In the run up to the General Election in 2015, the Hayward Gallery exhibition History Is Now will offer a new way of thinking about how we got to where we are today. Seven UK based artists - John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth, and Jane and Louise Wilson – have each been invited to curate sections of the exhibition, looking at particular periods of cultural history from 1945 to the present day. The exhibition (10 February – 26 April 2015) is part of Southbank Centre's Changing Britain 1945 – 2015 festival, from 30 January – 9 May 2015.
History is Now:7 Artists Take on Britain offers an inventive way of exploring the country’s recent history; spanning ideas and topics as varied as the Cold War, post-Thatcherite society, protest movements, feminism, ‘mad cow disease’ and celebrity culture. Working with Dr Cliff Lauson, Hayward Gallery Curator, the artists have selected over 250 objects, which come from both public and private collections, as well as draw upon informal collections and objects such as photographs, newspapers, films, domestic items, and artefacts. Much of the material borrowed from libraries, archives and science, history and local museums has never been seen previously in the context of an art gallery.
Artworks to be shown will include those by: Keith Arnatt, Tony Cragg, Gilbert and George, Richard Hamilton, Barbara Hepworth, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Ryan Gander, Henry Moore, Hayley Newman, Ben Nicholson, Martin Parr, Toby Patterson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Penny Slinger and Christine Vogue among many others.
The artist-curators and their themes for History Is Now
John Akomfrah (b. 1957 Accra, Ghana; lives London) will select works from the Arts Council Film Collection (c.1960-90s) to curate an exhibition which looks at the space between cinema and TV, documentary and educational film, avant-garde and experimental film, dance and performance art. Simon Fujiwara (b.1982 London; lives Berlin) will create an archaeology of the present showing manifestations of optimism in late capitalism, post-Thatcherite society, celebrity culture, experience economy, architecture, technology, and well- being.
Roger Hiorns (b. 1975 London; lives London) explores the histories of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) as well as bio-medical research, healthcare, agriculture, animal husbandry, and food production and consumption. This will be the first ever exhibition to investigate BSE and its histories and impact.
Hannah Starkey (b.1971 Belfast; lives London) will draw upon the Arts Council Collection’s photography holdings from the 1970-90s, and will consider ideas such as photography as art versus art as advertising, identity, gender, consumerism, rhetorics of the image, and the role of the individual in society.
Richard Wentworth (b.1947 Samoa; lives London) will consider the Post-War period, modernism of modest means, the beach as a discursive site, the body, materials and making, new consumerism and Pop, the domestic, the start of the Cold War, militarisation, industrial design, and cultural memory. This section will include Ben Nicholson’s panoramic The Festival of Britain (1951) mural which has not been displayed on at the Southbank Centre site since it was commissioned for the Festival over 60 years ago.
Jane and Louise Wilson (b. 1967; Newcastle, lives London) will consider sites of change, contestation, and protest in Britain; looking at the town of Peterlee, Greenham Common, and Northern Ireland, as well as feminism and the built environment.
Dr Cliff Lauson explained: “History is Now will bring together original and unexpected groupings of objects that will shed new light on how we remember and reconsider our recent past. These seven artists have reinvigorated British history using artworks and objects, that allow new relationships and connections to emerge as well as historical investigations, poetic mediations and provocative juxtapositions.”
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre, said: “History is Now forms an important part of our 'Changing Britain' Festival which leads up to the General Election and takes stock of the incredible shifts of policy, law, attitudes and cultures from 1945 to the present day. By asking these leading artists to curate an exhibition we know that a fascinating fresh perspective on this period will result. Each of the areas that they consider allow us to think deeply about our country as each one of us moves towards putting a cross on a ballot paper.”
The Changing Britain festival will interrogate the last 70 years of British history, focussing on society, culture and politics, inspired by historian David Kynaston’s acclaimed books that are part of a series Tales of a New Jerusalem on the social history of England from the end of World War Two. The festival will ask if we still believe in the values of the 1951 nationwide Festival of Britain created to give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress following the Second World War and explore themes including equality, fairness and social justice since then. Many of the artists in History is Now will take part in the Changing Britain talks and debates programme to be announced early in 2015.
A full-colour catalogue for the exhibition will be published in conjunction with the exhibition, illustrating the artists’ sections and including newly commissioned texts by six diverse writers. The catalogue includes a foreword by Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff and an illuminating essay by curator Cliff Lauson, alongside texts by the six writers Sheila Dillon, Adrian Forty, Daniel Fujiwara, Charlotte Higgins, Jackie Kay, and David Mellor.