I rarely comment on matters other than painting here but…given the ‘significance’ of today I’m venturing briefly into other territory. Back in 2013 I curated an exhibition I titled ‘fotografische werk’ (german meaning ‘photographic factory’). It was first exhibited at the Harrington Mill Studios, an artists space set up by Jackie & Jem Burridge in 2008, in an old textiles factory in Long Eaton, Nottingham, UK
It was one of five group shows in the 2013 programme at the Mill Studios in which I chose to place an aspect of my working practice into the wider context of activity in that medium or discipline. In thinking of my photographic pieces I was struck by the fact of most of them had only ever been exhibited outside of the UK – most in other, various parts of Europe. My introductory text said:
“The European dimension seemed important back in the winter when I began planning…now it seems to be everywhere. Indeed the whole European project is on fire, not only here in the UK (where it seems to have become quite unhinged) but across the continent as a whole. By bringing together artists from far flung parts of it I hoped to show a certain kind of solidarity, a sense of camaraderie and collective aspiration that had, one believed, become a solid and enduring feature of current art activity. Now maybe we cannot be so sure, and it’s not too fanciful to see this show as a defiant gesture, a stubborn refusal to accept a gathering orthodoxy.
We forget how far we’ve come – when I first took work to Germany back in the late 1970s we filled out nine separate pieces of triplicate paperwork and had the consignment custom sealed four times! Now I simply load up the boot and turn on the ignition – and needn’t stop till I reach Stockholm, Porto or Prague. That’s the practical aspect but its the connectivity and shared interests and aspirations that I find most inspirational. In my adult lifetime I have been privileged to experience and understand how much we have in common with one another right across our continent and to share ideas about art and life with people that a generation or two ago most likely I would never have met.
And yet, there are questions a plenty in the work on show about where Europe is and what it means to be a part of it. This is a group only in the sense that I am connected, in one way or another, to each of the participants. But all the work shown here has, I think, shared particularities. Firstly there is a definite and abiding passion for individuality, our own place in time and space, and secondly oblique references abound to environment concerns. Other than that I leave you to decide on meanings.”
If our relationship with the rest of the continent seemed ‘unhinged’ back then…I struggle to work out how I might characterise it now! As we all know today is the day we were due to leave the European Union. It might, or might not, have meant unimaginable changes to what I’d written back then…and may yet? Of course I was blissfully unaware then that such a thing could even be conceivable. There were constant rumblings about it at the time but they were for many of us a third or fourth order concern and about as likely as England winning the World Cup or some such. Even when I canvassed in the 2015 election nobody, repeat nobody of the 200 or so households I spoke to raised ‘Europe’ as an issue. But then Cameron’s surprise win catapulted us into a binary vote on whether or not to ‘leave’ Europe (indisputably an impossibility!) and a ‘majority’ of the UK decided to do it. May translated this narrow result (51.89 to 48.11) into the ‘will of the people’ an impressive ‘fake news’ when nearly 28% of the electorate didn’t even participate and so the actual margin of victory for leave was c. 2.7% of all those eligible. She continues – even as I write – to bludgeon the UK with my way or nowt.
But it’s unfair simply to tar her with the ‘fake news’ brush…after all everything on pretty much both sides of the argument has been pushed into the binary yes or no. Even had we left at 23:00 this evening I’m fairly certain the morning after would have been little different from today. As someone who voted remain it would have left a nasty ideological taste in my mouth and I’m certain that over the middle distance costs and inconveniences would rise (my betting is that however and whatever ‘outcome’ is achieved this will happen anyway). But the more dire predictions of us ‘remoaners’ are pretty ridiculous and about as much so as the equally inane indifference and complacency of the ‘arch brexiteers’ (although the richer you are the easier to insulate yourself against the costs and inconveniences). In any event my hunch is that far from being momentous and defining as the media have it whatever happens over the coming weeks, months and years (as I think we have plenty more of this to come) it will fast pass into another footnote in history and mercifully one that occasioned a lot less destruction than many others concerning continental matters.
All that said the next time I’m tempted to freight some work into or out of mainland Europe I’ll be awaiting the possibility of the triplicate forms, the custom seal, checks and delays…just like the ‘good old days’!