This Way Up (2019) Mark Wallinger
His work might take hugely divergent forms – the 90’s paintings of homeless folk in front of finance institution doorways, A Real Work of Art which was an actual race horse whose jockey wore suffragette coloured silks, State Britainthe forensically faithful reconstruction of Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest, Ecce Homohis life-size Christ on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Sq., One Worlda football bearing the iconic ‘Earth Rise’ image of the globe photographed from space – but a fierce, albeit sometimes wry, socio-political conscience animates much of Wallinger’s art.
Ideas, issues, imagery and objects that set the nation’s heart racing. Wallinger’s This Way Up (2019) is the latest flyingleaps poster to hit the streets. A gargantuan portrait of Theresa May, up close and deep pore personal. Only she’s capsized, flipped, utterly arse about face. Which seems about right given the state of UK right now. Or the shitshow chaos state rather that Tory misrule has visited on us. The 1649 ‘When once the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must…’ quote from political philosopher and True Leveller activist Gerard Winstanley nails it: so many of ‘those of the richer sort’ in Parliament and elsewhere have not done us any favours.
How the West Has Won and Lost (1999 – 2019)
Sarah Staton’s art practice ventures in many directions in terms of materials employed and forms realised. The towering accumulations seen in her Shucks, Sucks, Sticks, Stacks(2007) show at first present as witty postmodernist ‘see what you can make of this then?’ assemblages. But whereas, say, Ettore Sottsass function-flaunting designs elicit a naughty, conspiratorial chuckle, Staton’s beautiful, precarious sculptures point toward lost opportunities. It’s as if they’re saying we have at our fingertips so many visually exquisite, formally inventive languages but their wider promise of societal ease and progress still eludes us.
The Esperanto of Currency(2015) show at Filet gallery also had a somewhat elegiac quality. The bold, graphic symbols of national money – Dollar, Yen, Sterling, Rupee – are distilled, thinned in four small paintings. These once powerful signs/signs of power are finely stitched into metal foils mounted on linen using fine thread, delicate trailings of which hang off the works. Their grounds – gold, copper, black and white –stand for the colour of coins and the black-and-white of balance sheets. The delicate commingling of signs suggest a paucity of cooperation.
As Jennifer Thatcher wrote in her ArtNews review:
That desire for international collaboration after the Second World War led to the introduction of the European Currency Unit (ECU) and then the Euro. Of course, the U.K. never joined the Euro and any attempt to replace the English language was always doomed to failure, given the British pride in being useless at languages.
Staton makes works that are visually, materially engaging but can also leave a profound sense of longing. Why didn’t the utopian promise of Modernism stray that far from the gilded cage of art, design and literary expression? How did the post WWII pledge of a fairer world and economic prosperity for all dissipate into such a crass and wasteful consumer society? The ultimately illusory nature of ideas, structures and materials that appear to hold such concrete promise is a constant and curiously affecting refrain.
Staton’s How the West Was Won and Lost (1999 – 2019) artists’ poster print is a beautiful, poignant if somewhat forlorn meditation that alludes to political and social promises broken, opportunities for a better world missed.
Who can forget? Tony Blair’s swaggering grin, the glossy hubris and that bloody song. It jangles still in our aural memories, the pumped ‘n’ screeching ‘theme tune’ to New Labour’s 1997 election victory: ‘Thiiiiiings can only get…’
Well, they didn’t did they? They haven’t. Not now. Not yet… And even as mealy-mouthed Theresa May proffers her brittle, fusty, nothing-new-here olive branch the petty politicking persists. From BBC bias to the perverted power hold of the DUP Europhobic hillbillies; a belligerent Brussels versus the stonking intransigence of the ‘what have they ever done for us?’ brigade; right-wing Tory vested interests living in bubbles and who never have to face the multiple miseries that austerity and neoliberal myopia have visited on the UK: Bitter (2019) sums it up. A witty clarion for something better, more progressive, a kinder, more inclusive breed of politics. Dr.D:Ream on… But what a great poster!
We are over the moon to present another artist’s poster work by Magda Archer. ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IN SELFIES’, ‘SOCIAL MEDIA BRAIN DRAIN’ and ‘LOOK UP FROM YOUR PHONE’… These are declarations, both personal and socio-political, covertly dished up via Archer’s toy-box palette and dainty, somewhat unsettling cuteness. It’s funny but also a typically multi-layered work. There’s painterly acumen in the flattened pink crisscross economy of his shirt (yes, we’re reliably informed it is a ‘he bear’).
And there’s something odd going on with the ears: almost like we’re peering through a hole cut in the vivid yellow background to glimpse a night sky. The bright white, bumblingly painted face stops looking charming after a while and becomes a portrait of fixity: the pallid complexion of a teenager after four hours of staring at the small screen.
But let’s be honest. It’s not just teenagers is it? So many of us have fallen prey to the frenzied, heart rate quickening and mental health frazzling Gollum that is social media. Could it be as addictive and destructive as FOBTs? A final question: why is the text on the tabletop black when the crayons used are coloured? So, yes, a silly-brilliant ursine oddity but a searingly bleak commentary too: Selfies (2018) it could be me, it could be you!
He’s only gone and done it again. Mark Titchner’s new flyingleaps poster The Courage To Say No (2018) is another of his works – both bold and enigmatic – that piques curiosity as well as being a stunner visually. Titchner features in Michael Petry’s (2018) luscious book The Word Is Art (pub. Thames and Hudson) wherein the author describes the artist’s practice as having been ‘translated into several languages for billboard-sized installations.’
As well as running workshops and siting art interventions in public spaces, Titchner also makes work for gallery, museum and commercial sites. What runs throughout, unifies his oeuvre – be it light-box, sculptural installation, mural or paper-based work – is a dialogue, an inquiry as to how we communicate and receive thought and ideas.
It’s got form, this image. First appearing in the The Morning Star though its creator couldn’t recall being paid so we’ve up-cycled Wank (2018) and are set to give it the flyingleaps treatment.
It’s been more than 200 years since James Gillray produced what, in Martin Rowson’s opinion, is the greatest political cartoon ever. It features two insatiable appetites: the beanpole British PM, William Pitt the Younger and a craven eyed Napoleon Bonaparte carving up the global plum pudding. The world is doomed. Plus ça change? Now it seems Boris wants all the pudding, erm, power to himself.
Rowson, who dubs himself a ‘visual journalist’, is on record as stating ‘satire is a survival mechanism to stop us all going mad at the horror and injustice of it all…’ He’s worked for pretty much every publication associated with old Fleet St. and many more besides. Rowson’s style is brutal, caustic and brilliant – brilliant in its fluid, witty rendering; its visual inventiveness – especially in terms of composition – and absolutely without fear or favour when it comes to subject matter. He spits truth to power. And boy do we need of some of that right now.
Warhead (2018) by kennardphillipps is a characteristically bold rebuke. It’s as if Trump’s head and body have taken on a physical manifestation of his gargantuan capacity to hate: he’s turning into an MQ 9 Reaper military drone.
In the foreground POTUS’s elbows rest on a floodlit airstrip, his tiny fists are raised and clenched in the way newborns can’t help for the first few months of their lives. The only other body part to remain recognisably human hovers eerily in the shadow of the drone’s nose: Trump’s shouty open gob, pink lips and bared teeth hang in the gloom like the mouth in Samuel Beckett’s play Not I. A relentless mouth that won’t let go.
Two dead French philosophers once wrote ‘Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience.’ Trump has said recently he’d much prefer a more obeisant US public, you know, more like those happy souls in North Korea. Warhead is both a hideous chimera and an iconic image for the 21st century. It’s another incisive work by the art activist team kennardphillipps calling out demagoguery and calling for constructive civil disobedience: a clarion that all humankind ignores at its peril.
Dr. D aka Subvertiser
The brilliant Dr. D.’s I Remember The Future (2018) and a new iteration of the visual activist’s famous Curfew work are a fabulous recent contributions to the flyingleaps’ poster catalogue.
While the debate goes on as to whether flyposted and other oppositional art or visual activism has any direct effect in bringing about sociopolitical change, what it can do at its best is feed into the publics’ disposition.
Through strong imagery, cogent or quizzical text, humour, relatively speedy production and distribution, via its capacity to occupy anomalous spaces in the urban environment and through an imaginative, enacted engagement with matters of concern it can generate social media interest and help inform, even propel, opinion.
Dr. D’s targets include surveillance culture; the social effects of neoliberalism; commodification; mealy-mouthed and uncaring politicians; abuses of power in the media… Much more than bald sloganeering Dr. D’s imagery and text pieces often emerge, on reflection, as enigmatic meditations on twenty-first century existential angst.
Transgressing boundaries can reveal hidden rules. One could cite the precedents of the carnivalesque ‘telling truth to power’, vaudevillian comedy, Dada gestures in art but all of these, in a – it’s only a bunch of pucks/entertainers/artists – sense, operated in ‘sanctioned’ arenas. Dr. D’s contributions to the urban environment are rarely sanctioned and it’s this that contributes significantly to their traction and incisiveness.
The urban spectacle would have us believe that its over-riding character is, yes aspirational, but emphatically neutral and apolitical: that generally we’re going to be just fine if we carry on pretty much as we are. Dr. D’s pithy interventions, highlighting so many germane issues and employing such a variety of modes of address, repeatedly suggest otherwise.
I Remember the Future, Dr D, in Oslo
Curfew, Dr D, in Oslo