The artists in this exhibition are taking part in a séance, establishing contact with Lord Byron, both as he was in his lifetime, and as he might be today. It is an amorous seance, like an attempted seduction. They appear to be holding out things dear to Byron as if to try to find a way to his heart. Some assume intimacy, others a greater distance. Many are playful, affectionately irreverent, as Byron was so often himself. He was said to have had an extraordinary ability to empathise instantly with strangers.
The exhibition is a haunting in what is often believed to be a haunted house. In conjuring the ghost of Lord Byron, the exhibition offers strange anachronisms, as often occur when the dead return to haunt the living. The 1970s is remembered alongside the 1820s, for instance. The Gothic that Byron helped instigate was, of course, itself a revival.
Byron was loved by legions of men and women in life and in death. The fanmail he received was both passionate and voluminous, rivalling any modern movie star’s. He was the prototype of the modern day celebrity: magnetic, scandalous, ambiguous, mysterious, rebellious, brave, beautiful, brilliant, and destructive. The title of the exhibition is a quote from Lady Caroline Lamb, his famously besotted aristocratic lover, who wrote it almost as soon as she first saw him. Byron’s performance of his sense of self was complex, conscious and elaborate, particularly when it came to gender and sexuality. That performance seduced, shocked and confused his contemporaries, especially in England, where Byron appeared, and felt, other. It is this that partly accounts for his modernity, and his lasting appeal after feminism, in an age of more open and diverse sexual expression.
This exhibition offers up some signs of his continuing attraction.
Venue: Newstead Abbey