Day of the Dead at The Hepworth Wakefield

Feature article by Racheal Johnson, @cestrache

©Hannah Webster, click for her website

By all accounts The Hepworth Wakefield‘s opening year has surpassed even the most wildly optimistic expectations. The gallery – the largest built outside London in 50 years – has drawn almost 400,000 visitors in its first eight months. It’s had critical acclaim heaped upon it, won numerous awards, and is currently one of 10 museums vying for the coveted £100,000 Art Fund Prize.

You could forgive The Hepworth management team, then, for sitting back and letting the accolades (and the visitors) keep pouring in. But if this weekend’s Zombie Walk is anything to go by, the region’s newest arts venue is going out of its way to position itself as its most ambitious and original. It’s surely the first time a Yorkshire gallery has let the undead loose among its collections?

Like the Hepworth’s new contemporary exhibition – featuring three installations by artists David Thorpe, Ben Rivers and Heather and Ivan Morison – zombies speak to our modern preoccupation with impending apocalypse. That might explain why our popular culture is currently in the grip of a full-on zombie invasion. In an era of economic catastrophe and social unrest, the walking dead are the perfect symbol for our uncertainty about whether we’re living in bad times or end times.

Thankfully, those zombies who had invaded The Hepworth Wakefield on Saturday were hungry for culture rather than corpses. Just as well, because the gallery was over-run with them. Hordes of zombies thronged the gallery entrance – police zombies, doctor zombies, zombies in pyjamas, even entire zombie families – while the cafe offered a surreal scene as the living mingled with the living dead over tea, cake and Yorkshire rarebit. Those visitors who braved the 30-minute wait for a zombie makeover found themselves transformed into gory visions of latex, fake blood and face paint and enjoyed special ‘zombie medical research’ tours of the collection, led by young performers from the Yew Tree Theatre group.

Even when it’s not Day of the Dead, the new exhibition is well worth a visit. The David Thorpe display presents a series of beautifully detailed sculptures, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and meticulously crafted using traditional artisan techniques. Perhaps most unnerving is the Heather and Ivan Morison exhibit, which draws on the life and work of British science fiction novelist, Anna Kavan. Twice a week the installation serves as the backdrop for a seriously creepy puppet show, depicting a dystopian love story between two characters living in bleak times. Sadly the zombie fun didn’t leave time to watch Ben Rivers’ post-apocalyptic film, Slow Action, but with the exhibition running until June we’ll be back to catch that, along with films specially selected by Rivers as part of a late-night film club.

After such a barnstorming first year, all eyes will be on The Hepworth to see what year two has in store. With exhibition and events programming as inventive as this, it’s a dead cert that this is one gallery that’s very much alive and hungry for yet more success.

Heather & Ivan Morison, Ben Rivers, David Thorpe is on at The Hepworth Wakefield until 10 June – Free entry

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