Britain is still an essentially Victorian country (see Daily Mail for details). So it’s no surprise that we keep returning to the period for inspiration. Victoriana: The Art of Revival at the Guildhall Art Gallery (until 8 December) is a collection of modern pieces channelling the age when corsets were tighter than George Osborne’s purse strings.
Many of them pick up on the era’s sinister undertones. The blurb for Dan Hillier’s engraving ‘Mother’ (a woman with octopus tentacles instead of legs, above) talks of ‘prim order barely concealing a dark underbelly of animalistic impulse’. There’s also a wedding cake made from human hair and a wing-back chair adorned with stuffed ferrets. A magic lantern using strobe lighting to make fake moths ‘come alive’ is stunningly spooky.
There’s plenty of humour too. ‘Dearly Beloved’ depicts Nick Clegg as a pottery queen with David Cameron as his/her consort. (Cameron has a distinctly noticeable trouser presence, though whether this is deliberate isn’t specified.) A beautiful ‘steam-powered pistol’ sits snugly in its velvet-lined box, while the ‘Mad Science Fascinator’ (modelled by a phrenology skull) is ‘designed to turn your brain OFF! Ideal for the dance floor or any situation where higher functions are not required.’
Meanwhile Otto von Beach’s spoof newspaper report about the disaster befalling a Royal Infographic Society expedition to Siberia made me do something I haven’t done in an art gallery for years: laugh out loud.