I told Patti I’ll decide by tomorrow what I’m making for the interim shows. Of course I know very well that the clock is ticking … but it was only two weeks ago that I changed the focus of my work. I’ve had plenty of consultancy to help me on my way, but only I can decide what I want to express and how I’ll do it.
I’ve chosen a very political subject – how austerity affects the most vulnerable in society and changing attitudes to the welfare state – so I’m thinking about how artists “do” politics.
Video is a very effective medium for these sorts of messages. I’ve seen very harrowing interviews of people with severe physical disabilities talking about how losing benefits and services has devastated their lives. But they were documentaries not “art”. Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworths Choir of 1979, that tells the story of a fire in a department store, shows how it can be done. But I’m not an experienced video maker and I don’t currently have the trust of people particularly affected by austerity to get permission to share their stories.
I think about other ways to give voice to people’s experiences. I imagine a hologram, a bit like James Bridle’s Homer Sacer, to convey the messages – but perhaps not by the end of April!
Michael Dean’s Turner Prize nominated United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016, seems very relevant. But converting annual income into pennies creates a very large quantity and takes away from the message that it’s a small amount.
I find Tracey Emin’s Baby Things more effective. In 2008 she scattered bronze versions of baby items around Margate to draw attention to the number of teenage pregnancies there. They were small scale and not in prominent places, so visitors only gradually realised what they were seeing and its significance. It sets me thinking about what symbolic objects I could choose.
Alternatively I could look at systems. Yinka Shiebare’s End of Empire combines a very effective metaphor with visual prompts to convey a wealth of meaning. It’s easy to come up with metaphors relating to my subject – a safety net where the holes have become so large that people fall through them or a series of ever higher hurdles which fewer and fewer people can jump – but I haven’t yet found appropriate visual prompts to make them work.
I might make drawings of systems like Jeremy Deller or create a crime investigation “map” to identify who spread false ideas about the scale of fraudulent benefits claims or that teenager single mums are responsible for the national social housing shortage. Wolfgang Tillmans latest book about false news may be relevant here.
And then I see Anselm Reyle’s neon work (featured above) and it triggers ideas about how Attlee’s hopes and dreams for the welfare state – a New Jerusalem – are collapsing. I imagine illuminated towers in bright public service colours high above crumbling ruins. I’ve found my inspiration!