Bo Lanyon - The Death of Optimus Prime

2 Mar 2019 – 17 Mar 2019

Event times

Preview and performance, Friday 1st March, 6-8pm

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Test Space

England, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • The 506 service runs between Spike Island, Bristol Temple Meads and Broadmead/Cabot Circus.
  • The Bristol Ferry Boat Company provides services from various points around Bristol, running every 40 minutes. From the SS Great Britain stop, follow the above walking route to Spike Island.
  • British Rail, Temple Meads, Bristol
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This exhibition explores the memorialisation, shared grief and continuing resonance of the unexpected death of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers: The Movie 1986 animated film.


This exhibition explores the memorialisation, shared grief and continuing resonance of the unexpected death of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers: The Movie 1986 animated film. 

Originally released in 1984, The Transformers was an animated robot superhero television series that rapidly became a highly profitable global franchise.  A deeply ‘toyetic’ universe - a Hollywood term for an intellectual property rich with the potential for merchandise - it has since been reinterpreted in Michael Bay’s cinematic series, grossing over $4.3 billion globally. Central to the storyline was the continuing battle between the morally steadfast leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, and his nemesis, Megatron of the Decepticons.  The Transformers ruthlessly blended commercialism and characterisation, merging a must-have toyline with a Marvel comic book series that solidified fan devotion to the core cast.  However, in the 1986 animated film, the decision to rapidly kill off Prime created an unexpected and severe response in their young and devoted audience - shock and grief.  For those who experienced it, it serves as a resonant and pivotal moment, a connecting trauma amongst the Transformers fan community.

The Death Of Optimus Prime explores this pivotal moment, its consequences and importance to this community; how the objectives of profit demanded a clean slate for the introduction of a new toy line at the emotional expense of their fanbase of children worldwide; how the scene has become an essential component in the memorialisation of the mythos across the Transformers fan community, with equivalence to other established pop-culture belief systems such as Star Wars and Star Trek; how Prime’s death has become a recurring trope in reboots of the franchise; and how the unexpectedly potent position of Prime as a substitute father figure came to deeply affect the childhoods of so many. 

‘And so kids in the theater start crying.  Not sobbing, like we all do at the beginning of Up, but slowly, with tears running down their cheeks and a little quiver in their bottom lip.  For many, this was the first father figure they’d ever had to face losing.  Years later, in college, while sipping beers at a local tavern and dealing with the loss of an actual friend, or parent, or grandparent, some of those now-grown kids could be overheard saying, ‘the first death that really affected me in my life was Optimus Prime.  Then later my dog died, too.’ How Optimus Prime’s Death Defined A Generation, Birth.Movies.Death.com,  29/07/13.

‘You guys, this movie was made for children? It’s the most violent and weird thing I’ve ever seen!  It’s a film that should be studied for the insane mixture of art and commerce it truly is.’ Schlock & Awe: Transformers the Movie was Seriously Made for Kids?!, Nerdist.com, 01/09/16 

Bo Lanyon 

Born in Cornwall, Bo Lanyon currently lives and works in Bristol, England. He studied at the Royal College of Art, London (2005-07) and the University of Gloucestershire (2000-2003).  

Lanyon's work explores our relationships with conflict.  The work exists across painting, sculpture, publication and public intervention in a blend of history and near future. It seeks to articulate human responses to a range of conflict, from intimate trauma to global events.

Selected exhibitions & events include Where It Is, There It Is, 2018 as part of the Groundwork programme, Cornwall; Age of Panic, White Moose Gallery, 2017; Plymouth Contemporary 2017; publication of The Post-Apocalyptic Colouring Book, 2016; Kith & Kin, Falmouth Art Gallery & Museum, 2016; Broomhill National Sculpture Prize, 2015;  Resilience, Goldman Sachs, 2015; Hidden, Royal College of Art, 2010; 4 New Sensations, Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4, 2007; Jerwood Drawing Prize, 2005.  He was selected for the Cornwall Workshop 2017, has work included in the Zabludowicz Collection and has received a number of awards from Arts Council England.    

In April 2019, he presents a new commission on the conscientious objector and future Labour MP Walter Ayles for the First World War & its Legacy: Commemoration, Conflict & Conscience festival across Bristol. 

In May 2019, he is part of the group show London Bronze at Squire & Partners, London, which features works by a range of UK-based contemporary artists working in bronze. 


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Bo Lanyon



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