or was it because of the corsets?
It was a mild October evening when the Guildhall, that majestic symbol of the City of London’s government since the 15th century, was descended upon by a motley crew in Victorian garb. The Guildhall’s medieval crypts seemed perfectly suited to the corseted and top-hatted audience. We watched the Lion of London perform feats of amazing strength and gentlemanly courage. The Dead Victorians performed rousing music-hall numbers while live drawing took place by candlelight. I cannot image how many bottles of prosecco and rosewater cocktails were consumed in the evening, but based on my own experience, I think we can safely assume a lot.

Wait, what year is this?!
The atmosphere of frivolity perfectly enhanced the purpose of the evening’s events: to promote the Victoriana exhibition. The displays are centred around four themes which embody some of the things we find so fascinating about the Victorians today: neo-Victorian Identity (like corsets, lace and tattoos), time travel (and the steam-punk movement), cute and curious (the macabre element) and the re-imagined parlour (the home and decorative objects). You are welcomed into the exhibition by a marble bust of the great General Gordon, only adorned with the requisitely complex steam-punk goggles. Next up you’ll find a Victorian taxidermy scene in its wood box, only this display contains a hidden camera to another area of the gallery rather than a taxidermy centre piece. Down the stairs you sweep past a marble statue surrounded by ‘fairies’ or rather bees which swing unnervingly around the artwork.

The exhibition does a fantastic job of incorporating the wide variety of media to explore the ways in which the Victorian era continued to captivate artists today. Sculpture and photography are particularly prevalent, but I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of ink on paper graphics as well as fashion. The art also seemed to incorporate a very lively sense of humour: something you may not necessarily have expected from an exhibition about the Victorians. Despite their staid social morals, artists looking back on this era seem to feel confident being self-referential, transgressive, sexual and even downright funny. Extra points if you can spot the William Morris joke in cartoon, saving the day with perfect symmetry.

It’s of course also worth remembering that the Victorians were not so different to ourselves. We might remember a Queen all in black and a grand vision of empire: but the Victorians were also known for their raunchy songs, music-hall debauchery, business acumen and amazing ability to push beyond the bounds of possibility. It has been widely noted that we are now the New Victorians, and the Art of Revival exhibition serves to highlight all the ways we continue to be fascinated and inspired by the Victorians before us. Also, that adults really really like playing dress-up. 

 Maybe it’s my own inner steam-punk personality, but I can safely say that Victoriana is one of my favourite art exhibitions this year. You may not get to swoon over Leopold or dance the waltz in the crypts, but there’s nothing to stop you from getting your corset and goggles on and heading down to the Guildhall!

As if we needed an excuse to dress up. 

Victoriana: The Art of Revival is on at the Guildhall Art Gallery through the 8th of December. Also don’t miss out on upcoming events like the Victoriana Film Series at Birkbeck or the Victorian Christmas family event on the 1st of December.  

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