History is Now

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This DIY history of post-war Britain exhibition ranges from Mrs Thatcher’s handbag to a section on mad cow disease. The gallery has invited seven contemporary artists to become curators, creating installations of objects they have selected to define a period in ways we are not used to seeing.

The intention is that, by reassessing our past, we may find new ways of articulating our expectations for the future, in the lead up to May’s general election.

The curators are recast as historians of art, but if we take a less prescriptive view of their role and see them more as fact finders, it is the viewer who becomes the historian. As you walk through the exhibition you are compelled to make your own connections, forge your own narrative, analyse yourself what at first sight might just seem like “one damned thing after another”.

The exhibition is in parts quite dense and presents textual material in a visual space, together with film and sound installations which combine to create a kaleidoscopic walk-in montage. Some objects are recognisable artworks such as paintings by Victor Passmore, David Hockney, Richard Hamilton and Eric Ravilious. Here they are juxtaposed with two brooms used by the volunteers cleaning up after the riots, a police blanket full of mended bullet holes and a series of faded press photographs from Belfast which transcend their setting and become an interesting historical document.

Another section invites us to consider gender representations in fine art painting and photography versus commercial imagery. The least visual installation, the section on the outbreak of mad cow disease, appears somewhat awkward in this gallery setting.

In addition to this exhibition, the South Bank’s Changing Britain 1945-2015 Festival includes a series of concerts and talks leading up to the general election. This represents an interesting attempt to make art, not necessarily overtly political, but a vehicle for political discussion.

Just as you are invited to become an active participant in the exhibition at the Hayward gallery, the South Bank project as a whole invites not merely participation in an existing agenda, but the articulation of a new one.