The surprising outcome of the Brexit referendum in the UK, and its predicted massive cultural impact, has made it the exit on everyone's minds and lips in recent months, but Britain's decision to leave the European Union is by no means the first political departure to rock the world. Just as art can influence current events, large political changes can, in turn, affect the function and output of the art world. This sentiment was exemplified during the 1960s, when conceptual art went hand-in-hand with societal changes.
So despite its tantalizing name, Rodolphe Janssen Gallery's group show EXIT is not "The Brexit Show," at least according to curator Adam Carr. While some pieces in the exhibition directly address the referendum, many others were created in isolation. "I wanted to create a framework in which to reflect on the egress from a more conceptual, poetic, and perhaps poignant viewpoint," Carr tells Creators. "Where the idea of political departure could be one thing to consider, but also ideas of leaving, to be left, failure, and bureaucracy in general."
On the topic of bureaucracy, a widely overlooked and pivotal part of all largely impactful political shifts, is a piece titled Joy in Paperwork by Argentinian multimedia artist Amalia Pica. This piece uses stamps collected from around the world on which due dates, paid confirmations, privacy notifications, and other official stamps decorate the paper. Dealing with official procedures that are necessary but often questionable, German artist Andreas Slominski offers his take on deportation in Untitled, a work from 1994 made by repurposing a painting he purchased at a flea market. The piece appears to separate from the nails on which it should be hung. Fragmentation comes into play in two works by Simon Fujiwara, a multimedia artist from England, which each depict a section of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face. One thousand times an enlargement of its actual size, Masks (Merkel C4.1) and Masks (Merkel C4.2) were produced in collaboration with Merkel's personal makeup assistant and created with HD makeup.
The term exit can be taken literally, to leave a place. But it can also be interpreted as a break from tradition or deviation from the linear path, artists dismantling the status quo and discovering new creative tactics. As is so often the case, looking back can be so much easier than looking forward, and when it comes to art in a post-Brexit world, the future remains still unpredictable.
"What will happen as a consequence of Brexit, as well as […] Trump, to art is still yet to be seen," says Carr. "But of course artists are responding to the conditions of the world all of the time. So change will inevitably occur. This has already been felt in the commercial gallery system with a number of galleries changing the format of their business, or closing down completely due to changes in the economy and, in turn, the art market."
Like "Parting is such sweet sorrow," and "When one door closes another door opens," cliched sayings about goodbyes are too numerous to count. But their abundance is for good reason. Endings cement great stories and political phases, and they are woven through our cultural consciousness. But it is not often we stop to think of the end, the exit, as more than just punctuating what came before it. Oftentimes, exoduses are ugly and complicated, dragging on for long periods of time and possessing none of the finality we hoped they would. But if you look close enough somewhere buried deep in the leaving there is a new beginning.