There is perhaps only one thing which could rival my post Manchester Blog Awards hangover this morning for sheer warped horror and disturbing folly.
I mean, of course, the prints of Goya.
On my last visit to Manchester I ducked into Manchester Art Gallery, and managed to edge my way into the crowded Fantasies, Follies and Disasters: The Prints of Francisco de Goya.
I remember when I first saw one of his prints, perhaps during my first year at university. It was like I could not comprehend what I was seeing. It’s odd that I was so shocked, one of my earliest art memories is pawing over a book of Hieronymus Bosch paintings in late toddlerhood. So why are these prints so much more shocking?
We all know that the playful horror of his prints are embedded in a very real social/historical/political situation. The scenes are not purely imagined, for all the strange witches and winged creatures. There is a reality to the images which seems to smash against reason, threatening the comfortable solid institutional surroundings of Manchester Art Gallery. They are the falling man of the 17th Century.
The medium lends Goya’s representations further hysterical power. It’s one thing for an unsettled mind to set down on paper something so horrifying, but to carefully create for reproduction is something else. It is just too calculated to figure into our current understanding of artistic practice. Just as the images undermine our faith in society's innate goodness and stability, they rankle against our snug understanding of the consumable nature of reproductive art. These images are not for bedroom walls and postcards to relatives, unless you are a member of the Adams Family.
The Chapman Brother’s gruesome micro-sculptures Disasters of War are the perfect addition to this compulsive exhibition. The toy vignettes of Goya’s horrifying scenes lend to the unsettling atmosphere. It is like thinking for one moment you glimpsed a severed finger in a packet of pink wafer biscuits. It’ll be a while before you’ll be completely happy tucking into pink wafery goodness. You’ll never be able to look at a toy solider casually again, and the idea of old men marking out historical battles with tin figurines takes on a bloody, calculated air.
This is not an easy exhibition, there is something car crash like about it. You leave feeling as though you have been rubber necking. It seems to reveal the innate instability of society, lifting the skirt of our comfortable lives and revealing a rotten, rickety pair of legs beneath. It is both compelling and compulsive, and has left me thoughtful and moved.