Seven UK based artists of different generations and backgrounds—John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth, and Jane and Louise Wilson—have each curated distinct sections of a new exhibition, looking at particular periods of cultural history from 1945 to the present day. Set against the political backdrop of the UK’s upcoming general election in May, History Is Now will provide a discursive platform for reflecting on the past with a view to the future. The Hayward Gallery’s exhibition History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain offers a provocative take on recent British history as well as the craft of exhibition-making.
Each artist-curator has brought together a specific set of artworks, objects, and ephemera in order to critically explore particular historical themes and episodes. Their sections cover topics as varied as the Cold War, post-Thatcherite society, feminism, protest movements, “mad cow disease” and celebrity culture. Working with Hayward Gallery Curator Dr. Cliff Lauson, the artists have selected over 275 artworks and objects from public and private collections. These objects range from a Bloodhound Surface-to-Air missile to Meryl Streep’s costume in the 2011 bio-epic The Iron Lady and a half-ton piece of coal. Organised in unexpected and thought-provoking groupings, this varied material comes together to form an exhibition that is at once a historical investigation and an invitation to reconsider how we remember and reconstruct the past.
In his archaeology of the present moment Simon Fujiwara (b. 1982, London; lives in Berlin) traces Britain’s shift from material to immaterial production and observes the ways in which optimism has shaped the current economic, political and cultural climate. Occupying the opposite end of the exhibition’s time period, sculptor Richard Wentworth (b. 1947, Samoa; lives in London) presents a dynamic portrait of Britain as it attempted to rebuild and reform itself in the years following World War II, through objects as diverse as beach-combed pebbles belonging to Henry Moore, and Cold War military relics.
Jane and Louise Wilson (b. 1967 Newcastle; lives in London) address sites of change, contestation and protest in Britain through works and artefacts that highlight, rather than attempt to resolve, each situation’s complexity. Looking closely at a dark period in recent British history—the epidemics of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)—Roger Hiorns (b. 1975, London; lives in London) explores a crisis which has its roots in the 18th century and holds possible implications for our future.
Both John Akomfrah (b. 1957 Accra, Ghana; lives in London) and Hannah Starkey (b. 1971, Belfast; lives in London) turned to the Arts Council of Great Britain in their consideration of recent British history. While the 17 films that Akomfrah selected from the Arts Council Film Collection provide a glimpse into the intellectual, cultural and political transformations of the late 20th century, Starkey has juxtaposed commercial imagery with works drawn from the Arts Council Collection’s photography holdings from the 1970–90s in order to offer a critical assessment of the ways in which social roles and notions of gender have been reflected in, and shaped by, our visual culture.
Each section has a unique design which responds both to the material presented as well as to the curatorial attitudes of each artist-curator. It is through these artists’ insights, and the revealing connections they make, that we can gain a better understanding of how and why history is now.
A large-format publication will be published in conjunction with the exhibition, featuring full-colour illustrations alongside illuminating essays, personal reflections and poetry by renowned writers Sheila Dillon, Adrian Forty, Daniel Fujiwara, Charlotte Higgins, Jackie Kay, David Alan Mellor and exhibition curator Dr. Cliff Lauson. More information here.
History Is Now is accompanied by a public programme, and is a part of Southbank Centre’s Changing Britain 1945–2015 festival, which runs from 30 January to 9 May 2015. Visit our website for more information.