Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player



A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





History Is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain




Hayward Gallery


10 Feb – 26 Apr 2015

An oxymoron, History Is Now, is a creative artists’ initiative to capture Britain from 1945 in the run up to the General Election. Over 250 works reflect the state of the nation; episodes, like snapshots, drawn from archives, private and public collections tell, at times, a parochial tale. Curated by seven artists at the versatile Hayward Gallery, the experience is about how we remember, and like the parable of the talents, is rewarded a hundred-fold.

Sculptor Richard Wentworth is the most diverse, owing much to the eclecticism of the exhibits and airiness of the Hayward’s upper floor. Paul Nash’s ‘Totes Meer’ 1940 - 1941 and ‘Battle of Britain’ set against Tony Cragg’s stunning mural ‘Britain as Seen from the North’ made from detritus and plastic bric-a-brac; the scale of Reg Butler’s ‘Working Model for the Unknown Political Prisoner’ 1955, against pebbles beach-combed by Henry Moore. Wentworth juxtaposes the ‘humdrum modesty’ of domestic life with technological and military advancement.

The least engaging is Roger Hiorn’s BSE obsession. Artefacts gain more as a collective statement: John Gummer’s infamous ‘burger moment,’ Damien Hirst’s cows’ heads, ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ 1991, interviews, scientific papers, statistics, news clippings and government memos he describes as ‘a deluge of raw information.’ This is experience as surfeit. The space resembles an incident room.   

There’s a similar complication in the Arts Council films curated by John Akomfrah - total running time 546 minutes. He focuses on painting, sculpture, dance and photography ‘transformed by the medium.’ The ubiquitous Gilbert & George feature as living sculptures in their 1981 16mm home movie cut with interviews of people in the East End and wry delivery. John Chesworth and Clive Myer’s 16mm film of Ballet Rambert’s ‘Imprint’ 1974, is diametrically opposite.

Photographer Hannah Starkey draws from the Arts Council Collection from the 70s to the 90s. Work by Chris Killip, ‘Youth, Jarrow’ 1976, John Hilliard’s series ‘Cause of Death’ 1974, Paul Graham’s ‘Baby and Interview Cubicles, Brixton DHSS, South London’ 1984 or David Chadwick’s ‘A Woman on a Hulme Walkway, Manchester’ 1976, are sharp examples in photo-realism, while the witty ‘Untitled’ and ‘The Winkies’ by Design Collective, Hipgnosis, 1975, plays advertising at its own game.

Twins and video artists Louise and Jane Wilson feature strong social and political themes from the streets of Northern Ireland to Greenham Common. Conrad Atkinson’s photographs and the gossamer-gothic black and white prints of Penelope Slinger shape a diverse, social landscape. The most immediate is Lesley McIntyre’s photographic wall of diarist Lyn Barlow as she cuts her way through a Greenham Common fence. The most striking is Stuart Brisley’s 1=66,666, 1983 exhibit, filled gloves suspended in a cage representing ‘hands that are unemployed, but able.’

London-born conceptualist artist Simon Fujiwara’s shows a breezy nonchalance, yet with a sting in his tail. Half a tonne of coal, mined in 2014, from one of the last remaining British coalmines, Swadlincote, is next to the suit designed by Consolata Boyle for Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady.’ Exhibits foreground representation, sometimes benign, sometimes tragic: Sam Taylor-Wood’s film of a sleeping David Beckham, the small cut-away of Madeleine McCann’s distinctive right iris.  

The artist as curator is a trend at the moment. The Hayward and the Barbican both celebrate this. The experience is a licence to gate-crash and have a good rummage round. History Is Now is a smorgasbord of influences, sense and sensibilities: austerity, conflict, privatisation and consumerism. Britain is a rag-bag nation. Yet there is a heart despite changes in attitudes from 1945, the beginning of the NHS and the Arts Council. ‘Step in Time’ from Mary Poppins, the voices of George V and John Gummer create a curious white noise, oddly familiar, which follows you round. History Is Now? Take time, make time.
The Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tickets £6.50 - £12.00
Opening Times: Monday 12 noon – 6pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 10am – 6pm, Thursday and Friday 10am – 8pm

Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved