illustrating and communicating
an artists duty, nina simone
this clip of Nina Simone talking about what it means to be an artist was the key piece of footage which sparked my investigation for this project.
“You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.”
the idea of duty is a complex one, in this respect, you could argue, an artist has it easy. some artists do not have to force this process, their creation naturally 'reflects times' and this has purpose and meaning. for this project i am going to try and keep my works purpose simple: focused on the final end of year show, and what purpose arouses from speaking to an audience like those attending.
National Portrait Gallery visit
Room 32: Artists and Sitters: Britain 1960-2000
Arthur Scargill by William Bowyer 1984
This portrait of the trade Unionist Arthur Scargill is hung in the gallery next to 'the Conservative Party Confrence' by Paul Branson (originally titled 'Faulklands War Cabinet'). The contrast between the paintings is vast. The curation exaggerating the colours; vast flat greys and blues next to a burning red, as well as the difference in composition, size and scale of the works. Tongue in cheek curation always intrigues me. this curation seems simple, but the more i researched it, the more it became quite difficult to read. thatcher cut funding to the arts councill, aswell as many galleries during her reign. However, Scargill wasn't exactly loved or supported by the elitist art world of the 80's, of which the NPG was a part. Thatcher is the sitter in 39 portraits in the gallery, while Scargill sits in 5. the portrait of scargill makes him small in comparison to thatcher, 'an angry old man', But the Scargil painting has genuine feeling behind it, the artist William Bowyer worked asa miner in yorkshire for part of his young adullt life so was sympathetic to their cause throughout his career as a painter. the npgs depiction of scargill and thatcher shows how eloquent art can be, how simple paintings can hold a lot of weight politically and conceptually.
Pride 2014, directed by Matthew Warchus
Sunday 14 September 2014 07.30 BST
'While politics today may be 50 shades of grey, actor-turned-playwright Stephen Beresford’s feelgood screenplay reminds us of a time when things were more black-and-white – when the venality of Thatcher’s government asked everyone Which Side Are You On? Yet Pride not merely acknowledges but embraces the fact that the opposition were riven with divide-and-rule disagreement. When Mark demands allegiance to the miners, his Gay Pride comrades angrily recall being “beaten up every day” by the very people they are now asked to support. Despite hefty donations, many of the miners and their wives remain frostily hostile to the incomers amid growing anxieties about Aids (these were the days of Greater Manchester police chief constable James Anderton’s “human cesspool of their own making” tirades, and apocalyptic “public health” campaigns more concerned with stonemasonry than safe sex). Yet for all the factionalism, the tone here is conciliatory and celebratory; when a breakaway lesbian separatist group (all three of them) emerges within the ranks of LGSM, we laugh with them rather than at them: Beresford and director Matthew Warchus (who helmed Matilda on stage, and will succeed Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic) opt to respect and empower anyone willing to fight the good fight.'
LOVE DIS FILM
The Ashington group (or the pitmen painters),
works re-imagined by photographer Julian Germain
'The Pitmen Painters, a celebrated group of miners-turned-artists, rose to prominence in the 1930s with their work chronicling life in the coal-mining town of Ashington, Northumberland. Now, inspired by their example, photographers are capturing the spirit of a community decimated by that industry's decline.
"The dole office was packed out. Nightlife turned into a ghost town as pubs became empty. Drugs began to thrive. I remember being scared of the glue-sniffers.
"Then it just became part of the local culture to smoke cannabis, and class A drugs were easy to find as drug dealers were everywhere."
Myrle Howard, the daughter of a miner, was 13 when Ashington Colliery shut in 1988, four years after the miners' strike came to an end.
Her father Ron would later lose his job at nearby Lynemouth Colliery, which closed in 1994. He became depressed, "which was hard for us five kids to understand - why Mam and Dad were fighting over bills not being paid, living off economy burgers and dry mash potato".
Howard, along with photographer Julian Germain, is now using her camera to record life in a one-industry town that has little in the way of any industry left.
The project, which produces the Ashington District Star newspaper, was commissioned through the bait programme at Woodhorn with investment from Arts Council England.
-Founded in Northumberland in the early 1930s as a Workers' Educational Association class giving mining families access to the arts
-The Pitmen paintings were inspired by the artists' own lives
-The group held its first exhibition in 1936 at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle and many of the paintings are on permanent display at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington.
-Written by Billy Elliot creator Lee Hall, their story was turned into a play that was performed at the Royal National Theatre in London and on Broadway
My England at the Sid Motion gallery
Eastwood draws inspiration from the Kitchen Sink Painters of the 1950s – his minimal, monochromatic enamel paintings aim to reflect his social realities and are allegories for our everyday existence. Eastwood depicts banal moments of day to day life in meticulous detail, allowing us to question our social conditions, and the larger implications of our social standing.
Through truthful revelations of both subject and process, the making of work in a domestic space is emphasised. Using a camera phone to capture the imagery Eastwood is able to present an unremarkable moment which places the viewer in the room while his subjects are unaware – non confronting, yet firmly placed in the present. These obsessive, intensely atmospheric and melancholic paintings operate within the conceptual framework of photo-realism, yet the works reveal loose brush marks and surface imperfections such as trapped dust and hair under a seemingly shiny surface. In this way the paintings are fictional rather than strictly photo-realistic.
The exhibition’s title My England refers to these social observations, yet has subtexts of the UK’s Punk history: think of the Specials ‘Blank Expression’, or Sham 69 ‘I Don’t Wanna’.
The exhibition is presented at a time of such political importance, enabling a contemporary reading of these moments and the subjects at home in them. The exhibited landscape also resonates with the gallery’s own position in an area of regeneration and renovation.
“A new form of politics is emerging, and in ways we haven’t yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything.” Jerome Agel
Nola Hatterman @ Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum
On the Terrace, 1930
was goin to put the press release here but its in Dutch lol... couldnt find an english translation
Text written by the artist:
In being asked to do this talk, inevitably it made me think back to the one I gave four years ago when I was last selected for the John Moores Painting Prize. The painting selected on that occasion was titled Scene From A Contemporary Novel and I began by referencing Victorian art at some length, in particular the anecdotal, narrative aspect of the art of this period which seemed to relate to the subject of my painting. My previous talk began with an apology for the terseness of my statement in the catalogue; I deliberately wanted the statement for this new painting to be drily factual [see appendix below]. However, this proved much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I simply wanted to state in simple terms the cost of the bank bailouts, which had in part brought about this protest, but I found it very difficult to get exact numbers for the statement from official sources.
I ended my talk four years ago with the notion of the narrative aspect of that painting opening it up to interpretation, enabling the viewer to have an open-ended subjective response to the picture. I would argue that the subject of my current painting is fairly circumscribed in terms of interpretations of the subject matter. I'd suggest that the content of the painting is fairly unambiguous, except perhaps in terms of what exactly what everyone is protesting for, or against. I've called the painting Protest to stand in for the idea of protest as a whole, yet the date in the title ties the painting to the specific protest depicted. Here in contrast to my previous John Moore selection, a strict interpretation of the subject is pretty much closed down, as this painting has a very different function to the earlier one. I intended it to have a documentary function and in doing so to embody an idea of bearing witness. Painting really doesn't have the power it once had to bear witness: photography and cinema have stripped these image-making powers away, which is entirely appropriate as those mediums do it better, they're more accessible and less elitist, and of course the tenacious notion of photographic truth, albeit belittled considerably by digital technology, still hangs on somewhere in our collective consciousness. Despite its documentary look, the role of the documenter in being a detached observer is not really applicable in this case. I did after all go on the protest to protest (which I will touch on later), yet I hope that the painting attempts a certain level of objectivity, partly thanks to the angle of view of the original photograph, although it is necessarily sympathetic to the idea of protest as a whole. The distance of the crowd, all a middle-distance foreground essentially, except for the backs of the figures leading us into the painting at the bottom left and lower centre (and the dancing couple bottom right), helps to heighten the sense of having a detached overview. I did edit out a couple of heads too close to the picture plane to make any visual sense. The clarity of the viewpoint is important, as it doesn't look like the viewer is placed in the middle of the crowd. When I sat down to attempt to write about this piece, I found it odd to have lived apart from it for many more months than I lived with it. It was useful to have a postcard from the Walker propped up as reference, reminding myself of what was actually in the painting.
On seeing the main photograph used as the basis for my piece, it reminded me of nothing so much as the classic mid-Victorian paintings by William Powell Frith (1819-1909). Frith's best known painting is Derby Day (1858) although his first success with a 'modern' subject was Ramsgate Sands: Life At The Seaside (1854; two other similar paintings followed in this vein: The Railway Station, 1862, and A Private View At The Royal Academy 1881, exhibited in 1883). Frith's success was partly due to a newly literate middle class gallery-going newspaper-reading public - and his genius partly resides in his ability in depicting a broad range of social classes and types interacting all within the new modern spaces of public life. In academic circles, so-called history painting (which in practical terms was largely confined to Biblical and classical subjects) was held as the highest branch of art, landscape, still life and genre painting were officially held in lower esteem; subject paintings in contemporary dress such as Frith's were known colloquially as 'hat and trousers' pictures. Part of the popularity of paintings like Frith's Derby Day is that the Victorians as a whole liked to see themselves represented in such works of art, being easier to relate to than some of the higher-minded moralistic pictures which were intended to impart some kind of noble lesson on the humble viewer. As a footnote, I'd also like to mention the fact that William Powell Frith did use photographs as reference material for Derby Day, which was looked down upon in the mid-nineteenth century generally speaking, leading Oscar Wilde to quip "Was it really all done by hand?"
The germ of a tempting idea was planted in my brain: to do a modern Frith, and what was really tempting about it was the idea of how gloriously anachronistic it would be, in the true sense of term, meaning literally 'out of time', on the one hand, but on the other hand it also felt like a natural step: to take this image which already reminded me of a certain kind of painting, and make a painting of it. I really felt like this would be a stupid thing to set myself to do, stupid in terms not only of the sheer amount of work involved, but also stupid in the very contrariness of making a painting like this. This felt like a sufficient reason to do the painting in itself. I was also pretty sure that there wouldn't be anything like it entered into the John Moores this year.
Having referenced Victorian painting this year and in my talk four years ago, I wouldn't want people to think I had an uncritical love for it. A great deal of it is truly terrible, but there is an interesting intersection of art with the society it reflected. Subsequently the self-conscious idea of the avant-garde stopped this, or more accurately caused a split between progressive artists, if I can use this term, now appealing directly to an elite, and more demotic art appealing to masses (also mostly terrible, but rarely given any notice by critics; in the mid-nineteenth century there were of course progressive artists, but these still used a language of address recognizably familiar to the common viewer): again photography, cinema, and now television are more relevant art forms in their relation to society as a whole.
In thinking about the subjects appropriate to painting, I suppose my work is partly informed by a genealogy of ideas originating from Baudelaire's essay 'The Painter Of Modern Life' from 1863; this was recently referenced in the title of an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London of contemporary artists working from photography as The Painting Of Modern Life (2007). In conversation with Mark Lawson (on Radio 4's Front Row), Gary Hume described this painting as "a history painting, but more like a flatscreen history painting, maybe it's the right proportion (sic) for a time of people not really caring much." I think Gary Hume's observation is apt. It's history painting or rather it's conceived in a style deliberately intended to remind the viewer of history painting, but not the painting of grand narratives of heroic deeds or moral lessons. Part of the project of the painting of modern life is to reflect how we live now, telling stories about ourselves in a form neither too obscure, nor too divorced from everyday life. I realise a demonstration such as this isn't everyday life, but I'm talking more about reflecting experiences many of us share or are able to empathise with. Many of my other large-scale paintings feature single figures, caught in an absorptive moment, where I intend the viewer to empathise with the figures, how they feel to be in this particular moment in this particular space. Apart from its documentary aspect, this painting differs from those paintings in showing multiple figures, it's got more to do with dialogue, a coming together of many people. There are about thirty-odd 'portraits' visible in the painting, and since the exhibition has been open, I've had an email from someone who was recognised in the picture (the man playing the violin). We notice in the painting figures which seem to be together, we can link the glances between different figures in the painting, interpret various expressions on their faces, there are a couple of people within it who look out towards the viewer, and these figures generate an impression of the movement of the crowd, a swirling coming together of diverse people who would otherwise be atomized, separated, divided. It may only be a temporary community, with many different aims, but there is a feeling of togetherness in the crowd, a spontaneity, and a feeling of agency, a way of expression in a parliamentary democracy, other than the casting of a vote once every four or five years.
One of the striking things about the picture is the sheer number of different kinds of recording devices visible, digital and film cameras, video cameras, mobile phones, but it's also interesting to see the figure in the centre of it all using the oldest method of recording: he's drawing. It's now a necessity of both demonstrators and the police to have the ability to record the events at protests to provide evidence from conflicting claims as to the veracity of eyewitnesses. I wanted to mention the death of Ian Tomlinson in my catalogue statement, but due to a strict word limit, I cut this, as well as a reference to the 86 arrests on the day, and 15 injuries. The first response from the police was to deny any contact with the dead man had taken place, and so the official line might have remained, had not someone come forward with a video showing an officer of the Territorial Support Group striking Ian Tomlinson and pushing him to the ground. Although this tragic episode from the day of the protest rightly dominated the subsequent press coverage, I did not want this to dominate the ideas around my painting. Perhaps I do find that the lack of police in picture is somewhat problematic as it does miss out an important part of the experience of being on such a demonstration, however everyone in the painting is doing a good job of policing themselves. Judging by the clock in the background, it was twenty-four minutes to one when I took the photograph, so it was still very early in the protest and good-natured at this point. The police lines had only just closed, or were just closing, and no one wanted to leave at this point, and were not prevented from doing so. Also, during the time that I was there, there was generally a gap in the road between the police lines and the protestors, especially once they had let a couple of the processions join up (the protest outside the Bank of England was made up from four marches from different starting points which converged there; for a time the police blocked the roads and prevented them from joining up).
If the painting is about bearing witness I should mention my reasons for being there, although I didn't want this talk to be me bashing the audience over their heads with my own politics. At the time of the protest last year I believed that the banks should be allowed to fail. Through the Thatcher-Major-Blair years the mainstream political parties embraced the ideology that the free market is the most efficient way to run institutions. When market forces are going to be applied to everything from the railways to the NHS and Royal Mail, I couldn't see why this did not apply to financial institutions. Supposedly the 'invisible hand of the market' was to take care of everything. If the people running banks turn out to be not very good at it, why should the taxpayer have to pay for their mistakes? At the time of the protest I thought that those banks which needed government help should simply be allowed to fail. Having read more on the subject since then I do think that the government probably had to stop the banks from collapsing, being too interconnected to fail thanks to the complicated financial instruments such as the CDS, as well as being too big to fail, although I disagree with the way it was done: if banks are going to be de facto nationalised by the government buying a majority stake in shares in the bank, then they should be properly nationalised, i.e. run as a not-for-profit public service. On top of that there should also be some protections against this kind of collapse happening again. Two years on there aren't any. In his wonderful book (Whoops! Why everyone owes and no one can pay) which I would recommend to any one trying to understand the financial crisis, John Lanchester pulls off a neat typographical trick when informing the reader that in the next paragraph he's about to survey all the relevant legislation passed in the two years since the crash: you turn the page and there is simply a blank space.
I am well aware that government policies are unlikely to change through protest (there are precious few exceptions to this rule - the poll tax riots being one, but backed up of course with a massive public non-cooperation by the simple fact of people not paying; and then there are strategic protests, such as the relatively recent fuel protests, the idea that a small group with strategic action can "hold the country to ransom"). Governments in democratic countries can generally rely on apathy to pass unpopular legislation and the public's short memory between elections; at its least efficacious, demonstrations and protests visibly act out non-compliance in that apathy. I also have no illusions about the efficacy of political art: it does not change anything: one is generally preaching to the converted, if anyone is listening at all. Arguably the greatest political painting of the 20th century, Picasso's Guernica did not stop Franco ruling Spain for nearly four decades, nor did it stop both sides in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the Second World War. However I feel the need to do something to avoid feeling impotent: as an individual I am unable to change anything, and yet I'm unwilling to be silent. My painting is a documentation of that: bearing witness, being able to say: "I was there." I don't know whether documentary is a useful function for painting any more. There's a danger of kitsch, of producing something with no lasting relevance; and yet, we have just seen the biggest economic crash for 80 years, and one has to wonder what is it going to leave behind culturally? From the previous economic depression of the 1930s, which has been the benchmark for the current financial situation to be compared to, the cultural products that stand out most obviously from England are literary, such as George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, or Walter Greenwood's Love On The Dole. I realize that these are just partial examples of what came to my mind, but it's hard to think of too many paintings from the 1930s that dealt with the subject, I'm sure that there must be some.
I find it difficult to say too much about the process of painting. It is fairly prosaic, I paint largely wet-in-wet, one section at a time, and for most of my work the creative part of the process is finished before I pick up my brush. What I have wanted to achieve with my technique is a certain transparency to the work, and the effort of making it should not get in the way of the subject. I'm not really concerned about fooling people into thinking that my paintings are photographs, that's just an unintended consequence. In the John Moores four years ago I won the Visitors' Choice Prize, and the Walker were kind enough to photocopy all the many voting cards with the visitors' comments upon them, which was an eye opener in terms of public feedback, which is something I haven't ever experienced before. On first reading my way through the comments I felt a little deflated by the sheer amount which simply referenced the skill, disappointed that many comments were expressing disbelief that it wasn't a photo, or that it had momentarily fooled people into thinking that it was one: "Lots of detail - could be a photo"; "I was astonished to discover it was NOT a photograph" and so on. My immediate response was wrong: I was wrong to be disappointed in this. I don't think you can underestimate that quality of visual pleasure manifest in just looking at something painted 'well'. Despite a work's subject matter, you cannot insist on viewers' responses, and I accept that there is no right response, the pleasure in viewing is innate to each individual: if the appreciation of technical skill is the foremost response, or the only response, then at least to have done so, to have touched someone with my own creation, is really the most we can ever hope for as artists.
Whoops! Why everyone owes and no one can pay Lanchester, John, Penguin Books London 2010
The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, Baudelaire, Charles, translation Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon 1964
The Painting of Modern Life, Hayward Publishing, London 2007
The Victorian Painter's World, Gillet, Paula,Alan Sutton, Gloucester 1990John Moores Painting Prize 2010, Bukantas, Ann, Ed., NML 2010
Appendix: Statement for the John Moores Painting Prize catalogue 2010
Timed to coincide with the G20 summit of industrialised nations on 1st April 2009, 5000-60001 people demonstrated in London at a number of locations over various issues. This painting depicts the Financial Fools' Day protest outside the Bank of England.
Bank of England Special Liquidity Scheme extended by £100bn in October 2008, £185bn lent by February 20092
Credit Guarantee Scheme £250bn; £91.2bn guaranteed by May 20093
Northern Rock cost of nationalization: £26.9bn4
Bradford & Bingley cost of nationalization: £48bn5
Lloyds Banking Group 43%6 publicly owned at a cost of £21bn7
Royal Bank of Scotland 70%8 publicly owned at a cost of £31.8bn9
The measures taken to prevent the banking system from collapsing have added an estimated £1tn10 to public sector debt. On the estimate of £1tn given above, this equates to £16,000 per person in the UK.11
1. Public Sector Interventions in the Financial Crisis, Kellaway, Martin, the Office For National Statistics 2009, p8
2. Ibid, p81.
3. Ibid, p108.
4. Ibid, p32.
5. Ibid, p44.
6. Voting share capital, not including non-voting B shares, UK Financial Investments Annual Report 2008-09, UKFI 2009, p2.
7. Including acquisition of HBOS, Kellaway, Martin, op cit, p75-77.
8. Voting share capital, not including non-voting B shares, op cit, UKFI 2009, p2.
9. Kellaway, Martin, op cit, p68-69.
10. Ibid, p79.
11. Based on UK population figure of 61,414,062, World Development Indicators, World Bank 2008.
I want to comment on life that exists beyond the studio. To investigate the political/personal and the specificity of making work as a contemporary British painter. I hope to represent lived experience and take stock of how capturing a moment can culminate in the construction of historical narratives. Through painting I wish to explore how images may act as testimony to both past and recent events and in doing so, try to understand what is meant by 'collective memory'.
Irvine Welsh Trainspotting analysis, by Aron kelly
when talking about voyeurism you really need to talk about the voyeurism in yourself first
Hans Eijkelboom, Phono tones
Richard Billingham, Rays a Laugh
Is Channel 4's Benefits Street 'poverty porn'? - Newsnight
They Must be Represented: The Politics of Documentary, Paula Rabinowitz
Zoe Leonard, I Want a Dyke for President, 1992
read by Mykki Blanco
Eileen Miles, Rotting symbols 1997
Jordan Baseman, deadness
review by Ben Luke
An unsettling atmosphere lies at the heart of Deadness (2013) by the London-based American artist Jordan Baseman. Like many of his recent works, it’s based on an interview, this time with Dr John Troyer from Bath University’s Centre for Death and Society. Troyer speaks fascinatingly about the history of embalming, its aim to make the dead look as they do in life, to soothe grieving families and much else. But as he talks, we see slides of dead people lying in caskets, a macabre collection assembled by Baseman from online auctions. Most are snapshots, though some are more posed historical images. At face value, they’re rather boring, but the cumulative effect of seeing this procession of cosmeticised corpses, added to Troyer’s matter-of-fact delivery, is a growing sense of unease. In The Last Walk (2011), the dynamic is reversed. The imagery is more benign – footage of fairy lights in trees shot on film developed crudely in buckets, giving it a degraded, abstract almost painterly appearance. But the accompanying voiceover is jarring, as the artist Stuart Brisley recounts (or perhaps concocts) a story about walking his dog on a wasteland and witnessing a horrific scene of self-immolation. He describes witnessing the “extraordinary and yet at the same time quite delicate” image of a man on fire and his thoughts and actions with relative indifference, almost as if it were a dream. But neither he nor Baseman lets on if we are hearing a true story or fiction. Baseman has weaved together voice and image to create two compelling works; dark and troubling, they are also unforgettable.
Until July 21, , mattsgallery.org
Langston Hughes, Life is fine
I went down to the river, I set down on the bank. I tried to think but couldn’t, So I jumped in and sank. I came up once and hollered! I came up twice and cried! If that water hadn’t a-been so cold I might’ve sunk and died. But it was Cold in that water! It was cold! I took the elevator Sixteen floors above the ground. I thought about my baby And thought I would jump down. I stood there and I hollered! I stood there and I cried! If it hadn’t a-been so high I might’ve jumped and died. But it was High up there! It was high! So since I’m still here livin’, I guess I will live on. I could’ve died for love— But for livin’ I was born Though you may hear me holler, And you may see me cry— I’ll be dogged, sweet baby, If you gonna see me die. Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
richard mosse, at the barbican
At a time when, according to the UN, the world is experiencing the largest migration of people since World War II, with more than a million people fleeing to Europe by sea in 2015 – escaping war, climate change, persecution and poverty – Richard Mosse’s film presents a portrait of migrants made with a camera that sees as a missile sees. The film bears witness to significant chapters in recent world events, mediated through an advanced weapons-grade camera technology that reads only heat, and is blind to skin colour, capturing glowing bodies crossing dangerous waters, drowning at sea, or sleeping in makeshift camps, presenting a story of humans struggling against the elements for survival.
Jeremy deller, were here because were here
Theere is also a BBC 4 documentary on this artwork/event, which sees t Jeremy Deller give an exclusive insight into the live, nationwide memorial that he created to mark the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016.
The groundbreaking event made in collaboration with Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, saw hundreds of volunteers dressed as First World War soldiers appear unexpectedly in areas across the UK. The project titled 'We're here because we're here' was commissioned by 14-18 NOW and produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre, together with 26 organisations from around the country.
Mark wallenger, State Britain
In between, the twin towers fell, Afghanistan was invaded, and sanctions against Iraq turned into occupation and civil war. London and Madrid were bombed, and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was passed, forbidding any unauthorised protests within a kilometre of Parliament Square. It was said that terrorists might use protests such as Haw's as a cover for their activities - though it appeared to have been designed principally to move Haw on.
Over the years, Haw's public protest opposite the Houses of Parliament grew to become a rambling, gap-toothed, 40-metre-long wall of banners, placards, rickety, knocked-together information boards, handmade signs and satirical slogans. Banksy donated a big painting of soldiers. Sun-bleached rainbow peace flags flapped overhead. The placards declaimed "You Lie Kids Die BLIAR" and "Christ Is Risen Indeed!". Road-spattered appeals to motorists to "Beep For Brian" stood beside an accumulation of material that could only be read or understood close-up. Photocopied warzone reports, commemorative crosses, entreaties and signs that have crept in from other people's protests - "Pensioners want a slice of the cake, not crumbs" - compete, and an estate agent's board has even found its way amongst the piles of stuff on the far side of Haw's placards, the accumulation of a near-five-year tenure.
Lovingly copied and recreated, this has all made its way into Wallinger's work. All that is missing is the indomitable Haw himself, with his megaphone and his badge-encrusted floppy hat. He is still camped on the grass opposite parliament, but now occupying only a fraction of the space he once had. A few days before Haw's stuff was all taken away, Wallinger took hundreds of photographs of the entire, splendidly ramshackle, ranting, unmissable eyesore on which he based his reconstruction. Here is an impromptu, cobbled-together monument to a "fallen comrade", constructed from a plastic traffic cone, several lengths of taped-together garden cane and a homemade flag. There, a group of dolls in Victorian dresses is lying beside a plastic baby with missing arms and legs, bloodied with paint. Mutilated soft toys, placard-waving and card-carrying teddy bears - bears against bombs, bears saying "too much to bear" - and soft toys piled in a paper coffin.
It all has a cumulative, creepily sentimental horror. It also, weirdly, reminds one of all sorts of artwork one has seen before: the installations of Mike Kelley; the placards, swathes of photocopied material and detritus of Thomas Hirschhorn. With its recreation and representation of an individual's lair, and the stuff they surround themselves with - Haw's Tesco biscuits are here, a sleeping bag sandwiched between layers of tarpaulin, his rolling tobacco and his flagons of drinking water, and what looks like pee - it is not unlike the fictional habitats of Mike Nelson's work, or even of some of Beuys's placards and survival packs.
State Britain could be interpreted as a continuation of Haw's protest by other means, in such a place and in such a way as to mock a law designed to curtail our freedom to protest. The whole thing is a trompe l'oeil fabrication, a still life, a 2007 history painting - the modern equivalent of Géricault's Raft of the Medusa, Goya's Third of May and Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximillian, all of which referred in contentious ways to world events. Taken as a whole, it is the sort of thing one might find documented in Jeremy Deller's Folk Archive, his collection of the amateur and the inadvertent.
For State Britain, Wallinger has also taped a line on the floor, indicating an arc of the kilometre cordon as it passes through the gallery. It first appears under a display of wrapping paper in the Tate Britain shop, crossing the floor and disappearing under a display of art-technique manuals. It crosses a room currently dominated by a bust of TE Lawrence, hitting the wall beneath Jacob Kramer's Jews at Prayer; it passes Jacob Epstein's alabaster Jacob and the Angel, and speeds beyond Nicholas Hilliard's portrait of Elizabeth I. It slides past a vitrine displaying the first English translation of the Qur'an, published in 1649, just four months after the beheading of Charles I. Finally, the line hits the wall under George Stubbs's 1785 painting of Reapers, his immaculately turned-out peasants decorously working the farm. The line may be an arbitrary slice through the building, but it adds to the effect, and creates its own resonances and echoes. The line joins as much as it divides, and places Wallinger's work in a conversation with the rest of Tate Britain.
Brian Haw is a driven individual, whose entire life is given over to his kerbside protest. To ask what drives him, apart from his moral and political convictions, is to diminish the exemplary nature of his protest, whatever one might think of the manner of his dissent. Yet he is not unlike the figures Wallinger has focused on before. Throughout his career, Wallinger has returned again and again to the theme of Englishness as a trope for identity, and to the events, myths, faiths and individuals that make up a sense of national belonging. In Passport Control, 1988, Wallinger graffitied over his own portrait, turning his photo into various ethnic stereotypes (orthodox Jew, Arab, Chinese). In his 2000 film Threshold to the Kingdom, he showed passengers emerging through passport control at London City Airport, in slo-mo and to the strains of Allegri's setting of the 51st Psalm. We see their ecstatic expressions and relief, as though they had indeed passed a spiritual, as much as a bureaucratic, test. The film is deeply sad, a miserable miracle.
Everyone from the Women's Institute to the far right has claimed William Blake's Jerusalem for themselves, but in his own work Wallinger reminds us of Blake's radicalism; he has used the word Jerusalem as if it were revolutionary graffiti, spraying it over his own rendering of a painting by George Stubbs.
Wallinger once recorded a performance of the comedian Tommy Cooper and played it backwards, reflected in a mirror, a sort of loving homage to Cooper's anarchic stage confusion. Recreating Haw's protest is itself a kind of reversal, as well as a duplication. By bringing the protest inside an institution, Wallinger gives us a chance almost to freeze it, presenting it as a simulacrum of itself.
He is very good at teasing out meanings and metaphors. In a number of paintings and videos, he has analysed the culture of horse breeding and racing - in which he saw the dynamics of race, sex and class at work. In 1994, he bought a real live racehorse, calling it A Real Work of Art and registering his own racing colours.
Looking at State Britain, I am reminded of numerous earlier works by the artist. Haw's protest stems from his evangelical faith. In several works, including 1999's Ecce Homo, Wallinger has examined what kind of faith an artwork might now exemplify or entail. Ecce Homo placed a cast of an anonymous young man dressed as Christ on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square in 1999. Wallinger's Christ was not just an everyman, he was a stand-in. What, I asked a few months ago on these pages, would be the reaction to the placing of such an overt Christian symbol there today? It might well be taken as a provocation. Certainly, it is within the sacred kilometre.
Is State Britain a protest, a readymade, a simulation or an appropriation? It is all these things - an installation, an institutional critique, an example of relational aesthetics. It touches all bases, without becoming tedious or hectoring. The title may be a poor pun, but the work itself is clever and barbed. It makes us think of the mores of recent installation art, about the "public" nature of a space such as Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries and about the Britishness of the gallery itself - what is and is not exhibited here? State Britain raises more questions than it answers, but it is not glib. While Haw's placards announce the campaigner's beliefs, Wallinger takes a step back from the slogans themselves. Walking among the banners, you realise you look at them differently here.
Wallinger is asking us to view his recreation of Haw's stuff as art (even if some of it, like Banksy's image, already is art of a sort); he is not asking us to see Haw himself as an artist. Instead, he wants us to think more in terms of place and context - another of modern art's modes, the site-specific. In an accompanying exhibition publication, Wallinger presents a montage of writings - taken from George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson, the journalist Henry Porter and Tony Blair himself ("When I pass protesters every day at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom").
Since the 1960s, many artists, from Hans Haacke to Daniel Buren, Cildo Meireles to Allan Sekula, have made work which offers a critique of the institution that houses it, and the structures, financial and ideological, that support it. However critical such art may itself be, it also serves to highlight the institution's liberalism, by allowing it to be there in the first place. Such inclusiveness, as Susan Sontag argued, defuses the very criticism being offered. What State Britain offers is a sort of portrait of British institutions at a time of war, of the lip service government pays to dissent, on the attacks being made on our freedoms in the name of security, on the impotence of protest and of art itself as a form of protest. How rich this work is, and how saddening our state.
Daniel Arnold, nyc photographer
This is England
(article a bit below)
john cooper clark
The bloody cops are bloody keen
To bloody keep it bloody clean
The bloody chief's a bloody swine
Who bloody draws a bloody line
At bloody fun and bloody games
The bloody kids he bloody blames
Are nowhere to be bloody found
Anywhere in chicken town
The bloody scene is bloody sad
The bloody news is bloody bad
The bloody weed is bloody turf
The bloody speed is bloody surf
The bloody folks are bloody daft
Don't make me bloody laugh
It bloody hurts to look around
Everywhere in chicken town
The bloody train is bloody late
You bloody wait you bloody wait
You're bloody lost and bloody found
Stuck in fucking chicken town
The bloody view is bloody vile
For bloody miles and bloody miles
The bloody babies bloody cry
The bloody flowers bloody die
The bloody food is bloody muck
The bloody drains are bloody fucked
The colour scheme is bloody brown
Evidently chicken town
The bloody pubs are bloody dull
The bloody clubs are bloody full
Of bloody girls and bloody guys
With bloody murder in their eyes
A bloody bloke is bloody stabbed
Waiting for a bloody cab
You bloody stay at bloody home
The bloody neighbors bloody moan
Keep the bloody racket down
This is bloody chicken town
The bloody pies are bloody old
The bloody chips are bloody cold
The bloody beer is bloody flat
The bloody flats have bloody rats
The bloody clocks are bloody wrong
The bloody days are bloody long
It bloody gets you bloody down
Evidently chicken town
The bloody train is bloody late
You bloody wait you bloody wait
You're bloody lost and bloody found
Stuck in fucking chicken town
Tolstoy, What is art?
Aldus Huxley on technodictators (iluustrated/animated)
Shane Meadows continues his fast and fluent film-making career with this quasi-autobiographical picture about skinheads: a movie with hints of Alan Clarke's Made in Britain and, in its final image, the haunted disenchantment of Truffaut's The 400 Blows. It is a sad, painful and sometimes funny story from the white working classes of 1980s Britain, the cannon-fodder caste alienated from Falklands rejoicing on the home front and not invited to participate in the nation's promised service-economy prosperity.
Meadows boldly attempts to reclaim the skinhead from the traditional neo-Nazi image, explicitly distinguishing his characters from a separate racist influence, and presenting them as an anarchic youth tribe that idolised West Indian music. He sees their susceptibility to the extremist right as a poignant and even tragic part of their fatherless culture, literally and figuratively orphaned by the times.
There's a winning lead performance from 13-year-old newcomer Thomas Turgoose playing a put-upon lad called Shaun in the run-down Grimsby of 1983. His dad was a serviceman killed in the Falklands and he's perennially getting picked on for this, and for his horrible flared jeans which make him look, as one bully cruelly puts it, like Keith Chegwin's son. Sloping and moping his way home after a standard-issue school day of humiliation, Shaun gets waylaid by some skins in a dodgy underpass, but instead of yet more battering, the gang give him sympathy and understanding; they become Shaun's only friends, and with a new Ben Sherman shirt and number one cut, Shaun has new pride and a new identity.
The gang's leader is Woody - a cheerful, sparky performance from Joe Gilgun - and they have an African-Caribbean member facetiously nicknamed Milky, played by Meadows regular Andrew Shim; Shaun even finds romance with one of the group's girl-punk fellow travellers: a languid and rather elegant older woman called Smell (Rosamund Hanson) who earnestly explains to Shaun's mum that she is called that simply because it rhymes with Michelle. The idyll is soon destroyed with the highly unwelcome appearance of Combo, a ferocious and sinister skin warrior just out of prison, played by Stephen Graham. He demands the group join his National Front cell, and turn out for an NF meeting in a tatty pub, addressed by one of the movement's suit-wearing officer class, played in cameo by Frank Harper.
Turgoose is the picture's heart and soul, and it's a terrifically natural, easy and commanding performance. Turgoose's open face radiates charm, and then, when he goes over to the dark side of racism, a creepy, anti-cherubic scorn: almost like one of the little blond kids in Village of the Damned. But Meadows is always concerned to preserve a sympathetic core to Shaun, and in fact to all the skins. Even the deeply objectionable Combo is shown to be suffering from emotional pain.
Like Meadows' earlier pictures, Dead Man's Shoes and A Room for Romeo Brass, This Is England is about younger, vulnerable figures being taken under the wing of older, flawed men, and this personal theme here finds its richest and maturest expression yet. As to whether we should buy its implied leniency about skinhead culture: that is another question. The West Indian influence is advanced as proof that skins were not necessarily racist: yet it can't cancel out Combo's hate campaign against South Asians, the "Pakis" who "smell of curry", a campaign which goes quite unchallenged or even unremarked upon by any of the skins, good or bad.
The skinhead identity is, after all, obviously supposed to be more aggressive than that of other tribes: I remember as a 10-year-old cowering on the terraces of Watford football club in the early 70s, as the Luton boot boys got stuck in, and my father grimly telling me that the reason they shaved their heads that way was so the coppers couldn't grab them by the hair. Whether or not that is true, it certainly made the wearer's head look like a big, third clenched fist. And it's still difficult to get a handle on them.
Meadows appears to want to find emotional truths behind the bravado, to find reasons for the male rage. It's a valid quest, and there are telling and touching moments, particularly between Turgoose and Rosamund Hanson. I found myself wishing that their love story could occupy more of the film, maybe for the same reason that the Shane Meadows film I have enjoyed most is the one his real fans loathe: the comedy Once Upon a Time in the Midlands. But from the get-go of this drama, it is obvious that things are heading only one way: towards a climactic flourish of violence, and it's a glum business wondering to whom and from whom this is going to happen. This is a violent subject, and these are violent people, and yet I couldn't help feeling that Meadows is, as so often, more comfortable with machismo than with the humour and gentleness which play a smaller, yet intensely welcome part of his movies. However agnostic I confess to still feeling about his work, there's no doubt that Meadows is a real film-maker with a growing and evolving career, and with his own natural cinematic language. When I think of his films, I think, for good or ill: this is English cinema.
Orwell, Books Vs Ciggaretts
A couple of years ago a friend of mine, a newspaper editor, was firewatching with some factory workers. They fell to talking about his newspaper, which most of them read and approved of, but when he asked them what they thought of the literary section, the answer he got was: “You don't suppose we read that stuff, do you? Why, half the time you're talking about books that cost twelve and sixpence! Chaps like us couldn't spend twelve and sixpence on a book.” These, he said, were men who thought nothing of spending several pounds on a day trip to Blackpool.
This idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so widespread that it deserves some detailed examination. Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. After allowing for various other expenses, I can make a fairly good guess at my expenditure over the last fifteen years.
Revolutionary Photography by Christiana Lodder
Our friends in the north, tv mini series
A nine part series depicting the varying fortunes of four friends - Nicky, Geordie, Mary and Tosker - from the optimistic times of 1964 to the uncertainties of 1995. Taking nine pivotal years (1964, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1987, 1995) the personal lives of the characters become intertwined with the political struggles of their home town of Newcastle, and the capital, London. We also see the machinations behind the scenes that affect their lives, often for the worse: slum housing projects, police corruption, the rise of Thatcherism, political sleaze, and specific events like the 1984 Miners' Strike.
Amy Raphael on Our Friends in the North
Long before he became Bond, Daniel Craig gave a raw, emotional performance as Geordie, a young man falling apart in Our Friends In The North. In an early scene set in 1964 he's so distressed by his alcoholic father that he headbutts him, cries his heart out and then hitchhikes to London to become Malcolm McDowell's dapper henchman. By the late-60s he looks bizarrely like a member of Slade, and by the time Thatcher has her hold on Britain in the 1980s, his world has fallen apart.
A desperately dramatic storyline in its own right, it's only one strand of a series of epic, multilayered stories in Our Friends. The 623-minute drama, which follows the lives of four friends from Newcastle between 1964 and 1995, is as moving now as it was when it was first broadcast in 1996. It's gritty and political, it's sad and serious but it's also sexy and funny. It sucks you in right from the start and, like all the best box sets, it's ridiculously addictive.
Yet Our Friends almost didn't make it to the small screen. It started life as a stage play at the RSC in Stratford in 1982; the action stopped in 1979, with the election of Margaret Thatcher. When approached by the BBC to make the play into a television drama, writer Peter Flannery was initially dismissive. "Our Friends was finished business for me by then. I didn't see the point in reworking it for television. I wanted to write something new." He was also sceptical about the BBC doing it properly. In the end, of course, it did, by allocating a whopping budget of around £8m for a nine-month shoot.
'I spent five or six years of my 30s and 40s working on it. It would have been awful if it then elicited a so-so response' Peter Flannery
Photograph: Ros Drinkwater/Rex
For Flannery, who was born in Jarrow, south Tyneside, the process involved endless rewriting and, eventually, bringing the action right up to 1995. "I finished writing it in the early-90s and had to predict what was going to happen politically. It wasn't hard; it was pretty obvious there was going to be a Blair revolution. I'm glad we spent time getting the series right, although I did spend five or six years of my 30s and 40s working on it. It would have been awful if it then elicited a so-so response." Instead, the hard work put into Our Friends showed and the critics loved it. You may laugh at what Christopher Eccleston refers to as its "dodgy wigs and bad beards", but the characters' voices are individual, real and never blur into one other.
Eccleston's Nicky is an angry idealist, Mark Strong's Tosker ruthlessly ambitious, Gina McKee's Mary fragile yet tough, Craig's Geordie a lost soul in search of a father figure. Flannery says he simply divided himself in four to create the characters, but really only his heroes, Dennis Potter and Alan Bleasdale, have succeeded in writing such intricate, authentic and three-dimensional characters on such an ambitious and daring scale in British TV drama.
'My character's dad is savaged by a dog on a council estate. He is destroyed by everything he felt he'd failed to create as a socialist … I knew it was event television from that single scene' Christopher Eccleston
Photograph: BBC Photolibrary
Eccleston remembers the first time he heard about Our Friends. "I was standing on the set of Shallow Grave and Danny Boyle said, 'I've read something you'd like.' I got hold of the scripts and read them in one sitting. There's a scene in which Nicky's embittered idealist dad, Felix – played by the wonderful Peter Vaughan – is savaged by a dog on a council estate. He is effectively destroyed by everything he felt he'd failed to create as a socialist. I thought it was an absolutely brilliant piece of writing. I knew it was event television from that single scene."
Our Friends is as relevant now as it was in the mid-90s; perhaps more so. Back then Blair promised a bright future; now the future, particularly in the north-east, is potentially as bleak as it was under Thatcher. Our Friends documents the failure of the left in Britain: the cross-party property scams; Soho's porn barons and their relationship with the Met; the pointless police violence of the miners' strike; the emergence of Britain as a prosperous nation; the dawn of New Labour. It is, however, as much about people as politics; how Nicky's desperation to be "part of something that gets things changed" leads him into the arms of the Trotskyites and away from Mary, while Geordie – betrayed by a series of father figures – develops mental health problems.
Flannery talks of the endless, inevitable problems that beset Our Friends – Danny Boyle was on board as director for three months before deciding to follow up Shallow Grave with Trainspotting; another director didn't get the scripts at all; Daniel Craig only auditioned at the last minute, and with an awful Newcastle accent – but he also glows with pride. He knows that subsequent BBC series such as Holding On would never have been made without Our Friends. And the scripts were good enough to tempt Malcolm McDowell back into television.
"It did screw things up a bit because we could only afford him for three weeks," he recalls. "And, although everything else was pretty much shot in sequence, we had to do all his scenes in that short time. It was worth it of course; as an icon of the 60s he is perfect as a Soho porn baron." In fact, older, experienced actors such as McDowell, Vaughan, Alun Armstrong and David Bradley anchored the youngsters; Eccleston says that he learned how to conduct himself on set from Vaughan.
'I remember standing on the makeup truck … you could see the recently flattened colliery where my dad's family lived and worked' Gina McKee
While Eccleston was learning his trade from Vaughan, McKee was working with a very personal storyline. "We shot the miners' strike scenes around Easington Colliery. It was my first home and my dad's family lived and worked there. The unit base was stationed alongside the high perimeter wall of the pit. Our day started early and as the sun came up I remember standing on the makeup truck and looking over the wall. You could see the recently flattened colliery and out to sea."
Flannery says that when Our Friends was first broadcast the miners' strike scenes had the biggest impact on audiences. "The letters I got were predominantly about that episode," he says. "Either from people saying thank God the story had finally been told clearly in a TV drama or from others too young to remember it. It's what the BBC should be doing now: not looking down to its audience, but entertaining and educating. Our Friends is a fantastic way of looking at social history. Every school should have a copy of the new box set!"
He laughs, but is clearly disappointed by the lack of ambition in British TV drama. He's got a point: since Our Friends we've enjoyed State Of Play, Clocking Off, The Street and, in its early days, Shameless. But there hasn't been anything as relevant, engaging and brilliant as Our Friends. If Flannery were to sum Our Friends up in one sentence what would he choose? He laughs again: "It tells historical, political, personal stories in what is essentially a very, very posh soap opera."