Webb-Ellis and Richard Whitby are announced as the commissioned artists for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2019, the sixth edition of the Awards. The project has awarded £20,000 to each artist to develop significant new moving-image works. The resulting films will premiere in an exhibition at Jerwood Space, London, in April 2019.
Responding to the curatorial theme, Going, Gone, the works by Webb-Ellis and Richard Whitby propose to act as a barometer of the uncertain present (and unclear future) of contemporary Britain in the lead-up to its declared exit from the European Union.
More detail on each of the commissions will be released in January 2019.
In the spring of 2019, if the current timetable is adhered to, the United Kingdom may have completed the task of taking its leave of the European Union; or taking its leave of its senses, depending on your political views.
After months of saying we are going, we will be gone.
No-one, even now, after so many heated words about the subject, seems to have the foggiest idea about the kind of future we will be going to, only that we have to go there. We are told that a decision has been made: that a line has been crossed; that we have passed the point of no return.
Some of the loudest voices claiming that there can be no going back on that decision are also among the most fervent believers that Britain can somehow turn back the clock – to a fondly remembered, or fondly imagined, earlier era. Indeed, for many of its supporters, this may be what the vote for Brexit was about – a chance to re-assert national sovereignty by ‘taking back control’, and thereby recapture some of the pre-eminence Britain once had on the international stage.
But much of this Britain (or, perhaps, more accurately, this England) is already a thing of the past. Indeed, it may be the growing recognition of its actual or imminent loss that provoked such a corresponding reaction. The erosion of local, native identity in a time of globalisation, a fading of influence and a lack of agency in the face of these changes, the continuing disappearance of swathes of ‘green and pleasant land’ to ongoing development – all these things (either rapidly going, or already gone) may have contributed to a feeling, in many people, that the country is better off going it alone, and, in their view, getting out from under the thumb of the European Union.
Many of the icons and assets that we think of as quintessentially British have gone under the hammer in recent years: some of them for eye-watering prices, some of them going for a song. Fashion brands and car firms, stately homes or forests, local services and public utilities are now often owned by multinational companies and foreign individuals. The mantra that the country will soon be freed up and ‘open for business’ on the wider global market may also be a euphemism for even more being sold up, or auctioned off.
At moments of upheaval, when everything is up for re-appraisal, the future can be equally up for grabs. Although we are told that the reality of Britain’s future outside of the European Union is not up for debate, discussion about the nature and impact of that severed relationship will continue to rage in the months ahead. The Jerwood/FVU Awards has always provided an opportunity for a younger generation of artists to make work on issues that concern them and affect them. The phenomenon of Brexit and its implications for a younger generation (who, by a significant majority, did not vote for it) is unquestionably one of those issues.
For the 2019 Awards, we would like you to respond, as always, to the ideas suggested by the title and theme. Whatever your views on Brexit (and we are fully aware that opinions on each side are passionately held and wildly divergent), it seems clear that the country is at a fork in the road, where the path pursued and the path not taken will continue to incite powerful, conflicting emotions in millions of people. What some may consider is about to be lost, others will see as being saved. And vice versa.
Whatever is decided in future instalments of the long-running Brexit negotiations, the passions fuelled by those divided opinions aren’t going to go away. At a time when dramatic changes lie just around the corner, we want to hear the depth and force of those opinions, as a way to better speculate on where we are going as a country, and what might be coming next. Although the Brexit process is likely to dominate the news agenda in the coming year, we are equally interested in wider reflections on the inevitability of change, on the cycles of history, on the feelings engendered by a sense of ending, or the experience of starting over.