The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle Cartoon

Primary, Nottingham

07 Jul02 Sep 2023

The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle Cartoon is an installation of large-scale figurative collage. These works on paper draw heavily from The Hunt of the Unicorn, a series of seven tapestries made in Flanders at the turn of the 16th century and now housed in The Met Cloisters, New York.

Flemish tapestries from this period required vast wealth to produce and were commissioned by aristocrats or wealthy merchants to demonstrate their social standing. During the French revolution, many such artefacts were either iconoclastically destroyed or repurposed toward more useful ends. In this way, sections of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries were used to protect fruit trees and potatoes from frost or to keep horses warm in the winter months. The tapestries’ surfaces are pockmarked by areas of damage and repair – a material index of these political events, each a fraying, tearing and patching up of Europe’s historical narrative.

The rarefied world depicted in the tapestries is re-made as a series of cartoons, or 1:1 scale working drawings made to produce a tapestry. Here, the fantastic scene of the killing of a unicorn is invaded by a cast of monstrous entities. These characters are Frankensteined together with limbs, heads, faces and personal effects from a wide array of sources; some are plucked from pre-modern paintings, others from algorithmically targeted advertising on social media and still more from present day ‘fantasy’ franchises such as The Lord of the Rings or the Dark Souls video games. Many hold scissors or craft knives, suggesting that they have cut and pasted themselves together before cutting and pasting themselves into the world of the tapestries. Limbs are multiplied and entangled, and faces are made up from folded, torn, and recomposed layers of background and foreground. It’s difficult to tell where distinct bodies begin and end, or whether they are destroying or building the world they inhabit.

During the exhibition the installation was used to stage two performances. These live interventions brought the works’ disparate voices into a dialogue which described and rewrote the history of the original tapestries.

The exhibition was accompanied by a publication with newly commissioned writing by Joseph Buckley, Francis Jones, and Adrian Rifkin.