In an attempt to re-evaluate Britain’s recent history, the Hayward Gallery presents History Is Now as a part of the Southbank Centre’s Changing Britain 1945-2015 festival. Including more than 250 different objects, the exhibition looks at the past 70 years of British history through the eyes of seven artists.
Rather than separating them into decades, each artist-curator has chosen their topic according to their own natural interests. As a result, the exhibition does not follow a traditionally chronological order but starts with the present, slowly taking the viewer back to the 1940s.This is a great creative decision: the visitor is presented with the most familiar parts of his own life, and is then led into the past – a time he mostly knows through photographs.
The exhibition challenges the idea that in today’s world everything is mediated on multiple levels by going back to the original material – showing an object for what it is. For instance, Simon Fujiwara has decided to include a seam of coal from Minorca surface mine in his section, presenting in the most literal way possible what is at the basis of the British economy. Then there is Hannah Starkey’s approach to tackling advertising and gender representation in the media with a juxtaposition of fine art and commercial photography. The black-and-white images, capturing social issues of the last 40 years, are in strong opposition with the colourful commercials that take over the viewer’s attention, diverting from the more serious themes whilst bombarding with nudity.
Roger Hiorns’ interesting take on culture, through the prism of the Mad Cow Disease epidemic, is laid out in a labyrinthine display, following the effect of pandemics on political, industrial and economic systems. At the other end of the spectrum, Jane and Louise Wilson explore conflict and political unrest, showcasing how memory can be recorded, while John Akomfrah presents the shift of British culture with 17 films from the Arts Council Film Collection. At the end of the exhibition, Richard Wentworth’s mix of fine art, photographs, and artifacts represents the post-war years through both intimate and monumental pieces.
The overall result has allowed the artists to use versatile objects to create new connections and juxtapositions, reinventing British culture. Ultimately, each component allows the viewer to reflect on his own memories of the presented material, challenging his understanding of recent British history, and with that, of his own past.
History is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain is at the Hayward Gallery from 10th February until 25th April 2015.