Modern Panic Exhibition in London

Alice Parsons gets herself in a bit of a modern panic at a new art show in ol’ London Town:

Provocation, intrigue, flower sculptures and taxidermy are just a small section of the promised art goodies on display at this year’s Modern Panic Exhibition. I caught up with curator James Elphick to find out about the delights and horrors he has up his sleeves for us, before checking out the show myself at London’s Apiary Studios.

James, how did the Modern Panic exhibitions come into being?
The Modern Panic exhibition series spawned from an art exhibition called ‘Panic’ which was held in 2009 as part of a ‘Season of Jodorowsky’ showcasing the work of cult film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Panic featured the founding fathers of the Panic Movement alongside the new wave of modern provocative artists. Modern Panic in 2011 was a natural progression and coincided with the London riots. Both exhibiting the unrest in conscious of the times. This third exhibition in the series features more international artists and also a programme of live art practitioners.

What and who might we see this year?
Artists such as legendary Franko B, infamous prisoner Charles Bronson, beat generation artist Brion Gysin and many other fantastic established and newcomer artists.

The previous shows have proven to be rather shocking and provocative to some audience members. How would you persuade somebody that is put off by this to give your show a chance?
The exhibition is aimed at everyone open to something a little unusual.  Some of the work I myself find beautiful, to others the same piece might have the opposite effect. It’s all about your perceptions. Who is to say what is positive and negative art, other than the audience themselves?  Go with an open mind and see which works connect to you.

That said, flower sculptures and fantasy illustrations sound as though you might give the audience a bit of a break this year. Is it important to you to have a mix of themes?
Each exhibition features a complete cross section of mediums and work, some surreal and beautiful others a little more visceral or controversial. Panic isn’t based on work which is purely shocking, it’s about work that can engage the viewer and have them thinking about it long after they have left the exhibition.

Do you think that art has to be pleasing to the eyes to be truly admired?
Who says you need to use your eyes to admire work? You should follow your instinct. For example we will be displaying Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine which is a piece of art you look at with your eyes closed and can induce your own personal kaleidoscopic hallucinations. Aldous Huxley said it was an “an aid to visionary experience.” Art doesn’t have to be visually pleasing to have an impact on someone.

As a curator do you look to stay objective and unbiased towards the artworks and artists you display or do you go straight for your favourites and what appeals to you?
As a curator you have to select work which speaks not only to you but to all, and which art speaks to the other pieces too. We usually hold an open call for artists and this year the response was overwhelming, artists from all around the world submitted. It is a very difficult task choosing just a few pieces from so many talented people. We have work from as far away as Australia and South America this year!

What do you hope to achieve with this new phase of Modern Panic?
This third instalment of the series invites art lovers to come and experiment with art that is a little unusual and provocative and come back wanting more!

Having been given the lowdown by James, it was now time for me to navigate my way through the hoards of people at the private view. I began to get a feel for the show and, as James had said, discover what connected to me. A suited, headless corpse on the floor drizzling blood, sculptures made from animal bones and ‘vagina shoes’ would no doubt be described as shocking by some, perhaps funny by others or even moving. To me, they were a bit too gimmicky. We all know that bones, blood, clumps of hair and vaginas will give us a bit of a jump. The things that really play on your mind and stay with you perhaps require a little more stealth than that and I was after more.

The fantasy illustrations of Santiago Caruso drew me in with their dark, bad-dream landscapes and odd, intricate characters. His style, a sort of hyper detailed etching with hints of colour (I’ve no idea how he does this, but would love to find out) really got my imagination going. Cedric Laquieze’s flower people; tiny fairy like creatures created from beetles and insects, so fragile and delicate and with their commanding little faces, kept safe in Victorian bell jars.

Dan Hillier’s Psychedelic, Victorian Illustrations and Nick Kushner’s painted, inky Octopus have something of the past about them too. Like precious, family heirlooms, they feel timeless, as if they’ve been perched on the wall of an ancient London residence, through the years hearing secrets and eavesdropping. These are the works which could creep into my thoughts when I’m not expecting them and make me feel uneasy. A vagina in a Nike shoe? Not so much.

However there is undoubtedly something for everyone at the Modern Panic show. There is an eclectic mix of pieces spanning photography, painting, sculpture, live art and taxidermy. You may be shocked; you may feel challenged or simply impressed by the skill of some artists. I would definitely recommend catching the array of live art which will be on for the duration of the exhibition, as this is where the heart of the panic movement truly lies. Will it push your buttons? Will you feel horribly uncomfortable? Maybe you’ll like it. Only one way to find out!

Modern Panic exhibition only runs in London until this Sunday the 2nd of December at Apiary Studios, so don’t delay. For further information and to purchase tickets please visit Guerrilla Zoo’s website

James Elphick is a member of Guerrilla Zoo a collaborative group of artists who produce a variety of events from art exhibitions to theatre, music gigs and parties.


Words by Alice Parsons. Photos by Lewis Black