Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire

A review of the Saatchi exhibition, showing until 17th February

John Stezaker Marriage XXVIII, 2007 Collage 29.6 x 23.8 cm © John Stezaker, 2007 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

Our desire to laugh at that which terrifies and worries us has never been clearer than while viewing the artwork on display in Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. Here, 26 different artists give voice to our anxieties: over the attraction of technology, the selfishness of society, and the greed of capitalism. This social satire provides us with the ability to laugh at that which we fear, but it is a laugh filled with unease. As Pym states “satire is both reality and its escape’; in reflecting both, Black Mirror creates within the viewer both relief and an unsettling notion that that which they are laughing at is a little too close to the truth.

On entering the first room of the exhibition, the viewer is confronted by Jade Townsend’s ‘Cash Cow’, a pair of male legs holding a red painting with faded statements about sex and death written across it. The blunt title makes clear Townsend’s message on the value society places on sex. To balance out this more sinister piece, half of the room is dedicated to Bedwyr Williams’ ‘Walk a Mile in my Shoes’. Williams takes this common idiom literally by comically presenting pairs of his own (size 13) shoes with labels explaining their relevance to his life. In doing so, he reminds us of the individuality so often ignored in favour of sweeping generalisations.

Within Black Mirror, James Howard and Simon Bedwell present us with two completely different yet equally powerful uses of satirical posters. Howard’s posters seem to advertise surgeries and processes that have become normalised while subverting their normality to highlight the issues with our commercial, quick-fix society. Bedwell’s posters, on the other hand, publicise non-existent events (much like in the popular tv-series Black Mirror itself) creating fictions based off what our world might slip into being, thus underlining the problematic parts of our current society.

Whilst much of the artwork in this exhibition is thought-provoking and enlightening, the highlight of the exhibition is, without a doubt, Richard Billingham’s photographic series ‘Ray’s A Laugh’. An insight into his childhood, surrounded by alcoholism and poverty, it is easy to view the series as simply an indictment of his own life and the wealth gap that divides our society. However, the title itself combined with some of the gentler photographs of his parents remind us that there are still moments of light, even when times seem dark.

Wandering through Black Mirror, it is easy to feel a little lost. There are no explanatory cards by each piece of artwork, no singular thematic idea; in fact, there is little guidance given at all. However, this pushes the viewer to pause by each piece a little longer and delve in a little deeper for themselves. By inviting the viewer to question what they are seeing, the exhibition reflects the process of creating social satire itself.