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Exhibition at Central Saint Martins reveals that our romantic entanglement with capitalism is nothing new
Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism.

LONDON.- Madame B is an immersive video installation which examines the link between capitalism and romance in relation to Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary. It is a collaboration between Dutch cultural theorist and video artist Mieke Bal and British video and performance artist Michelle Williams Gamaker.

Working anachronistically to highlight the novel’s shocking contemporaneity, Madame B opens up historical and contemporary connections between economics and romantic love, desire, consumption and loneliness.

Divided into eight key scenes and split across 19 screens, the installation frames the complex drives at play in the lived experiences of women – both then and now. Through an immersive video experience, Madame B shows how these factors have persisted over the 150 years since Flaubert’s novel was published. We see the modern Emma on paired screens bored in the rural Finnish setting or excited in the streets of Paris and mark her increasing desperation as her desires remain unfulfilled. Here she is given five possible endings to her story.

Bal and Williams Gamaker’s interdisciplinary practice oscillates between research and creative making, reflection and articulation. The exhibition reflects key teaching methods employed at Central Saint Martins, such as visualising critical discourse and supporting experimental creative and exhibition practices.

The project is hosted and curated by Michaela Giebelhausen and Alison Green, Course Leaders of BA Culture, Criticism and Curation and MA Culture, Criticism and Curation. Launched at Central Saint Martins in 2004 and 2013 respectively, both courses propose that “culture” – as an intentionally broad and contested term – is a provocative starting point for practices of curating and critical writing. The courses consider different kinds of museums and curated spaces and what kinds of discursive systems they reflect. Teaching staff include curators, cultural historians, art historians, writers, arts professionals, archivists, designers and film-makers. Research skills are taught alongside practical tools for – and opportunities for – organising exhibitions and publishing critical writing.

Madame B was first exhibited in 2014 at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Poland and has since been shown in Colombia, Finland, Australia, Norway and Spain. This is the first time the video installation has been exhibited in the UK.

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