Barnbrook collaborates on The Horror Show! to explore creative rebellion

Barnbrook has designed the 2D exhibition graphics and visual identity of the three-part exhibition to help explore how horror-inspired counter culture responds to political dissonance and societal unease.

Barnbrook has worked with a team of curators from Somerset House and Sam Jacob Studio on the design of The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain, an exhibition exploring how horror has influenced creative rebellion in Britain over the last 50 years.

Sam Jacobs Studio carried out the 3D design, Somerset House senior curator Claire Catterall and co-curators Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard are responsible for the concept and curation, and Barnbrook was responsible for the 2D graphic design and visual identity for the exhibition.

The main entrance into The Horror Show! Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Barnbrook’s creative director Jonathan Barnbrook says that he believes Somerset House “saw [Barnbrook’s] influence and interest in more experimental underground forms of design” work and that the studio’s outlook lined up with “the conceptual aspects of the show”. Barnbrook graphic designer Anil Aykan adds that the subject matter “appealed to us immediately”.

Travelling through time

The exploration of “counterculture” and the “alienation” of the abnormal drew Barnbrook to get involved with the show, says Aykan. It starts with the emergence of punk in the 70s, travelling through the 90s to the global financial crisis of 2008 and ending with a collection representing the hyper-connected generation of the present day.

From The Horror Show!’s ticket hall desk, featuring the symbols of the exhibition’s three acts. Image by Barnbrook

A symbolic theme has been linked with each time period, splitting the show into three overarching sections. The first theme, monster, “naturally talked about the 70s and 80s” because of all the creatures that came out of “punk and gothic” culture and the “anger of the time, says Somerset House senior curator Claire Catterall.

The middle section, ghost, demonstrates the “pressure drop” of the 90s and the idea that politicians “pretending things are great when they’re not”, according to Catterall. She explains that it encompasses a time when sampling within music began, adding that the “stretching and looping” of samples felt very “ghostly”.

Finally, the witch section features “optimistic and powerful” work from female and non-binary artists who are “digging into the idea of witchcraft”, says Catterall.

“A series of mismatches”

The 2D graphic design in each section looks at a different orifice on the body. Barnbrook describes monster as the mouth, “open and grotesque”, ghost as the ear – a “tiny noise that can represent a wider evil present” – and witch as the eye that “cannot look away” from the horror or magic in front of it. Aykan adds: “The orifice expresses the fear of the unknown, the basis of horror, the essence of the subversive, the ‘uncomfortable’ part of new creativity.”

The monster zone of the exhibition. Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

According to Aykan, “a series of mismatches” have been collaged to “juxtapose key people” in the exhibition, which seek to give the viewer an insight into the diversity of those included in the exhibition. Body parts from people and curated artworks are collected into “Frankenstein cut-ups” at the show’s entrance as a “synthesis of the energy of the show”, she says.

This “clash” somehow becomes part of a “cohesive” aesthetic, says Barnbrook, which aims to help visitors understand what the show its about.

The exhibition ticket desk. Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Mismatched type design is also applied throughout the exhibition, with each section bearing a different typographic style to suit the theme. Barnbrook’s aim was to “celebrate the diversity, experimentalism and expressionism” of the different movements that inspired the show, according to Aykan.

Monster uses “bold, grotesque, ugly, heavy typefaces”, she says, while contrasting fonts with “fragile and ethereal qualities” are used in ghost. Aykan adds that the typography in the witch section represents “the occult, the pagan” and “the feminine”, in historic, present-day and future contexts.

Typeface from The Horror’s Show!’s second act, Ghost. Image by Barnbrook

Running alongside the “theatrical elements” of The Horror Show! are aspects of “carnival” most evident in the entrance which has been designed to look like “a face reminiscent of an entrance to a Victorian fairground”, says Barnbrook. Also in the mix are the “DIY aesthetics of punk”, he adds.

Scattered throughout each section are “alchemical colours” corresponding to their individual themes, says Aykan. A brown hue called Caput Mortum (meaning “dead head”) features in the monster section; the ghost section incorporates shades associated with “salt and mercury”; and tinges of red and ochre appear in the witch section, inspired by “the different states of Sulphur”, she adds.

Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

“Looking into the abyss”

While The Horror Show! allows “many voices” to “speak cohesively”, says Aykan, Barnbrook adds that its also had to reach “a wide audience”. He says, “There are many people who will be very aware of the content but there will also be people who either missed these cultural signposts or are too young and were not around when the earlier parts of the exhibition were happening.”

Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Barnbrook explains how the exhibition “celebrates those who are drawn to the dark side” and the “subversive creatives who constantly re-shape British cultural identity”. He stresses the importance of not just concentrating on “the lightness of life” but also “looking into the abyss” and understanding the dark, so we can move forward “honestly to the future”.

“Music, art, fashion and graphic design all interrelate, influence and work together to equally represent the concerns of society while the graphic design and typography of the show takes on all these influences,” says Barnbrook.

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