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Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism

A person wearing a hat looking to the side

2 March–15 April | Lethaby Gallery

Madame B was an immersive video installation which examined the link between capitalism and romance in relation to Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary. It was 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 opened 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 framed the complex drives at play in the lived experiences of women – both then and now. Through an immersive video experience, Madame B showed how these factors have persisted over the 150 years since Flaubert’s novel was published.

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

The project was 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.

Seductive Capitalism: In Conversation – read our interview with the exhibition's artists and curatorial collaborators.

Event Programme

Reading Group

During the exhibition the Lethaby Gallery hosted a reading group – devised to explore themes around feminism and capitalism, interdisciplinarity and film theory.

5 March: The novel
12 March: Focus on Bal and Williams Gamaker
19 March: Performativity and affect
26 March: New feminisms
2 April: Feminist economics
9 April: Feminist curating

If you would like to see the full publication list with suggested further reading, it can be found here.


Claremont Project: On Love

Monday 15 April, 3.45­–5pm
Lethaby Gallery and C202

With support from theatre director Emma Bernard, members of Claremont Project, a non-profit organisation providing creative opportunities to adults over 55, came together – through writing, dance, singing and visual art – in a performance responding to the themes in Flaubert’s novel and the exhibition.

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