Why Feast of Fools?

Visitors to the gallery have been asking about the title of our latest show “Feast of Fools” in particular where it comes from and how it’s relevant to the exhibition. Let me tell you.


Before I started selecting work and contacting artists there were a number of issues that needed consideration.

Earlier in 2009 we were facing closure and for six months we were unable to stage exhibitions. We’ve now turned a corner and not only have funds secured for the building, we have arts council funding up to the end of 2011. So the tone needs to be celebratory.

The Fishmarket is a cold place, too cold for us in fact, so we’ll be closed over January and February. In order to keep up momentum elements of the show need to be visible while the building is closed – e.g. lights that can be seen from outside the building, large-scale sculpture that can be seen from the front doors.

For 6 months this year we’ve not been in a position to host exhibitions so it’s important the new programme of exhibitions has a spectacular start and sets a positive tone for the future.


With these considerations in mind I wanted to put together a show that acts as a secular alternative to the usual Christmas celebrations on the high street. I was keen for the gallery to feel a bit like a deranged Santa’s Grotto.

The most pressing task was to find a context in which I could select and place the work. Through a bit of research I discovered a historical precedent for our Christmas time excess in the Roman festival of Saturnalia – “the most popular (of) Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places, with expectedly humourous results.” Click the quote for more.

This idea of the festival as a suspension of normality got me thinking about the history of the carnival and the carnivalesque, and while researching the Carnival I came across the Feast of Fools festival – more here.

I particularly liked the idea that the medieval feast of fools and the modern carnival are similar in that they are (or were) much-needed opportunities for social satire through the suspension and subversion of normal social order. The defining characteristics of the carnival being the combination of political and social satire and lots of fun. These were qualities that I was hoping to bring to the exhibition.

Hopefully that answers the question.

Interested in the painting below? Find out more here.

Pieter Bruegel, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent 1559


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