England's Dreaming: The Land, Dissent and Humor in the work of three Contemporary Artists
Looking at notion’s of England in the 21st century through work of three contemporary artists. The works of these artists do not so much attempt to create a spiritual epiphany as engage the viewer with a wider discourse of where the pagan/ occult; the land; contemporary society synchronise in the 21st century.
Tessa Farmer: Tessa Farmer is a direct descendant of Arthur Machen, the writer who with books such as “’The Great God Pan’’ was instrumental in the pagan revival at the turn of the 19/20th century. The English pastoral romanticism of Elgar and the Cottingley fairies was twisted into something darker with Machen, tooth and Claw and madness. Farmer’s work harks to this nature, death is very present. The tiny skeletons are crafted from root matter, specifically bird’s nest fern, the mycelium like mat that drinks the juices of all the higher creatures, even the wily fox. These intricate Boschian scenes have a Lynchian quality, the dark powers of nature and unreason are always waiting. An obsessional, crafted quality, akin to LS Lowry but turned upside down, the myriad of skeletal workers dismantle and feed upon nature, the higher species of the evolutionary ladder fall prey and are recycled.
The Cult of Rammellzee: Describing themselves as an alchemical reworking of Hip Hop culture, the Cult is the brain child of Alexis Milne who leads this anarchic group on ritualistic events. Rammellzee was a 90’s urban nasal rapper, in his performances Alexis becomes ‘possessed’ by his, or other figures of urban culture’s, spirit,. In the film “Sub Nasal Chamber’ the cult use tarot cards to aid them in traversing the urban landscape travelling from London to Berlin. A form of ritualistic dissent born from the convoy/ Mutoid Waste of the 80’s and mutating into the 90’s rave culture. they carry on the tradition of city dissent against a perverted and ruined nature, attempting through counterculture ‘worship’ to reinvest meaning. The land is still present, but this is urbanised world, that of Machen’s ‘The Hill of Dreams’ where the protagonist descends into madness wandering the growing suburbs of London, an occult pyschogeographical projection of meaning into the city’s grids and zones. Future Cult projects include visiting ancient sites built over by road systems in 80’s/ 90’s (to stop rave culture utilising these as party sites), so as to reignite these zones; motorways and bypasses as ley lines of the new urban mind.
Jeremy Deller: An established artist and advocator of ‘Folk’ art. I wish to concentrate on ‘Sacriledge’, a bouncy Stonehenge that was created in 2012 for the Olympiad. Here there is a combination of concepts around land, dissent and humor. Art as the Fool, a clown that can undermine the powers that be. Consider Lear’s Fool, Monty Python’s The Grail, a particular English use of empathetic irony. By turning the serious world on its head we can see it afresh, a dismantling of the extraneous and acknowledgement of the intrinsic. Deller says "It's comedic, it's absurd. It could be something you'd see in a satire on the Olympics or on art. I like to think of it as beyond parody." Take Stonehenge and give it back to the new urban Britain, it travelled from Glasgow to London. One cannot access the original without special privilege, a sacred temple has become a tourist attraction. Deller takes the act of worship, makes it play and speaks of a vision of Britain that welcomes all comers.
In these three artists’ work we start to recognize a politicised occult landscape, an England that is reengaging with notions of what it means to be part of this ever changing but constant island. ‘England’s Dreaming’ is a quote from the Sex Pistols ‘No Future’, a band that epitomises Land, Dissent and humor wrapped up in ritualistic power. Interestingly Alan Moore worked on a film script in the 80’s with the sex pistols creator Malcolm McLaren. That ethos is in all these three artists who use a sense of theatre, diorama and spectacle to demonstrate that the dream continues.
Dominic Shepherd is Associate Senior Lecturer Fine Art, Arts University Bournemouth. Born in England in 1966 Dominic Shepherd studied Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art at both BA and MA level. He has exhibited internationally, with an extensive record of group and solo shows in London, Berlin, Los Angeles, Helsinki, Munich and Miami and is represented by Charlie Smith London. Among other awards in 2004 Dominic was a prize winner at John Moores 23. He is included in, and has written for, various publications. As well as his practice Dominic is currently co-creating and managing ‘Black Mirror’, an AUB based international research network that is engaged in actively promoting research and practice that explores enchantment, occultism and Magic in relation to Modern and contemporary Art. As well as initiating projects, events and discussion ‘Black Mirror’ will be realised through a series of peer reviewed publications, the first of which Black Mirror 0: Territory was published in November 2104 by Fulgur Esoterica. In this capacity Dominic recently co- curated an event of sonic and visual resonance, ‘Absolute Elsewhere’ that included English Heretic, Alex Tucker and Mark Titchner, Matt Shaw and the Cult of Rammellzee amongst others.