Walk past the poster-covered hoardings surrounding the building sites of any major British city and you'll get the impression political art is back. Which, when you consider the global political climate of 2017, isn't all that surprising: there's a lot of barmy shit that's worthy of reacting to.
Since their creative collaboration as Kennardphillipps began in 2002, Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps have centred their work around contemporary politics, often using photomontage as a medium. Through juxtaposing images, the pair are able to interrogate contemporary issues, such as the war on terror and media rhetoric, and encourage people to think independently.
In the fallout of this shitshow of a British election, Kennardphillipps are running an exhibition entitled "MAY NOT". I visited them in their London Fields studio to discuss the exhibition's beginnings, the prevalence of political imagery and what impact they hope their work has.
VICE: Hi Peter and Kat. How did "MAY NOT" come about? What kind of work does it include?
Cat Phillipps: We were commissioned to make work for an exhibition in Cardiff – the theme was "revolution" – which was based in a disused shop in the city centre for a month, and then moved to London. We only had a few days to set it up, but the actual concept goes back further. We always recycle work; we could easily include work now we made in 2004 or 2005, because the themes we're working on are ongoing, and the way we explore them aesthetically changes with each show. Our basis is always photomontage, working with press imagery, so there are pieces we made ten years ago that are still pertinent and relevant to their subjects.
What are you thoughts on the recent rise of political imagery? Is it harder to create an iconic image now?
Peter: It's harder because we're bombarded with so much imagery, but on the other hand if you create something with a direct conflict – as with photomontage – then it does get through to people. It gets people to think about what are otherwise disconnected images and putting them together to critique what's going on.
Cat: Images are made iconic by an audience's response. That happens when a visual work says something that can't be said, but it's hitting on something that is a very true and felt experience. When people see something which strikes them in their own experience then it's going to resonate more than everything else flooding in; it doesn't get diluted.
There appears to be a real anger in the work on show in "MAY NOT".
Peter: There is a need to create more and more angry imagery. Because there's so much anodyne shit – say, cats on the internet, which get loads of hits – one's got to put something else out.
Cat: Being critical is the most important aspect, above and beyond anger. Anger is great in imagery to be harnessed, but criticality is so important because that's when you get to have an argument, either with a subject, or other people, or even the audience, and then other people can feed in. When you're being critical there's an opening space for debate.
Your image of Tony Blair over fire and smoke has become a historically important object; what resonance does it hold for you today?
Peter: The thing about a montage like that is it can't be taken over and its meaning changed, because the meaning is in the juxtaposition, so it goes on having the same meaning. An image like that is always going to talk about Blair in relation to what he did in Iraq; it becomes an official portrait of him in that sense, which I think is a positive and hopefully really annoys him. It seemed to trigger in people the feeling that that's what Blair's really about, just through the juxtaposition of two images and that it's a selfie, people engage with it in quite a personal way.
Cat: This is a portrait of the antithesis of the Labour leader we have now, which is interesting.
How do you think photomontage can be particularly influential compared to other forms?
Peter: There will hopefully be a critical set of images in people's minds to make them think, which differs from, say, critical writers, who are accessible if you read certain publications, but images can get through to people thinking very different things. This is why it's important to get images out onto the street, because it's not like you're expecting to see it there – you'd otherwise have to look it up online.
Cat: There's also a real impact in physically experiencing something in a real life setting, as opposed to a tinkle on a screen. We were aiming for an immersive quality in our new show.
"MAY NOT" runs at Dadiani Fine Art until the 7th of July.
See more of Kennardphillipps' work – and photos from from "MAY NOT" – below.
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