Articles and Features

Preparing for Brexit:5 Responses

By Shira Wolfe

Joe Sweeney, Brexit phonebox. Photo courtesy of Dezeen

Ever since the vote on the 13th of March, 2019, where MPs voted against the UK leaving the EU in a no-deal scenario, everything has been up in the air. Amidst the confusion, many are responding with a stiff upper lip, others have opted for leaving the country during this stressful period, while a handful of so-called ‘Brexit preppers,’ worried about the availability of import products after leaving the EU, have started stockpiling food and other everyday items.

It seems that the 12th of April is now the new 29th of March when it comes to the never-ending Brexit saga, but British artists are not waiting on deadlines  and are responding to the uncertainty of Britain’s impending EU exit the best way they know how — through cynical and funny works of art which, above all, provoke questions while providing a platform for different voices. Read on to discover 5 conversation-sparking artists and their artistic responses to Brexit.

Mark Wallinger, THIS WAY UP. Photo courtesy of Flying Leaps

1. Mark Wallinger – THIS WAY UP

On 4 March, Turner-award winning artist Mark Wallinger started distributing posters throughout the UK — in London, Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow — literally turning Theresa May on her head. The posters depict the British Prime Minister turned upside down, under the capitalised text ‘THIS WAY UP,’ a playful reminder to people that May’s head should be turned upside down on the posters, just as the UK is being turned topsy-turvy. The accompanying text is a quote by Gerrard Winstanly, the leader and founder of the Protestant radical group the True Levellers, formed during the English Civil War:

‘When once the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must… then this enmity in all lands will cease, for non shall dare to seek a dominion over others, neither shall any dare to kill another, nor desire more of the earth than another… And now the common enemy is gone you are all like men in a mist, seeking for freedom and know not where nor what it is: and those of the richer sort of you that see it are ashamed and afraid to own it, because it comes clothed in a clownish garment… For freedom is the man that will turn the world upside down, therefore no wonder he hath enemies.’

Laura Pannack, Separation. Photo courtesy of the artist

2. Laura Pannack – Separation

Photographer Laura Pannack chose a more intimate route: she photographed couples consisting of a British and EU national. The couples are photographed as separated by a semi-transparent, yet impenetrable latex screen, representing the potential reinforcement of national borders. Her incredibly personal approach draws attention to the real life consequences of Brexit, showing everyday people whose lives and partnerships might very well be affected in complex ways following Brexit.

Michael Landy, Open for Business. Photo courtesy of Thomas Dane Gallery

3. Michael Landy – Open for Business

Young British Artist Michael Landy showed his cheeky critique of Brexit in the form of a participatory art piece at the Inaugural Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art last summer. Landy transformed a former Soviet-era news kiosk into a fully functioning trading kiosk, selling classic English products as well as Landy’s own range of Brexit merchandise, including t-shirts, caps, mugs and even ‘Hard Brexit’ condoms. And, in keeping with the Brexit statistics, Landy made sure to sell 52% ‘leave’ and 48% ‘remain’ merchandise. Landy explained: ‘The Biennial is an international art exhibition, and Latvia where it’s staged is a relatively recent member of the EU, so we’re doing what Theresa May asked us to do and finding new trading partners – and that’s why the exhibit is called “Open for Business.”’

Lawrence Perry, portrait series. Photo courtesy of the artist and GQ Magazine

4. Lawrence Perry – Portrait Series

Lawrence Perry, a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, was just 16 when the vote for Brexit happened. His furious response to the news that his future would be radically altered was to take to the canvas, attacking it with intense, bold colours and thick, violent brushstrokes. This resulted in an incredibly powerful portrait series of the young generation in Britain, in keeping with his desire to give a voice to the youth and to capture his wishes for a future Britain. ‘I wanted to create a voice, be a protagonist for youth when they didn’t have a say and didn’t have power in their hands,’ he explained to GQ magazine. His early canvases were recognised and purchased by the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, and are currently hung on the walls of their headquarters.

Joe Sweeney, Brexit Phone box. Photo courtesy of Dezeen

5. Joe Sweeney – +44… Leave a Message for Europe!

Artist Joe Sweeney also aims to give the disenfranchised a voice with his phone booth installation +44… Leave a Message for Europe! The recreated 1990s BT phone booth was installed on the Kent coast’s Dungeness beach, facing France, on the 1st of March. Members of the public are invited to leave messages in the phone booth, which will be recorded and uploaded online in order to record people’s ideas and views in the days leading up to 29th March. ‘I think it is essential we archive as many personal “testimonials” as possible, at this pivotal time for Britain and Europe,’ explained Sweeney. ‘I believe this archive has an important role to play in our understanding of this moment as we experience it now, and when looking back in the future.’ Messages can be heard here, and includes a wide array of at times funny, at times heartfelt, messages from anonymous members of the public as well as from famous British artists like Gilbert & George.