Pin It
William Bromley, John George Landseer and William
William Bromley, John George Landseer and William Satchwell Leney after Robert Smirke Victors of the Nile. Published 1803. Engraving Courtesy Government Art Collection.

The Devil's Acre

The Government Art Collection launches The Devil’s Acre in an intimate London space, before the opening of its first major public exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery

With their first public exhibition opening at the Whitechapel Gallery at the start of next month, The Government Art Collection (GAC) is certainly trying to make itself a more open and public facing institution. However, over the past couple of months there have been a series of slightly more low-key, but equally interesting displays taking place at the GAC’s head office-cum-gallery space on Tottenham Court Rd. Organised by the students of London Metropolitan’s curating MA these shows have attempted to look at the Collection in a fresh light. The Devil’s Acre is the final display in this series and it’s a real gem.

Curated by William Cooper, the show presents a selection of historical prints alongside a fictionalised history written by Cooper and super-critic Sally O’Reilly. We are invited to explore this somewhat absurd fictional history which focuses on a band of illusive and mysterious historians known as The Victors of the Nile (fourteen guys called Victor, who happen to often be in denial – not Nelson and his band of brothers as some might have thought). Through vigorous, albeit fictitious, research Cooper and O’Reilly have found the original sources of many of the modern era’s most treasured and revered developments such as the true roots of the binary system or the origins of Fordism.

Dazed Digital: How did The Devil’s Acre come about?
William Cooper:
The show is the culmination of a research project that began in autumn last year as part of my Masters. We were invited by the Government Art Collection to come in and make some kind of intervention into the Collection; I think it could have been a book, or series of events or whatever – I chose to make an exhibition. I instantly became interested in ideas around authenticity and truth, probably after watching a lot of Andy Kaufman, and I think these themes seeped into my work.

DD: Why the leftfield approach to the display?
William Cooper:
I wanted to make a show that was as different to the Collection’s everyday use as possible, really. I became interested in ideas of history, and it being nothing more than another genre of fiction, with real events always becoming subject to the authors opinions. I thought that if we reappropriated the collection with no regard for historical accuracy something interesting might happen. By doing this I could look at the work without the heavy shadow and responsibility of history looming over me.

DD: You must have been pretty excited to work with Sally O’Reilly, tell me a bit about that?
William Cooper:
Yep, it’s been a pretty great experience working with Sally. From an early stage in the development of The Devil’s Acre I thought it was important to get another voice in there somewhere. As soon as I decided that I was going down the road of making some kind of fiction to work alongside the Collection, it seemed vital for it not just to be me doing all the talking. If I ended up picking all the work and creating the whole fiction too, I think the show would have become a little monotonous and one sided. Sally is known for her somewhat absurd style of writing and she seemed the perfect accomplice for this project.

Text by Sean Glynn

The Devil’s Acre at The Government Art Collection, Queens Yard 179a Tottenham Court Rd, W1T 7PA. 18-20 and 26-27 May, by appointment only, click here to book a slot