Hiii!!! Two people in London are putting on a political art show and I thought, 'Hold on a moment, a person who reads VICE might need to know about this,' so I spoke to them, and now you can.
Do you like politics? How about politicians? If you answered yes, you're probably a total square! So unless you combine that interest with art, no one is going to want to talk to you at any parties over the festive period. To help you, photographer Mark Duffy and writer and photographer Lewis Bush have co-curated an exhibition of political photography together at the Seen Fifteen gallery in Peckham, which opened Friday.
Mark has already done an interview with VICE about his hilarious/deeply pathetic (AS-level usage of the word there guys, just FYI) photos of campaign imagery in Ireland, which were turned into a book you should read. You should also have a look at Lewis Bush's satirical post-card series, "A Model Continent" (we interviewed him about that too). Together, they have gathered some of their favourite political artists and put on a show called "Images of Power" to mark the fucking miserable year of politics that the UK has just experienced. Expect: portraits of the 100 most powerful people in the country, beautifully captured head shots of politicians and journalists (ew) in their natural habitats, maybe alcohol and much more.
VICE: Hello, you two. What can I expect from your exhibition?
Lewis: You can expect a kind of chaotic and, in Mark's words, "sickening" array of images of politicians and powerful figures in the UK and beyond.
Mark: There are four photographers involved – myself, Christopher Anderson, Daniel Mayritt and Hans Poel, and we're all quite visually similar. Expect lots of extreme close-ups of very powerful faces.
How did the collaborative curation come about?
Mark: I've never curated or got involved in any sort of curation before, but I didn't know why anyone else wasn't doing this, so I decided to make it happen. I had no practical transferable skills, so I approached Lewis and he got involved.
Lewis: We're quite different and that works well in terms of collaborating. Perhaps I'm more overtly political and I definitely have a more strident attitude towards politicians, but beneath that we wanted to do the show for similar reasons. It's a chance to put the boot in to the people who've led us both in to the mess of Brexit and lots of other messes over the year.
Is the show concerned with presenting and ridiculing politicians?
Lewis: There are a mixture of different projects in the exhibition, and in Mark's work that's definitely true – the reality of politics is even more ridiculously sad than the satire of it. But then with Daniel's work, which is about the 100 most powerful people in the city of London, there's a serious point to make about these people who have a profound effect on all of our lives and yet remain almost entirely invisible. As much as power can be used to control your image the way the politicians in Mark's photos show, another power is the ability to be kept out of the public eye. So the different works do slightly different things, and that's what drew us to the four pieces.
Are you concerned about how some of the people featured might react?
Mark: Well, weirdly, I actually had quite a good response to my book from the people in it – they're politicians, so I guess they were happy to get any publicity – but I don't know if we'll get the same response here. We'll see. We're having an "MPs only" reception, so hopefully we can find out then.
Tell me more.
Mark: We decided to invite every single sitting MP to a special showing of the exhibition. When MPs want to reserve a seat in the House of Commons they have to fill out a thing called a prayer card, which is this little green card, so we based our invitations on those, hand-filled them out and sent them off.
Lewis: We've had a few rejections so far sadly, and I don't think we've had any confirmations yet. But there are still about 630 we haven't heard from… It's nice to be doing a show where there's not that much riding on it so you can afford to do things that no serious person would ever do. Like issuing a redacted press release with no information on it. We're kind of revelling in the absurdity of politics.
So I'm guessing humour is really important to the show?
Mark: Definitely. Humour can trick people into paying attention.
Lewis: Some people consider politics a kind of holy topic that's not suitable to laugh at and make jokes about, but I think the sign of a healthy democracy is one where you satirise your leaders and your higher ups.
Mark: A lot of the time, if people hear an argument going on they'll back away, but if you use humour they're more likely to get involved. Did you know that everything that happens inside the Houses of Parliament is broadcast and the footage is made available to anyone who wants to use it, but it's against the law to use it for purposes of parody or comedy? That's why you never see footage from the House of Commons on Have I Got News for You or anything like that.
I did not know that. I imagine there are lots of pieces of legislation like that hidden in dark corners in the hope that no one will ever notice them.
Lewis: People often praise British democracy because of the way it's congealed over a very long period of time, but in the process lots of very negative tendencies have also evolved into it. When it comes to my generation, I certainly feel that there's a feeling that a lot is broken in British Parliamentary democracy. If you look at things like First Past the Post or an unelected upper house, there's no significant will to correct those from above. I wonder at what point the will develops below and people actually start to get really pissed off about it. Parliamentary democracy in the UK has serious issues – we're not really drawing attention to those in the show, but we are drawing attention to some of the people who benefit from them.
It's very refreshing. Artists are often reluctant to directly engage with politics; why do you think that is?
Lewis: I think engaging with politics in art is often seen as kind of grubby and a bit naïve, and that actually an artist's job isn't to trouble themselves with this kind of thing. Peter Kennard, a photo-montage artist who does really political stuff, always says that actually what's naïve is not engaging with political topics and that turning away from them is a real failing.
Well you are deeply engaging with them, so Peter will be very pleased. Has it been rewarding?
Lewis: I would completely question what use this exhibition of political photography is in the grand scheme of things… But it's a satisfying way to get our own back, however small.
Mark: Yeah, exactly – we're venting frustration and having a bit of a laugh with it.
Lewis: I think the next important question is finding ways to do things that do have an impact. It's fine to do this kind of stuff and enjoy it, but that can't be the end of the process.
Lastly, how do you want people to leave your exhibition feeling?
Lewis: "Oh my god, we give these people – these disgusting people – authority and let them control our lives? What are we doing?"
Ideal. Thanks, both!
"Images of Power" runs between the 2nd and 11th September 2016 at Seen Fifteen in the Bussey Building in Peckham, London
The opening party is on Friday 2nd September between 6PM – 9PM
All welcome! Details here.
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