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Artists on the uncertainty of Brexit


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Amongst the chaos of Brexit, artists have been inspired to incite change and encourage political conversations.

With Arts Council England recently releasing a guide on how to manage a “no deal” Brexit, the potential negative consequences of the split have become particularly tangible. The guide predicts works of art being delayed at borders, preventing them from being used in international exhibitions, and UK organisations no longer being eligible for funding from EU schemes. So, with the separation date looming and the country’s future still up in the air, how does the arts sector perceive Brexit? Are there any long-term benefits to this turmoil?

The general consensus from Remainers, and the younger generation in particular, is that Brexit is a mass rejection of other cultures that prohibits the diversity of exchange. The international idea is on the brink of being discarded, with Britain becoming internal in its thinking. Inversely, many believe that our position in the EU prevents a truly global outreach, and our exit will encourage a variety of new engagements with other countries.

Jonas Lund, 'Operation Earnest Voice', 2019. Photo: Alan Mozes.

In a time of political uncertainty, there is a need for cultural exchange within the art world. Many galleries and museums support international discussion, holding the belief that the inclusivity of all cultures inspires the exchange of fresh ideas that transgress borders. The British Museum, for example, hosts its International Training Programme every year, providing guidance and support to curators from around the world, embracing the international unity that art can provide.

Artist responses to Brexit have been varied, with some wanting to encourage unity, and others wanting to prevent leaving the EU altogether. A particularly strong reaction came from Swedish artist Jonas Lund. Concentrating on the global consequences of Brexit and the dangerous precedent the campaign set regarding the controversial use of technology, Lund set up 'Operation Earnest Voice: Brexit Division' a self-proclaimed “fully functioning propaganda office”. The artist and a team of 12 volunteers engaged with visitors, focusing on how technology was used to influence voters in the campaign, with companies like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica manipulating customer information. The four-day art piece endeavoured to expose this manipulation and uncover the dangers of surveillance to their audience, with the aim of stopping Brexit indefinitely.

Jonas Lund, 'Operation Earnest Voice', 2019. Photo: Alan Mozes.

British artist Elaine Robinson decided on a more unifying approach with her interactive work ‘Parliament SPOTtimespotTIME’. As part of an ongoing project, Robinson stood in The House of Commons for a week, coinciding with the Prime Minister’s Brexit vote and the following historic loss. Aiming to collect as many fingerprints as she could from MPs, Lords and visitors, the artist wanted to create an artistic statement of unity during a tumultuous time.

Having spent the past few years travelling across the country asking residents of different cities to place their fingerprints within circles she drew on canvas, Robinson plans on casting her “social document” in resin, creating a suspended moment in time: a reflection of the Brexit era. In contrast to Lund’s politically charged piece, this work is a solidification of identity at a time of uncertainty.

Elaine Robinson, 'Parliament SPOTtimespotTIME', 2019. An MP leaving her fingerprint. Photo: David Levene.

Despite conflicting artist responses, their overarching message is clear. Unity is needed in the face of life after Brexit. By encouraging interaction in their audiences, both with art and with each other, boundaries are broken and conversations are triggered, helping to remove the trigger from the word ‘Brexit’. Now is the time to focus on solutions, on how to traverse boundaries, encourage multiculturalism and prioritise international communication.

To find out more about Robinson's upcoming projects, click here. To visit Lund's website, click here.

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