A Brexit Fantasia

A series of improvised maps concerning Brexit
February 2019

01_United_Kingdom 02_Old_England 03_Singapore
04_Digital_solution 05_No_Deal 06_US_Trade
07_Empire_2.5 08_Offshore 09_Gibraltar
10_Workers_rights 11_Fortress 12_Albion

Artist's Statement;

  Not all transformations are for the best. Following the result of the 2016 European Union membership referendum, my unease regarding the process turned to consternation as the right wing of the Conservative party increasingly dictated the terms of proposed withdrawal from the EU. Furthermore, the Labour party’s position of ‘constructive ambiguity’ offered little hope of a coherent or strident opposition.  

  Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election in June 2017, which resulted in the Conservatives losing their majority and striking a deal with with the Democratic Unionist Party in order to stay in power.  Following the invocation of Article 50 the PM conducted negotiations with the EU on a withdrawal agreement and draft political declaration, which was finally endorsed by the EU27 leaders in November 2018. The deal was then put to the House of Commons and rejected on three occasions. An impasse was created by rival factions in the main political parties, whilst the Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019 drew ever closer.

  In this increasingly chaotic political climate, I started to wonder how I could make an artwork about these developments. I kept a notebook containing quotations from politicians and commentators and began to make a few tentative sketches of maps. Long ago I had bought a pre-war Collins’ New Popular Atlas in which much of the world was coloured pink, denoting the British Empire, and this now seemed to chime with the nostalgic ambitions of some Brextremists. Working with topographical imagery was not entirely new to me as in 2007 I had made a satirical series entitled ‘Lie of the Land’ using Google Earth.

  It was a phrase by the newly ennobled Brexiteer Sir John Redwood, however, that finally prompted me into action. In stating that he could not support Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, he suggested that there were “huge agendas of opportunity” after the UK left the EU. It was the nature of these unspoken agendas that I determined to speculate on in ‘A Brexit Fantasia’.

  In conclusion I should say something about my general approach to making satirical artworks. Campaign slogans, propaganda and advertising all attempt to deliver direct, unambiguous messages, but art has a different function. By courting multiple interpretations through layers of imagery, ideas and associations, art can engage the viewer in a manner which offers them a role in the making of meaning. A simple slogan such as ‘Brexit is Bonkers’ functions well enough on a demonstration placard but has little afterlife, whereas a good artwork can be returned to time and again, offering different nuances of meaning on each occasion.

John Goto

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