"Can I ask why a Gillray exhibition is happening at Nottingham Contemporary? Not that I’m at all interested in policing period boundaries - it sounds like a great idea! - I’m just intrigued…"
It is a fair question, - one of many we hope to answer via the Public Programme. This series of events allows the critical and contextual motivations of curatorial decisions to come to light. In the case of Gillray, the question is not only ‘What does the work of a long-deceased 19th century satirist have to do with contemporary art’? We are also using the Public Programme to ask in what other ways his work remains relevant - how does its context connect to questions of media, communication, colonialism and political action, for example..?
The Plum Pudding in Danger by James
Gillray (1757 - 1815) Hand-coloured etching
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The person asking this question was Richard Taws, a prize-winning young lecturer at University College London. His work places Gillray's caricature in relation to a universe of print media used to circulate conflicting representations of revolutionary politics on both sides of the Channel and beyond. The leaders of the French Revolution wanted to spread their new national ideology beyond geographical boundaries - and this ambition spurred on a second revolution - a wave of experimentation with new communication technologies in France. French Revolutionary ideals (brotherhood, freedom, equality) were undermined by the fact that France was still fed by colonial slave labour - and one outcome of their parallel revolution in communication technology was that ideals of equality were heard, and radically appropriated, by those working in slavery overseas. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) is often considered as the ultimate test to French Revolutionary ideology. If all men are created equal – would that also include slaves? Richard's talk on 16th May will lead us to this point of tension, and it will provide an introduction to the contested history of Haiti itself – a country whose art will be the subject of a major new exhibition opening here at Nottingham Contemporary in October. In this way, the Public Programme also allows us to underline the connections and continuities at play as we move between different temporary exhibitions.
Haiti exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary this October
The question could however have been answered in two words: Alan Moore. The acclaimed graphic novelist is visiting us for a live discussion in May. According to the University of Nottingham’s Matt Green, the James Gillray connection was the main reason that Alan said yes. The discussion will link the two boundary-pushing graphic artists via various tangents - from the Gothic imagination to underground publishing and radical politics. Sharing the stage with Alan is Melinda Gebbie - a long-standing force within the underground female comics movement. Her participation will establish connections not only to Gillray but also to Mika Rottenberg – whose work will also be occupying three of our gallery spaces. One of the ideas running through Mika's work is female self-definition; she identifies herself as a feminist and cites Karl Marx as a reference. I admit that my first copy of Moore’s V for Vendetta was stolen from my boyfriend’s bookshelf, but the work of Gebbie (as well as that of Karrie Fransman, Nicola Streeten and Mary Talbot - will remind us that cult comics are not only for the boys.
Alan Moore; Melinda Gebbie by Jonathan Worth.
C-type colour print, 6 February 2007
© Jonathan Worth / National Portrait Gallery