People playing in the fountains, The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, Somerset House

Step Inside, Think Outside This Year at Somerset House

29 Jun 2022

Nothing heralds the start of a new season at Somerset House like turning on the fountains and seeing people pour in to site to soak up the atmosphere in our beautiful courtyard. With the buzz of summer in the air, anticipation is growing on site for another season of thrilling culture. In the months ahead, our new exhibitions, installations and outdoor celebrations have at their heart alternative perspectives from the incredible talent working here at Somerset House, inviting you to step inside, think outside. 

Our seasonal transformation begins in July with the return of Summer Series with American Express as some of the greatest musical talent out there arrives in our courtyard to bring the noise and thrill audiences. There’s still time to get a ticket for the likes of Mabel, Squid, Bomba Estéreo and black midi

Mabel, Finders Keepers

As the home of cultural innovators, we’re constantly seeking to bring to life new ideas from the incredible creative talent based here at Somerset House. This ambition will be realised in spectacular style this August as we transform the courtyard into the magical world of This Bright Land, a new cultural celebration in the heart of the capital. This welcoming wonderland, open to all, features a joyful day and night programme of performances, music, dance, talks, workshops and more, platforming established creatives and grassroots communities. Created by Somerset House Studios artists Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl, the festival puts community and togetherness at its heart.

This Bright Land

This Bright Land is just one of the many projects brought to life by the visionary artists based in Somerset House Studios, and in October we’ll be presenting our major new exhibition The Horror Show: A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain, co-curated by Studios residents Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard with Somerset House’s senior curator Claire Catterall. Told in three acts – Monster, Ghost and Witch – it takes audiences on a heady ride through the past 50 years of counter-cultural movements, from the disruptive stance of 1970s punk to the enchanted otherness of modern witchcraft today, showing how through turbulent times, the subversive makes sense of the world around us. 

You can also experience the work of our inspiring creative community in the latest Gallery 31 exhibition, our intimate space dedicated to platforming the experimental practice of Somerset House Studios residents. Swimmers Limb, opening in July, is guest curated by Taylor LeMelle, and features contributions from Studios artist Tai Shani – a former Turner Prize winner - and design studio Comuzi Lab, as well as a new site-specific commission from artist Mani Kambo

We’ve also commissioned artist, dancer and bodyworker SERAFINE1369, a resident of Somerset House Studios as part of collaborative duo Project O, to present a new installation, We can no longer deny ourselves, in September. Conceived as an ‘exploded clock’, this installation will feature several interconnected elements including a multi-channel video work, sculptural objects within an immersive audio composition, and daily activations through live performance.  

In October, Somerset House Studios will once again throw open its doors for AGM, offering visitors rare access to the private corners of the building where artists make their work. For one thrilling night of the year, the Studios artists take over the building with a programme of performance, installations, DJs and a late-night access all areas party like no other.

As we celebrate today’s cultural innovators, we’re also committed to creating opportunities for the next generation, and November sees the return of Upgrade Yourself Festival, following the sold-out inaugural event in June. Across two days, 16-24 year-olds aspiring to break into creative sectors will be given exclusive access to trailblazing industry experts via talks, workshops and mentoring sessions. 

Another of our new commissions this year will open in September, from London-based interdisciplinary artist Amba Sayal-Bennett. Having been exhibited internationally, for her first public commission in the UK she will produce a work inspired by the layered architecture and rich history of our site. Sayal-Bennett's work combines drawing, sculpture, and installation with an interest in the architectural legacies of empire. 

Amba Sayal-Bennett, Studio Portrait, BSR, photo by Luana Rigolli.jpg

Amba Sayal-Bennett, Studio Portrait, BSR, photo by Luana Rigolli
Amba Sayal-Bennett, Studio Portrait. Photo Ⓒ Luana Rigolli

In October, we’ll be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora. This will be followed by the UK premiere of O Barco / The Boat, the critically acclaimed installation from interdisciplinary artist Grada Kilomba. This striking 32 metre long installation is composed of 140 wood blocks, the configuration of which outlines the lower ‘hold’ of an historical European slave ship. 


Grada Kilomba, O Barco The Boat, 2021, Performance and Installation View at MAAT Lisbon for BoCa. Photo © Bruno Simão

For those who want to know more about how our remarkable building has changed over time, we’re excited to be relaunching our Historical Highlights Tours.  In a newly upgraded one-hour experience, you’ll be taken through centuries of history exploring the significance of our key location on the Thames and as a home for innovation and influence across the centuries. Alternatively, if you’d like to learn about the building at your own pace, Sonic Histories is a new audio experience available at any time online and through QR codes situated across our site. 

We’ll round off the season in style with the ever glorious Skate at Somerset House with Moët & Chandon, inviting visitors to celebrate the festive season in the most beautiful setting around, putting joy firmly on the agenda as the year comes to an end.  

As you’ll experience, our ever changing site will transform many times as we dive into a joyful summer of celebration, and profile a wide range of perspectives throughout autumn and into winter. The cultural innovators who make and present work at Somerset House are the constant behind everything we do, and we hope you’ll connect with this work, as we invite you to step inside, think outside.