A snapshot of the UK at a moment of extraordinary upheaval, two new moving-image works from Webb-Ellis and Richard Whitby respond to today's ongoing political turmoil.
For The First Baby Born in Space is a twin-screen projection by artist duo Webb-Ellis. A despatch from the immediate present that is directly addressed to an indeterminate point in the future, it gives voice to some of the emotions and experiences of a generation of young people who have had little say in the dramatic political events unfolding around them or in the mounting ecological threats that the planet is facing. Featuring a group of teenagers from the artists’ home base in Whitby, Yorkshire and elsewhere, and filmed over the course of the extraordinary long, hot summer of 2018, the piece highlights some of the golden moments of childhood: fairground hangouts, late-night raves, conversations under the stars. But it also evokes the darkening mood of a time that is rapidly coming to an end. Noting how the teenagers’ coming of age coincides with the phenomenon of a country in chaos and in flux, the piece captures a wider feeling of turbulence and upheaval, rippling through fidgety bodies and anxious minds, while reminding us also that youth is so often a source and a mainstay of hope.
In Richard Whitby’s video The Lost Ones, a disparate group of individuals are waiting to have their residency status assessed. Stuck in bureaucratic limbo, and asked to attend an interview at a place called the Premium Service Centre, they find themselves interrogated by a disembodied voice, whose peremptory manner and frequently malicious tone makes for an uncomfortable, hostile environment. Alluding to the dystopian visions of Orwell and Beckett, and the surrealist animations of Svankmajer, but adding a contemporary edge in the aftermath of the Windrush scandal and the extended dramas of Brexit, the piece has a black-comic energy that mixes acerbic, absurdist humour with moments of genuine pathos. Co-scripted by television writer and satirist Alistair Beaton and beautifully improvised by a number of more or less in-the-dark performers, The Lost Ones confronts us with an inescapably timely and symbolic image of people so trapped in a tortuous, nightmarish process that they start to lose their grip on reality.