Dr Williams is the Editor of The Gothic (MIT Press/ Whitechapel, 2007), an anthology which looks at defining ‘the Gothic’ through themes and images in contemporary art. She has written widely on the subject and lectured throughout the UK on the gothic in contemporary art, the subject of her PhD. Texts, talks and publications below.

Williams researched the many meanings of ‘Gothic’ from the Renaissance to the present day, across art, architecture, literature, and film. She identifies in the Gothic aesthetic emerging in the late 18th century the Enlightenment’s and, later, Modernism’s most extreme Other, and re-reads Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, Bourgeois’s Cells, and Tacita Dean’s film installations Palast, Boots and Teignmouth Electron in these Gothic terms. 

chapter, ‘I, Monster: Gothic Metaphor in the Making and Unmaking of Andy Warhol’, in Gothic Bastards, Manchester University Press, ed.s Catherine Spooner and Fred Botting (Autumn 2014; forthcoming)


Gi l d a   Wi l l i a m s

art critic

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contemporary gothic


essay, ‘Shades of Modern Gothic’ in Victoriana: The Art of Revival - A Miscellany (ed. Sonia Solicari), Guildhall Gallery, London

‘Zombified Paint-Worshipping Backwards Idiots’ , in Palace Projects, artist’s project by Darren Banks (reprinted below)

chapter, ‘Defining the Gothic Aesthetic in Modern and Contemporary Art’ , in Gothic World (Routledge, 2013)

‘I, Monster: Gothic Metaphor in the Making and Unmaking of Andy Warhol’, 
http://incognitumhactenus.com/tag/andy-warhol/ . 

‘Interview with Gregor Schneider’, Art Monthly, October
‘It Was What it Was: Modern Ruins’, Art Monthly, May

 ‘Gothic vs. Gothick’, Art Monthly, May

‘Jodie Carey’, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK, Summer

‘Jane and Louise Wilson in the Light of the Gothic Tradition’, Parkett, Spring 2000

The Gothic, ed. Gilda Williams, MIT/Whitechapel Press, 2007

The Gothic is collection of writings examines the pervasive and influential role of ‘the Gothic’ in contemporary visual culture. The contemporary Gothic in art is informed as much by the stock themes of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Gothic novel as it is by more recent permutations of the Gothic in horror film theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Goth subcultures. 

Artists surveyed:
Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Tacita Dean, Sue de Beer, Janet Cardiff, Mark Dion, Stan Douglas, Robert Gober, Douglas Gordon, Dan Graham, Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Teresa Margolles, Jonathan Meese, Raymond Pettibon, Paul Pfeiffer, Gregor Schneider, Cindy Sherman, Catherine Sullivan, Andy Warhol, and Jane and Louise Wilson.

Jean Baudrillard, Elizabeth Bronfen, Edmund Burke, Carol Clover, Beatriz Colomina, Douglas Crimp, Jacques Derrida, Richard Dyer, Umberto Eco, Bret Easton Ellis, Trevor Fairbrother, Alex Farquharson, Hal Foster, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, William Gibson, Christoph Grunenberg, Bruce Hainley, Judith Halberstam, Amelia Jones, Jonathan Jones, Mike Kelley, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Patrick McGrath, Kobena Mercer, James Meyer, Edgar Allan Poe, Andrew Ross, Jerry Saltz, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Mary Shelley, Nancy Spector, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Vidler, Jeff Wall, Horace Walpole, Marina Warner, Anne Williams, and Slavoj Žižek.

‘Haunted Time, Dark Vision: Defining the Gothic Aesthetic’ , Summer, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London

‘Defining the Gothic Aesthetic in Contemporary Art’, Royal College of Art, London
‘Template of Terror’: The Revival of the Gothic’,  chair of 2-day symposium on the contemporary gothic with 
Lindsay Seers, Catherine Spooner, Fred Botting, Avril Horner, Paul Hodkinson, Jonathan Jones, ICA London 

‘On Ruins’, Resonance FM
‘Louise Bourgeois: Modern Gothic’, ‘Women and Gothic’ conference, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University

‘Making Monsters: Gothic Themes and Processes in Contemporary Art’, University of Westminster

‘Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects’, symposium organized by Fred Botting and Catherine Spooner with Marina Warner, Elisabeth Bronfen et al.

‘Subculture and Style’ symposium in conjunction with ‘Gothic: Dark Glamour’, paper on ‘Making Monsters: Gothic in Contemporary Art’, FIT museum, New York City, NY

‘Gothic in Contemporary Art’, guest lecturer, Art Institute of Bournemouth 

‘Gothic in Contemporary Art’, guest lecturer, MA in Curating, Goldsmiths College, London

‘Cindy Sherman: Office Killer’, film presentation, Tate Modern, London

‘The Gothic’, keynote speaker, ‘Curating Contemporary Art’ , Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds

‘The Gothic’, Royal College of Art, London

‘Louise Bourgeois: Modern Gothic’, gallery talk, Tate Modern, London

‘The Gothic’, Slade School of Art, London

‘Damien Hirst: Murderme Collection’, gallery talk, Serpentine Gallery, London

‘Poetry and Dream’, gallery talk, Tate Modern, London

‘Louise Bourgeois/Francis Bacon’, gallery talk, Tate Modern, London

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‘Zombified Paint-worshipping Backwards Idiots*: A Parallel History of Painting and Women in Horror Film 

Gilda Williams

In the US horror-film renaissance of the 1970s-early 80s, the genre fully re-invented itself by bringing the faraway dangers of spooky old Europe back home, to America’s own leafy suburban streets. This relocation of fear -- from then-and-there, to here-and-now -- is perhaps most emblematic (and chilling) in John Carpenter’s stunning Halloween (1978), where the childhood ritual of trick-or-treating turns deadly with the arrival of the unstoppable Michael Myers. The expected safety of a quiet American neighbourhood acts as the constant foil to the killer’s marauding excesses. Worries about the undead in Transylvania or old Geneva were displaced in the 1970s towards more immediate and familiar fears: the cruelties of high-school sexual competition (Carrie, dir. Brian De Palma, 1976); the transformation of our newly liberated daughters with the onset of puberty, from dutiful darlings into demonic teenagers (The Exorcist, dir. William Friedkin, 1973); or the perils of the God-forsaken American outback (Deliverance, dir. John Boorman, 1972; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, dir. Tobe Hooper, 1973; The Shining, dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980; Evil Dead, dir. Sam Raimi, 1981). 

In this new generation of 1970s Gothic storytelling, young and attractive women once again occupied pivotal roles; in a new twist however, lovely young females were graphically defaced and uglified. The Hammer Horror glamour babes of the previous decade oozed with desirability; unless murdered, they remained perfectly gorgeous straight through to the credits. Their alabaster skin and diaphanous nighties added much to these B-films’ salacious appeal, perhaps typified by Barbara Shelley, all big hair and decolletage in Prince of Darkness (dir. Terence Fisher, 1960). Alternatively, virginal young women were scared witless wearing infantilizing and chaste nightgowns in terror classics like The Haunting (dir. Robert Wise, 1963). Even when Janet Leigh is brutally stabbed in Hitchcock’s psychosis-inducing shower scene, we watch blood swirl and drain rather than actually witness the blade slice her lovely flesh. In the 1960 horror gem City of the Dead (titled Horror Hotel in its US release; dir. John Llewellyn Moxey), when the dagger is about to plunge into the unlucky tourist’s luscious chest the film cuts to a birthday-cake-slicing taking place at a fun party elsewhere -- rather than force viewers to witness any actual blood-spurting. Catherine Deneuve may lose her mind but never her provocative good-looks in Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). Plenty of bad things happen to young girls in pre-1970s horror, but rarely do we see any detrimental effects on their faultless skin. 

In contrast, 1970s-early ‘80s directors seemed hell-bent on physically violating their film-girls’ beauty as overtly and distastefully as possible. Carrie has buckets of pig’s blood cruelly poured all over her, and spends the whole long post-prom scene wide-eyed and possessed, dripping with blood. The Exorcist’s Regan turns unbearably ugly: scarred, grey-skinned, black-toothed and vomit-caked, with matted hair and devilish grin. Sam Raimi’s 1981 Evil Dead is perhaps the most ferocious of all, as the girls in this band of teenage weekenders grow vividly hideous, one by one. Cheryl, principal she-demon, turns frighteningly white early on and is rapidly locked beneath the floorboards, where she perennially threatens to push her way out while looking increasingly like a blood-shot Medusa. Linda, next to turn, seesaws (from one low-budget jump-cut to the next) from desirable make-out partner to grotesquely smeared and grinning, clown-like she-fiend, leering at her horrified boyfriend.

Interpretations of this new breed of 1970s female monster often take as their backdrop the American feminist revolution occurring at the very same time. ‘She’s your girlfriend – you save her!’, Scotty screams at hapless Ashley in Evil Dead, as if insisting that young men regain some control over their unrecognizable women folk, who are plainly spiralling out of control under the spell of supernatural demons and/or Women’s Liberation. Barbara Creed, in The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993), rethinks the she-monster in counter-Freudian and feminist terms, as a terrifyingly castrating (rather than castrated) Other. In Men Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992), Carol Clover notices the chronic appearance of the ‘Final Girl’, a post-feminist, empowered and thoughtful young woman, no longer passive but actively fighting the monster, usually alone and usually triumphant, at film’s end.

How about we consider what was happening to women in 1970s horror film not only in terms of the concurrent feminist revolution, but what had happened to painting a decade before. With an approximate ten-year time-delay, both ‘surfaces’ -- whether an artist’s canvas or a woman’s skin -- were analogously slashed (Fontana/The Exorcist); senselessly poured upon (Nitsch/Carrie); deprived of colour (Ryman/Evil Dead); and raucously splattered in garish paint (De Sainte-Phalle/Evil Dead). In the 1960s, painting was as if ritualistically killed over and over, receiving the final death blows that had been announced since Modernism began. By decade’s end, with painting safely buried (at last!) it was now turn for another pre-Modernist icon, the hopeless and passive female (a long-time Gothic staple) to be slaughtered just as spectacularly and irrevocably. In both cases, a sacrosanct, inviolable site -- the female body or the medium of painting -- were subjected to rituals of defacement and destruction, to the perverse pleasure of its dedicated audiences. Yves Klein in his Anthropometries (1960) had first suggested that the stained bodies of women could perform simultaneously as both surrogate canvas and human paintbrush. In just as literal terms but with a gruesome spin, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a young female is threatened with being suspended on a hook – like a carcass of meat or, in its art-making parallel, like a lifeless painting, hung mercilessly to die.

*The title is modified from a line in Cabin in the Woods (2011), which reworks many of the themes introduced in Evil Dead. Towards the film’s end, one of the ‘controllers’, showing little mercy for the film’s dying protagonists, describes them as ‘zombified pain-worshipping backwards idiots’.