Cover image of the review
Ip Wai Lung, still from Karma Cycle, 2019, HD video with sound, 3:58. Courtesy of the artist.

Woke in Fright

26 Nov 2022
The SUBSTATION 11 Nov - 23 Dec 2022

If cringe were an aesthetic, Woke in Fright would be a decent representative. The exhibition, curated by Nikki Lam and Mat Spisbah, is organised around a loose grab-bag of socio-political jargon and directed at “a myriad of dystopian functions of our absurdist society”. Ted Kotcheff’s rediscovered film Wake in Fright (1971), the adaption of Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, could legitimately claim to be a predecessor of the “social horror” popularised by Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). Cringe is a dominant affect in social horror. As Gregory Marks writes in his Overland tribute to Wake in Fright, horror relies on the cringe caused by being forced to “redouble (our) own damnation”. The phrase evokes Diego Ramírez’s description of the artworld in his essay accompanying the exhibition: “We are all bad people”, a “weird pyramid scheme” full of social-climbing “generic figures” who loom from positions of power to “say they will care for you”. We recognise our complicity and recoil in horror at this reflection of ourselves.

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