If you want to know what corgi tastes like, or swan meat, ask Mark McGowan. If you want to know what it’s like to push a monkey nut using only your nose the 7 miles from New Cross to No. 10 Downing Street ask Mark McGowan. And now, if you want to know what being on the receiving end of Brexit means for hundreds, maybe thousands of people, ask Mark McGowan…

McGowan has spent the past year working an epic mass observation project, travelling the country talking to post-punk poets and financiers, sex-worker rep.s and sociologists, MPs, bishops, and many more besides about the personal and social consequences of the UK leaving the EU. These interviews, incisive vox pops with, as I say, both experts and everyday folk will come together in the form of a feature length film titled Brexshit the Movie.


Cross fertilisation between art and anthropology or at least a visualisation of the impact of political and social manoeuvring on the body politic goes back a way. The satirical works of William Hogarth and James Gillray; the paintings and drawings of people surviving the bleak onset of industrialisation by Honoré Daumier; George Grosz bearing witness, expressing his despair, hate and disillusionment at society during the years of the Weimar Republic.

More recently Susan Hiller is an artist who brings the tools of her original trade as an anthropologist to her art practice. Albeit, at least at first sight, using more esoteric and subtle means than McGowan. For example, her The J Street Project (2002) disinters a subjugated community. Over a period of three years Hiller collected all the street names throughout Germany that still showed evidence of formerly Jewish inhabitance. She sought to ‘give a voice’ or resurrect the presence of a derided, silenced section of a population. Another work The Last Silent Movie (2007/8) comprises a soundtrack of extinct or endangered languages.


Esoteric, subtle… These are not words one would immediately associate with the Artist Taxi Driver, McGowan’s alter ego. But why a taxi driver? Well, a mix-up outside Frieze Art Fair in 2010 plus it pays the bills. And, as cultural critic Richard Hoggart and oral historian Studs Terkel have pointed out, the ‘cabdriver-philosopher’ is a recognised type, a cheap source of ‘diamond in the rough, I tell it as I see it’ wisdom.

The rants are on point and gut felt, well informed if not quite academic analyses – McGowan produces, garners this elsewhere – Artist Taxi Driver is an antidote to a pompously bigoted, heavy-handed and sociopathic tendency in the Tory party. Who better than a cabbie, with a brain twice the size of anyone who hasn’t done the Knowledge (equivalent to studying two university degrees I’ve been reliably informed: by a cabbie) to put the world to rights?

And by adopting this particular persona McGowan also punctures the elitist status of the artist, the ‘highbrow’ and the ‘everyman’ are conflated. Furthermore he can pull it off with conviction because it plays to his own roots. What better way – if you want to perform the role of mouthy sarf London provocateur, more specifically one from the North Peckham Estate (McGowan’s childhood playground of which he talks fondly) – than to play up to people’s expectations of an opinionated, unapologetic, abrasive anti-establishment voice than to adopt the persona of such an archetypal gob?

Protests against the Monarchy and animal cruelty (see swan and corgi ref.s above and, btw, he didn’t kill either animal) plus the extraordinary stamina called for, not to mention nasal skin lost, during the course of his monkey nut protest against the introduction of student tuition fees aside, McGowan is a sanguine soul.

Once the dark glasses are off and the artist becomes ‘himself’ we are met with, yes a committed and campaigning voice but moreover a curious, gentle, boundlessly empathetic individual. One who gives his subjects plenty of time and scope to express themselves as to the personal and societal fallout from the Brexit campaign and its subsequent blundering enforcement. These ‘straight’ interviews conducted, vox pop style, are usually longer than his Artist Taxi Driver rants: sustained, investigative on both an intimate and political level, explicating ideas and argument, teasing out the lived experience and professional knowledge that has led hundreds – probably thousands by the time McGowan’s finished – to arrive at the considered positions they’ve come to hold in light of the UK careering toward Brexit.

And while we know that not all Leave voters did so for malign reasons Brexshit The Movie is shaping up to be an exercise in mass observation that can remind those who voted out on ‘patriotic’ grounds two things. First that they will be the ones who are likely to materially suffer the most from Brexit. More importantly that remaining in close concert with Europe is not antithetical to being proud of one’s country, culture and peoples. Rather listening to the heartfelt, powerful and reasoned voices of McGowan’s interviewees suggest that a decent strain of patriotism sides with openness to and cooperation with Europe and the rest of the world. Not a retreat into myopic, mean-spirited isolation.