Text and photos by Dalia Dawood, MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism at London College of Communication
What does it mean to be British in the wake of Brexit? An exhibition at Camberwell Space Projects called ‘Post-Brexit Britishness’, which runs from 9 October to 3 November, explores this theme through the reportage drawings of six artists – including three graduates from Camberwell College of Arts.
The exhibition is part of the Chronicle Residency Programme, which is run by Topolski Studios, and continues the legacy of Feliks Topolski, who published his own ‘Chronicles of the Century’ between 1953 and 1982. Topolski Studios runs the programme annually in collaboration with Camberwell College of Arts to engage young artists interested in documenting topical events around London.
The artists: Marguerite Carnec; Jon Dixon; Emma Guareschi; Charlotte Reeve; Daisy Saul and Chloe Wyatt have examined the shifting politics, people and landscapes in London and the fluidity of identity, sketching everything from Pearly Kings to drag queens. Their works, which pepper the walls of CCA’s Wilson Road site, take a mostly monochromatic, pencil-and-paper approach – the only bursts of colour are the Union Jack shades of red, white and blue.
The Britishness scrawled onto these canvases are rooted in traditional, working-class identities: pie and mash shops, greasy spoons, cockneys. Daisy Saul’s black-and-white depictions of Pearly Kings and Queens in their trademark jackets are dotted with colloquialisms (‘I love this Geezer’s passion’, reads one). Charlotte Reeve’s snapshot of a traditional pie and mash shop is complete with tiled walls and nonchalance from the waitress (one bit says ‘What’s the most popular soup tomato or chicken?’ ‘Get what you’re given, ha ha ha.’) They capture and preserve archetypal identities and subcultures that are so entrenched in Britishness they seem rigid – yet through the spasmodic and quivery techniques of reportage drawing, they carry a fluidity that is representative of Britishness today – far from static, it shifts and changes as frequently as the political climate.
In one of Marguerite Carnec’s freeform, rough pencilwork, the tension between capitalist and creative cultures – a microcosm of the political friction between conservatism and liberalism – is played out in the context of a coffee shop. Three businessmen engage in a conversation; the language of capitalism is flecked around them in harsh, hard and loud lines: ‘DATA DATA DATA’, ‘ANALYSE ‘CONCEPTUALISATION’. In the background, a forlorn man sits alone, the words around him reading ‘I’ve got no money. I’m trying to be an artist’.
Sketching the daily tensions and interactions around them through this erratic, rapid approach, the artists effectively make human and authentic the experiences that many people argue mainstream media either ignore or misrepresent. The place of reportage as a mode of social documentation and the role of the artist as reporter is manifest through these drawings. As a journalism MA student, I was especially interested in this idea of audiences documenting their own stories in a post-truth age where more value and trust is placed on presenting reality through experiences than facts.
What I enjoyed most about the exhibition is that it doesn’t aim to define Britishness, but instead uses the method of reportage to tell stories about identity in a way that, arguably, mainstream media fails – with honesty and immediacy. The simplicity of putting pencil/pen to paper to quickly capture a moment and a snapshot of a community brings a level of sincerity to social documentation that I found refreshing.
Artists exhibited: Charlotte Reeve, Chloe Wyatt, Daisy Saul, Emma Guareschi, Jonathan Dixon and Marguerite Carnec.
OFFICIAL EVENT COPY: Between the years of 1953 and 1982, Feliks Topolski published his ‘Chronicles of the Century’. Continuing the legacy of Topolski in the autumn of 2016, six young artists examined what ‘Britishness’ means as part of Topolski Studio’s Chronicle Residency Programme. The residents documented the shifting politics, people and landscapes of London, from Pearly Kings to Drag Queens. Three months of in-situ location drawing will be exhibited alongside the final product; a lithographic printed newspaper the ‘Chronicle’.
In this new post-truth age of social media journalism and distrust of the mainstream media from both the left and right, perhaps reportage can bridge the gap between the two, bringing a human element back into social documentary. We invite you to consider the role of the artist as reporter, as well as the ever-changing concept of what being ‘British’ means today.
This exhibition is a collaboration between Topolski Studio, Camberwell Space and Camberwell College of Arts.
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