20 April - 02 May
The Dean Clough Galleries, Halifax
Dean Clough Galleries are the latest of art venues to approach the subject of Brexit. Boasting a staggering 35 different artists (see below), their Crossley Galley is populated with a giddy array of politically charged artworks. Unlike many similar shows held at venues across the country during the ongoing age of Brexit, this show sets itself apart by its distinct high quality of craft. The works selected for this show read, not as a knee jerk reaction to the political climate (as many other shows have) but rather as a litany of well-considered and well manufactured responses that make a much welcomed addition to the Brexit conversation.
The show spans a multitude of styles, each artist unique in aesthetic and execution, and although the show is predictably left leaning in ideology there is real diversity in artistic voice. On display are works of abstraction, installation, readymades, sculpture both exquisite and kitsch. There really is too much to condense into a single review, however it does make the exhibition essential for repeat viewing.
Just some of the works of note include Pamela Brigg’s ‘The Nation Has Decided’, a work of modernist abstraction used to denote the statistical outcome of the referendum. The piece deftly employs shape, pattern and colour to create a covert visual representation of the marginal sway of public inclination.
Ben Johnson’s contribution, innocuously (?) entitled ‘Michael Gove’, depicts the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a zombie, flesh decaying and eyes glazed by death. The work, adorned in antique frame, fuses the gothic, pop culture, and derision of the politique in dark painterly satire.
Continuing a thread of gothic influence is Neil Pittaway’s series of etchings; dizzying compositions of densely bound image-scapes, a struggle of contortion and writhing gives rise to iconic signifiers of British and European history, offering glimpses and semblance of momentary recognition.
Amongst the frenzied cacophony of the show lies it’s most sobering and meditative work in the form of Kate Mellor’s ’Goodbye to Language series’; a vitrine which encases Mellor’s photographic work of the British landscape. It’s a quiet and stoic surveyance of our ever-changing environment, marred and malformed by political and social pressure rather than that of geological forces. The placement of work under glass transports our living moments into the past, rendering them irrevocable, out of reach and trapped in a sense of finality.
The show’s success lies in its multiplicity of tone with the pulpy-kitsch posters of Dave Pugh, bringing levity to what could easily become an exercise in leftist scare-mongering. Whatever can be said of the Brexit debacle whether it’s the unveiling of the latent racism still embedded in a divided nation or the apparent need for catharsis in a symbolic blow to the establishment or even the crisis of confidence in a government in ever escalating ineptitude. It has to be said that Brexit is a very British affair, imbued with a spirit which couldn’t be described as anything other than Britishness and it is this intangible British sensibility that ‘The Brexit Show’ so perfectly captures.