The Mary Rose: we are sinking (installation)
“The (Diamond) jubilee has made the union jack more unavoidable than perhaps any time since the war” Owen Hatherley
This installation was for the exhibition Borderline Ballardian, at Creative Arts Development Space, Sheffield.
When thinking about the proximity of dystopian forewarnings to the present tense the visuals of fabricated national pride featured very frequently, as a kind of showy coating over the top of a society that is potentially falling into dark times. As George Monbiot points out in his article ‘Dark Hearts’ (The Guardian, 23.4.2012), about how the ‘British have a peculiar ability to blot out (their) colonial history’ …’even when the documentation of (its) great crimes is abundant, it is not denied but simply ignored’. Through excessive mainstream focus on other stories, stories which direct to thoughts of Britain past and present as being a more benevolent Imperial force, a collective amnesia ensues, which in turn cannot help but evoke ideas on memory control thought up in 20th century novels about societies of totalitarian control (an issue touch upon again in Borderline Ballardian in the work Memory Hole). A collage of images of welfare-state culture, decent chaps standing up to the Nazis, and the ‘swinging Sixties’ is what we seen when we are told it’s time to start waving the flag again.
But what made me feel an immediate need to lay more emphasis on this worrying national self-identification with ‘goodness’ and freedom being naturally occurring tendencies under flags such as the Union Jack (whilst keeping in the exhibition’s narrative of fictional dystopias looking increasingly akin to the real we inhabit) was because of big national events this year which seem to be engineered in ways that suffocate criticism and even the right to protest. I feel shivers of anxiety when I imagine the damaged done to society through the manufacturing of mass approval to the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the London Olympics, whilst simultaneously we are threatened by possibly the most ruthless ever attacks on our welfare, democratic rights, dignity and our environment in order to keep the capitalist system going.
The omnipresent flags drape seemingly every enterprise/institution on the island, speaking the language of the ‘keep carry, carry on’ posters: “be quiet will you?”: “learn to love the country, and get on with your own business!” Has here every been a period in the history of the nation state where subsumption to the smiles-feast drone-like stance of flag waving has even been more dangerous?
When creating a mental picture for the exhibition, I thought of how I would like union jack flags to spread out like strands of a web from sources representing their most trusty servants for welding them to our thoughts; the televised and newspaper media. I imagined the web spreading to provide an unwanted ceiling haloing the critical matters expressed in the art pieces. I thought that a net over the work would resemble the anti-boarding netting so crucial in the fate of the Mary Rose warship. The Mary Rose sank just south of Portsmouth when England’s empire was in its infancy. The anti-boarding netting, covering the deck, prevented most of the ship’s crew from surviving the sinking.
These visuals seemed to fit well with the idea of nation state’s patriotic ‘wrapping’ getting tighter and tighter over our democratic rights (a curtailing of rights that has marked the arrival of the Olympics in London more than any other matter) the more the nation feels under threat, as it tries to protect capitalist interests from the people it claims to protect.